Sorry for the slight delay — had to deal with some other commitments for the paper (such as writing the story for the print edition).
But those who like their defense should like what follows as the 57-play scrimmage that concluded practice today was dominated by that side of the ball.
As noted in the previous post, the offense was held scoreless on nine straight possessions before scoring on three of the last four. However, the No. 1 defense gave up only one TD, and only one drive of any real length.
As noted earlier, there were seven sacks, four by Josh Shirley, working as a rush end, and often teaming with Hau’oli Jamora in what is basically a five-man line (with three other DLs on the field and an LB coming off).
The question I’ve already seen is how much of this is legit — is it the defense playing well or the offensive line struggling?
In scrimmage situations, it’s always some of both. To be sure, the OL now isn’t where they hope it is later. With Senio Kelemete out, four of the starters are members of the Class of 2010, meaning they were in high school last spring. Kelemete’s absence also means the OL is without four of its top seven players of a year ago. The OL consisted all day of Ben Riva (RT), Erik Kohler (LT), Colin Porter and Colin Tanigawa at guard and Drew Schaefer. It’s a group that needs to build cohesiveness and chemistry, and again, without Kelemete may be without its most best leader.
Said Sarkisian of the play of the OL: “They are working through some things, and they are going up against some veteran guys on that defensive front. The key for them is to get to a point where they really believe and trust in what we’re doing and what they are called to do, so they can come off and really be physical. Right now we’re thinking a little bit, but that’s going to happen with young guys. Hopefully we can just continue to learn and keep that physicality that we want to be, especially up front.”
So yes, some of what happened today is due to the building that remains on the OL.
But we’ve also seen Jamora have big games last year, Shirley was a highly-touted player, and Everrette Thompson and especially Alameda Ta’amu are also pretty proven. There’s lots of legitimate reasons why the defensive front would be ahead of the offense, and that was on display today.
Here’s what Sarkisian said when asked about the defense: “I like a couple of things about who we are right now. One is that we’ve got experienced corners that are used to playing man coverage and are getting more and more comfortable doing that, so it’s allowing us to call more man things and be able to get into some real rush situations with five-man rush and working our games, and it’s allowed our guys we are hoping to be that much of an impact rusher to show up. And that came today. I was overly impressed by them by them by their ability early in the scrimmage to defend the run. We defended the run better than maybe I was anticipating, and that goes two-fold — I don’t know if maybe that’s some missed assignments on offense. We have to see the film that way. But I thought all-in-all it was a sound game that way. Offensively, I’m encouraged by the fact that there were no turnovers. After 100 plays today we are not turning the ball over. But on the flip side we’ve got to create more. So everything kind of goes hand-in-hand when you are wearing the head coaching hat and looking at that we’ve got to find a way to create more turnovers. And hopefully somewhere in those seven sacks the ball is getting knocked out when the sack is coming but we are obviously blowing it dead in this setting.”
The way the DL dominated makes it a little difficult to judge the QBs. Nick Montana headed the No. 2 offense all day, a few times against the No. 2 defense and against the No. 1’s. Both of his TD drives were against the twos. Keith Price manned the No. 1 offense all day, again against both the one and two defense. His only scoring drive came against the one defense on the final drive, which consisted of a 25-yard pass to Michael Hartvigson and then Chris Polk’s 55-yard run against the No. 1 defense.
I had Price at 5-10 for 59 yards and Montana at 7-13 for 83 yards and a touchdown (a 10-yarder to Austin Seferian-Jenkins as the young tight ends again had a good day). Montana led two scoring drives, each against the two defense, one ending in the Seferian-Jenkins TD, the other a Polk 1-yard run.
Sarkisian said afterward that there’s been no movement toward a QB emerging as the starter — “I’m not even thinking that way. I’m just compiling information,” he said.
Here’s what Sarkisian said of the play of the QBs right now: “I think we are generally improving. I think that the things come new to them, and that’s why we try to put them in so many situations to try to minimize the thinking process, they are trying to think so much and trying to be so right that at times we are not playing with the rhythm that I know they are capable of playing with, whether it be getting the calls in at the line of scrimmage, or getting the ball out of their hands. So we’ll have to continue to put them in those situations to find ways to throw the ball away, to not take some of those sacks, to get the ball out and anticipate those throws. But that’s just part of the process. And it’s taxing because not only they are running our stuff but they are going against a pretty good defense right now, and a defense that is not just playing vanilla, but a defense that is giving them quite a few looks and challenging them, not only physically, but mentally. But it’s good for them, and through it all it’s been very good for them.”
Sarkisian earlier in the week, however, said that leadership on offense needs to emerge with the face of the offense the last four years — Jake Locker — obviously no longer around.
Price frankly admitted that today showed some growth in that area remains.
“We’ve just got to be mentally tough,” he said. “When we’ve got bad drives we’ve just got to keep going. I think it’s a lot of bickering going on right now and I’ve got to do a better job settling everyone down in the huddle. Just everybody getting all riled up. It’s nothing serious but everybody wants their say-so and I’ve got to do a better job just settling stuff down. That’s what my job is.”
He later said that “I think that comes back on me. I’ve got to be more vocal. I have a new role on the team now and I’ve just got to take things into my own hands.”
And he also said that a day like today could prove valuable down the road: “Oh yeah, definitely. You can’t have great days every day. I kind of like these kinds of days you get to see what kind of teammates you have and what kind of teammates are going to give up on you. But I think we did a good job. We bounced back and Chris had a long run, so I think it was good.”
And as noted, there are reasons why the defense would be ahead right now. It returns eight starters from last year’s defense, and the DL in particular seems to really be jelling right now. Ta’amu is in the best shape of his life at 330 pounds, as is Thompson, bulked up to 265. Jamora is back for his second year after breaking out late last season, and Shirley has been the hoped-for revelation so far.
Said Sarkisian of Shirley: “He knows what he’s doing. It’s a lot easier to play fast and to play physical when you really know what’s happening. And that’s the value in redshiring guys. In a perfect world I’d love to keep redshirting guys and let ’em mature and learn the system and then go play. But unfortunately we’ve had some guys forced into action. In Josh’s case he wasn’t, and in turn he’s learned the fundamentals of the position – that hybrid outside ‘backer/rush end position. He’s getting more and more comfortable, but he’s got so much more room to grow. That’s what’s so cool about it for us – we’re watching it and man, wait until he does that even better, and that even better, and that even better…through it all he’s much improved, but there’s so much more room for him out there.”
Now for some more notes and quotes:
— No huge revelations among starters. James Johnson served as the third WR for the one offense with Kevin Smith with the twos, but not sure I’d read anything into that. Smith had a good day with two catches for 45 yards and two rushes for 24.
— The starting LBs were Cort Dennison (MLB), Garret Gilliland (WLB) and John Timu (SLB). Gilliland had two early tackles-for-a-loss in taking a further step in gaining a foothold on that job.
— There were no significant injuries. Chris Robinson banged his knee but Sarkisian said it’s not serious.
— Zach Fogerson (concussion) and Jesse Callier (ankle) sat out, so Chris Polk and Johri Fogerson got some work with the ones and twos as the team was pretty shy of running backs.
— Here’s a few more stats: Besides Smith, Seferian-Jenkins had two catches for 28 yards, Hartvigson one for 25, Jermaine Kearse one for 7, Devin Aguilar 1 for 5, DiAndre Campbell two for 8, Cody Bruns two for 6, and James Johnson one for 4.
— In rushing, Polkk was 8-66, Fogerson 3-50, Smith 2-24, Willis Wilson 3-4, Cole Sager 2-3, Montana 6-5 and Price 4-minus-35 due to sacks. Price didn’t have a carry past the line of scrimmage while Montana had three carries for 19 yards, losing 14 on three sacks.
— Other sacks were Thompson, Dennison and Jamora.
— In the punt return drill before the scrimmage began, the returners were Aguilar, Bruns and Fogerson.
— Mercer Island QB Jeff Lindquist made what was apparently his first visit of the spring to practice today.
Now for some more quotes:
UW COACH STEVE SARKISIAN
On who jumped out today: “I liked the tight ends in the passing game — I’ve got to look at the running game and the protection. But you look at a couple of plays by Seferian-Jenkins and you look at the play by (Michael Hartvigson) down the far side there on the go route, those are big-time plays for us, and I thought that definitely showed up. I have a feeling inside whether it be Alameda (Ta’amu), Everrette (Thompson), those guys internally must have played well for us to defend the run the way we did, especially early on that way. So those guys really kind of jump out at me at first.”
On Polk and making an open-field move on his TD run: “That’s the key, and that’s what we saw the second half of last season. Everybody knows Chris is a grinder runner, never gets tackled by the first guy and falls forward and gets three more yards — things of that nature. But that next step in his game is making secondary players miss. Nate Fellner, as we all know, is a very good tackler. And to be in that situation and he quite honestly wasn’t very close. I think Chris is getting more and more comfortable in the open field, making full-speed cuts, believing in his moves and then outrunning people. So through it all, I like that that is still part of his game and hasn’t diminished in any way.”
On having quick players out there like Shirley on defense: “As we all know, Keith’s an elusive guy. I’m trying to refrain from having a quick whistle to allow Keith to play his style of game. The quarterbacks aren’t live, but let them play their style of game…but Josh hung right with him a couple of times. That was really encouraging, because we see a lot of elusive quarterbacks, and we’ve got to be able to try and contain those guys. We’ve been hurt the past couple of years by quarterbacks getting out on the edge, and I think Josh presents some real bonuses for us coming off the edge that way.”
On having Shirley paired with Hauoli Jamora: “Sure, there’s no doubt. We’ll see more of it the last six practices. I wanted to make sure we got our base defense in first, but as we evolve into doing some stuff with those guys coming off the edge, it makes us unique because they are both tremendous pass rushers. What we saw Hauoli do the second half of the season rushing the passer as a freshman was impressive, and now to think to have he and Josh doing it is pretty cool.”
On Everrette Thompson helping on the inside too: “It helps a lot. And you’re talking about Sione (Potoae), you’re talking about Chris Robinson in there, you’re talking about Andrew Hudson in there…we’ve got a few options on the inside there, so we’re not just limited to Everrette and Alameda. We’ve got some young defensive linemen that are getting better.”
On Chris Robinson’s knee: I think he was a little scared. He just banged his knee. It had nothing to do with twisting and turning. Any time you have a knee injury and you hit it – it’s just another step in the right direction. Okay, it withstood banging against the ground. He’ll be OK for it.”
On the health of the rest of the team: “That was it. I thought it was a pretty healthy day. I’m sure we’ll have some bumps and bruises after guys get in the locker room and realize they are a little sore here and there, but nothing serious that way. The key is that we get some other guys back on the mend – get Zach Fogerson back out there, get Jesse Callier back out there, so that Chris and Johri don’t have to take every carry when we’re running the ball.”
On the ones going up against the ones a couple times: “I think they ended up with three or four series up against each other. I just like to mix it up. We were actually mixing players pretty good, so it was hard to tell even who was the ones and twos, outside of the o-line. But I like to mix it up. Sometimes it gets a little redundant when you line up and you see the same guy lining up across from you. So we just tried to mix it up a little bit, and I thought it was good.”
On Polk getting more carries at the end of practice: “I just wanted to get him carries. I think he needed. Assessing the last time we went on Tuesday and we were running the ball and he was playing, a guy can fall into the…he hasn’t been playing a whole lot – the football speed of it and the tempo of it. We were hoping to get him some carries and some good contact and it worked out for us today.”
On Kevin Smith: “He was impressive. I thought Kevin did some really encouraging things…the fly plays, caught a couple balls. He’s just continuing to improve as well. He’s just growing into playing the position. I have to remind myself that he hasn’t played a lot of football in his life. Things are new to him, but he’s responded well. He’s got a great attitude, and it showed up today. He did some nice things.”
UW QB NICK MONTANA
On the offense: “We were moving it a little bit against the ones but we just kind of got our rhythm the second half and got rolling.
On his TD to Seferian-Jenkins: “He just destroyed the guy, so it was he’s 6-8 so it was kind of hard to miss him. He ran a good route.”
On the defense: “They were making some good plays and we just need to step it up a little bit more, and fortunately we did it in the second half. We should have come out like that but at least we got it going.
On getting better this spring: “Oh yeah, definitely, just working on things here and there, working on focusing on a few things specifically every day and just trying to work at those and make myself more complete.”
On what he needs to work on: “Defensive recognition, but there are a lot of things I’ve got to work on.”
On if they are working on his motion: “They will move a few things around if they see something but they haven’t really messed with my motion at all. If I’m dropping the ball they will let me know or something like that.”
On building confidence at the end: “It’s good to have good drives like that and it builds the whole offense’s confidence and I think that’s what we needed in the beginning, we were lacking a little bit of confidence. But definitely coming into next practice it should help.”
UW QB KEITH PRICE
On trying to shake Shirley: “Earlier, Shirley said ‘hey man, I’m going to get you.’ I’d rather get sacked by anyone other than Shirley because he talks smack all day long.”
On the defense: “The defense is looking good, they are doing a real good job. We’ve got a lot of speed on the edge so it’s making it a little harder for me to get out. I think they are coming along real well.”
On what the offense has to do better: “We’ve just got to be mentally tough. When we’ve got bad drives we’ve just got to keep going. I think it’s a lot of bickering going on right now and I’ve got to do a better job settling everyone down in the huddle. Just everybody getting all riled up. It’s nothing serious but everybody wants their say-so and I’ve got to do a better job just settling stuff down. That’s what my job is.”
On Shirley: “He’s pretty fast. I tried to get him on the edge a couple of times and he got me today so I’ve got to get him back next week. That brings a whole different dimension to the defense when you’ve got some speed rushers that can contain, especially a mobile quarterback, that’s good.”
On Sarkisian pulling the offense together for a talk about midway through: “He was just telling us to settle down and play football. The defense was doing things right and we were doing things out of character. We just needed to settle down and get in a groove.”
On if the defense is ahead right now: “I just know that the defense is doing things right and they are doing what they have to do to win.”
UW DE JOSH SHIRLEY
On talking with Keith Price during the scrimmage: “We just joke back and forth everyday about it. That’s just competition that’s all that is.”
On his day: “It’s just another day to get better, just learning, getting the technique down, just doing what the coaches want.”
On his role: “It’s a great role, me and him getting up the field and just rushing. It feels good. ”
UW LB GARRET GILLILAND
On the defense feeling comfortable: “Now that a little over halfway through spring ball so much of the install is in so now it’s just perfecting what we have already learned.”
On feeling more comforable at WLB: “Definitely, I didn’t play WIL last year so beginning of spring it was kind of new to me but I just kind of picked it up, worked really hard watching film, and picked it up pretty fast and feeling pretty good.”
On the defense’s play: “It was a great day. The last play speaks for itself — they had a good play and we kind of messed up in our gap assignments.”