While I had touched on the receiving corps in this space earlier this spring, I hadn’t yet focused on that spot for the print edition, so I did that with this story for today’s paper.
The theme is that while the WR corps looks good now, it will obviously be as fortified as any in the country come this fall when Kasen Williams arrives (as well as Joshua Perkins, Jamaal Jones and Marvin Hall).
That had me wondering if any of the current receivers, especially the younger ones whose roles may still be unclear, thought much about how things may change when Williams and the other freshmen arrive.
Sounds like not much.
“I don’t think about that,” said Kevin Smith. “That doesn’t bother me right now.
As noted in the story, Smith, a sophomore from Compton, Calif., has had a good spring, unquestionably earning a role in the rotation for this fall (that’s him pictured above running onto the field before a game last season).
Remember, he played regularly at the end of last season, though catching only one pass. He might have played more but he broke his thumb against USC, the details of which I hadn’t heard before (since this spring is the first time we’ve had a chance to talk with Smith).
“It was on the first (kickoff) return,” he said. “But I played through it and the next day I figured out I broke it, so I was out three games.”
He said the injury was “similar to Jake (Locker’s) a couple of years ago. They put two screws in there to keep the bone steady, but it’s going good right now.”
Smith said the obvious, that the injury slowed his progress a year ago. But now, he says ”
I feel like it’s going real great. It’s just getting used to all the plays. The first couple of weeks (of spring) it’s hard, then the next two weeks you get comfortable with the plays.”
Listed at 6-foot, 197 pounds, Smith said he’s actually now up to about 210, from about the 202 he says he played at last season. “Real big and physical,” he said of his style. “That’s the coaches like about me.”
Said WR coach Jimmie Dougherty of Smith: “He really is coming to the fore — super, super talented kid. Just like with Kasen when he arrives, it’s just a matter of the learning curve, and as soon as he got it and picked up the mental side of things, we knew he would take off, which he is this spring. He’s a great kid, coming out every day with a great enthusiasm. That’s another thing about him is that the kids like playing with him. He’s got a great energy about him and he loves coming out here and getting better and working hard and he has fun doing it, and the kids like playing with him and he’s getting better and better every day, so it’s pretty cool.”
Smith is noticeable without his helmet due to the gold streak through his hair on the left side of his head. He said it has no real meaning other than that “I like to do different kinds of stuff. Last year I did both sides dyed into like a mohwawk shape.” This one he says he may keep, saying “lot of peolle like this hair style, I don’t know about the last one.”
As for how all the pieces will fit together at receiver, Dougherty explains that in general, the receivers are divided into two positions — X (the split end) and Z (the flanker). Jermaine Kearse, James Johnson and Cody Bruns are currently X’s, and Dougherty said that’s where Williams will start when he arrives in the fall (as well as Perkins).
“It’s really the easier of the two spots in our offense,” he said. “The Z, the flanker, is a little harder to learn on day one coming in, so it will be a package where he can come in and play. Not a lot of thinking as far as lining up, the formations are pretty easy to pick up as an X and you can just go out there and play, which he does really well. So we are excited about that.”
Z’s include Smith, Devin Aguilar, Hall and Jones when they arrive.
However, as anyone who watches the team play or a practice knows, the receivers (especially the vets) tend to play multiple spots, and UW also often uses three- and four-receiver sets that call for different receivers to take on different roles.
“It’s a good thing to have, the more guys that can play,” Dougherty said. “If guys earn the opportunity, you get creative and you find ways to get them out there through packages or plays or whatever.”
As far as the focus for the receivers who are available this spring, it’s pretty obvious — dealing with the kind of physical coverage Nebraska’s secondary threw at the Huskies twice last season.
“They have the talent, they have the work ethic,” Dougherty said of his group. “The whole mindset of that is really what we have been working at from a physicality standpoint. That’s one of the things we have really focused on, being able to go up and play against a team like Nebraska that comes up and presses and plays physical, to take that on. Not that we didn’t before, but obviously we didn’t do as well as we would have liked in the bowl game, and we’ve addressed that. Every day we talk about it and we run drills tailored towards that. We’ve just got to keep on working.
“This group has a ton of potential to be really good and it’s a mind set and just a consistency. I think there were games last year where we came out and really dominated through the game, aand then there were other games, Nebraska for instance both times, were we didn’t have as good a games. So if you want to be great you have to bring it every day. As (coach Steve Sarkisian) says, you don’t want to be a sometimes guy but an everytime guy. It’s just a mindset for those guys.”
As for what specifically UW is doing to combat physical play in the secondary, Dougherty said: “You can do things with guys putting hands on you throughout the route and you continue to use your hands. That’s the main thing, to run a route when a guy is being physical with you, you have to use your hands. If you don’t use your hands and combat that he is just going to get his hands on you and control you the whole route and he can just push you and widen you and push you all the way to the sideline, which is what happened in that game. It’s a release, it’s a physicality at the line of scrimmage and then throughout the route you’ve still got to be physical. So we’ve worked drills to help them with that, and when we watch film it’s everything that we talk, breathe, everything as far as getting better at that. We definitely knew it was something we had to get better at and hopefully we have addressed that.”
I also talked about that topic with Kearse, who he’s up to 215 pounds, from a listed 205 of a year ago, which he says will help.
“I think as a receiving corps we are all getting better using our hands and being more physical out there just for the purposes of when we face corners like Nebraska,” Kearse said. “And I think we are getting better at it. We are just working on it and I think it is just going to keep increasing as we go. … It’s just going hard in practice and practicing our techniques during the scrimmages and the team periods is where we are going to get better at that.”
Kearse, by the way, doesn’t appear to have lost any speed in putting on a little weight. He’s had several big plays in recent practices reminiscent of the kind of runs-after-the-catch he made last year against Syracuse or WSU.
“It’ll sneak up on you,” he said with a laugh when asked about his speed.
IN OTHER NEWS. …
— Looked like I picked a good day to write about the receivers as Dougherty was named as CoachSark’s Coach of the Day and Kearse as Player of the Day.
— John Elway said yesterday he sees a little bit of himself in Jake Locker.
— The official UW site provides a further update on Deontae Cooper.
— A reader linked this earlier, but here’s a little story on Shane Brostek, son of former Husky Bern Brostek and a key UW OL target for the Class of 2012.
— Jon Wilner notes that only three Pac-12 teams seem to be getting much traction as possible pre-season Top 25 teams.
— Interesting take on Lane Kiffin from ESPN.com’s Ted Miller.
— CBSSports.com takes an extensive look at Utah’s move into the Pac-12.
All for now.