This weekend marks the halfway point of fall camp, the time when decisions start to be made and positions started to be defined.
And after Friday night’s practice at Husky Stadium, UW coach Steve Sarkisian said the linebacking corps and offensive line are just about set. That’s maybe seemed obvious for a little while, as there hasn’t been much shuffling with the starting units there the past few days. But Sarkisian confirmed what has appeared evident in taking about both groups.
Of the linebacking corps, Sarkisian said that: “We’ve experimented a little with Garret Gilliland at the middle linebacker spot potentially if something could go astray there with Cort (Dennison) or Thomas (Tutogi) or Tim (Tucker), but outside of that, not a whole lot. Those guys have done it. I really think the top five would be the three starters – Johnny Timu (at strongside), Princeton Fuimaono (weakside) and Cort Dennison (middle) – and then Gilliland and Tutogi I think are doing some nice things as well. We’ve got five guys that can go in and play football and feel really good about what they’ve been doing.”
Of the line, he said the Huskies have pretty much settled on the five that have started throughout camp — left tackle Senio Kelemete, left guard Colin Tanigawa, center Drew Schaefer, right guard Colin Porter and right tackle Erik Kohler — as the starters for the season.
“They have done a nice job,” Sarkisian said. “I thought tonight was one of their better nights, as well. They did a nice job in the blitz pickup drill. They did a nice in some of our move-the-ball segment stuff. I think they are coming together. What I like about them the most is their communication. They are really communicating well with one another and they are really trusting one another. If someone is making a call they are believing in the call and they are doing it together and they are doing it aggressively and explosive and fast and physical. That’s been the highlight for me so far.”
Sarkisian said he didn’t really intend to settle on a starting five so early but it just made sense given the way the five were playing.
“It grew on me in the sense that they just keep playing well together,” he said. “That wasn’t the plan, by any means. But you adjust to things and we gave guys opportunities but it just felt right and then they played well and got better and better, and (Colin) Tanigawa was a real pleasant surprise. He came in physically prepared to compete and has shown to be worthy of the job.”
A key part of it, he said, was Schaefer getting more comfortable at center. “I think so,” Sarkisian said. “He’s not trying as hard to do everything, either. Sometimes a guy takes over at center and you feel like you are the center and you have to do so much — I have to do this, do that, be the vocal leader. Well, let’s play center and be really good at center and let the tackles be the tackles and the guards be the guards and I think it took him a year and he understands that and that comes from trust — believing in Senio (Kelemete’s) call, believing in (Erik) Kohler’s call and understanding that Colin Porter knows what’s coming and can give him information to help him. So all in all I think it’s a trust factor and he is there.”
There was also the unfortunate news for UW tonight of the loss of running back Kyle Lewis, who did not get approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Sarkisian said the Huskies “are still waiting word on Marvin Hall and Antavius Sims to finish up his work at Ventura College.”
Lewis now becomes a recruitable athlete again, so as Sarkisian said “it’s out of our hands at this point” what Lewis does now.
“It’s tough because you always want depth at running back,” he said. “It’s one of those positions where you feel like you never have enough, as we are finding out. You get an injury here or there and it can mount quickly. So it’s disappointing, especially because we felt like what he had accomplished to get here, he had worked so hard to get here late. But we wil move on. We’ll be okay.”
IN OTHER NEWS. …
— Sarkisian said CB Quinton Richardson may be ahead of schedule in his recovery from a high ankle sprain. “I think so. We don’t really know exactly what ahead of schedule is, either. A high ankle sprain has all the degrees of severity of it; until someone has to start rehabbing it … I don’t think Quinton’s was as bad as we had initially thought. He’s out of the boot. But we won’t attempt anything until next week. The rest and rehab of Friday, Saturday, Sunday, let’s just see where he’s at. And even then, we don’t have to rush him back. I’m pleased with his progress at this point, but I’m not sure what ahead of schedule is because I’m not exactly sure what ahead of schedule is. And he feels good about it too.”
— Dennison sat out most of practice after being kicked in the shin, but Sarkisian said it was not serious. “It was planned for him to have a light night anyway, so we just said: What’s the use of giving him a few reps; let’s just take him off completely.”
— Sarkisian said he didn’t know if Dennison will play in Saturday’s 3:15 p.m. scrimmage: “Yeah, I don’t know how much he’ll do. Tomorrow will be really the last shot for our young guys to get really a lot of quality reps, so there will be a big emphasis on them tomorrow. I thought their level of play has gotten better and better through the week. From Derek Brown to Josh Perkins to the young defensive linemen to the DBs, they’ll get a good look. But the ones and twos will get a nice look, too.”
— As for Polk, Sarkisian said: “He moved around really well yesterday. And we knew he’d be a little bit more sore today just from having surgery, so we wanted to keep him of his feet. But he feels good. If you talk to Chris, he’d tell you the same thing – he feels good. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see how his body responds. So far, so good.” He said that “I highly doubt” that Polk will return next week. “I am going to let him get healthy. That is really important to us for the long haul of this thing, I want to make sure he is healthy.”
— A player making it back healthy is receiver Devin Aguilar, who had one highlight-reel catch in a team setting tonight: “He has done nicely. That is one of the beauties of our receiving corps – every night it feels like a couple different guys step up and make plays. That is the luxury we have right now of being extremely deep at that position. I love the fact that Devin has fought back and battled through it. And then you see Jermaine (Kearse) make his plays, Kevin (Smith) make his plays, or James (Johnson), or DiAndre (Campbell) or Kasen (Williams) and so, it is a good group.”
— Williams had maybe the highlight play of the night, a 70-yard TD when he leaped to make a high catch of a Nick Montana pass and then split the defense to run into the end zone. Austin Seferian-Jenkins also had his requisite 2-3 standout plays, causing Sarkisian to say: “You saw Kasen again tonight – that was about a 70-yard touchdown. About every other day, or every third day, he has a big one. They are doing a great job. What I love about them – and they haven’t wavered on this – they are such competitive kids. This really matters to them. They are serious about it. They study. They work at it. They compete. Again, they are fighting through not being perfect, but they are getting better. There are less mental mistakes. There are more of being right consistently. That is what the battle is going to be here for the next two weeks.”
— Lawrence Lagafuaina got more time working at tackle with Alameda Ta’amu mostly sitting out to rest his hand. And Sarkisian said Lagafuaina has taken advantage of the chance to state a case for playing time: “Lawrence has really had a nice week. These last three days, he’s showed up. That’s the beauty of competition. Danny Shelton has stepped in and done some good things, and he kind of awoken Lawrence. And Lawrence has had some really good practices. He’s been physical, he’s been explosive at the point of attack, he’s made some plays in the run game…but then he’s also showed some real pass-rush quickness coming off the ball inside as well. That’s
something we saw in camp when he was in high school, we knew he had it in him. Competition is a great motivator, and I think that’s really helped Lawrence.”
— That helps the DL depth, though Sarkisian said the Huskies could always use more, notably the return of Semisi Tokolahi at some point: “Not having Semisi doesn’t help, and we’re holding Alameda out right now just to let that thing heal before it just keeps banging…but I think our young guys have come along – whether it’s a Danny Shelton, or Tani Tupou, or Jarett Finau, or Corey Waller…all those guys have done nice things for us that have helped alleviate some of the snaps off of Hauoli and Talia and Everrette and those types of guys. All in all, I like the depth. I want us to all be 100 percent healthy, but this is football, and we’re going to get nicked
up a little bit.”
— He gave this update on Tokolahi: “It’s getting better. Without a doubt, it’s getting better. It’s just getting better at the pace he would want it to get better at, or what we would want it to get better at. The reality of it is – and Semisi and I had a long talk about this last night – we’re going to need Semisi in mid-October and through November, when the d-line generally…that’s when injuries can mount, and that’s when you can get beat up…and that’s when we’re going to need a healthy Semisi. And as we build up to that, that might be limited snaps as we go through the season, but build to where he can be a real factor by mid-October, November.”
— Asked if Tokolahi’s biggest hurdles are mental or physical, he said: “It’s all of it. It’s the injury, it’s the fitness, and it’s the mental side of it – the, I’m OK. A lot of injuries, the body heals but the mind hasn’t quite yet – so you favor it and protect it. So it’s going to take him some time, and we’re very aware of it. It was a serious injury, but to his credit he’s worked hard to get back, and his body is just taking its time with it, so we’re taking our time with him.”
— Sarkisian said again that Tanigawa has been one of the surprises of camp and elaborated on the reasons: “I think, one, his knowledge of our system. As a redshirt freshman, especially you go through fall and you don’t get to run our stuff all the time when you’re down on the service team reading cards, so spring can take time to get back in the system and running our stuff. He came back this fall camp really locked into our offense and understanding what we were doing to go with his quickness, his strength and he’s got a real nasty streak which is what you love in an interior offensive lineman. He’s tough, he’s nasty, he’s physical and he brings a hard-nosed mentality to that group.”
— Bishop Sankey had about a 65-yard TD run during the same session when Williams had his score, causing Sarkisian to say: “He’s making it hard to keep him off the field that’s for sure.”
— Taz Stevenson, recovering from a knee sprain, saw his most extensive time of the fall: “He’s coming, but I don’t think he’s back at 100 percent, yet, but he’s coming.”
— Eric Guttorp took most of the kicks and his a long of 48. Asked why Guttorp took the kicks, Sarkisian said: “Part of it is we kicked pretty extensively this morning and I just didn’t think Erik Folk needed to come back and kick extensively tonight. And you never know — the season is the season and things happen and I think Guttorp has done a nice job and been consistent and made his kicks. And I think Erik (Folk) has really come on the last couple of days as well.”
— A nightly post-practice ritual has Sarkisian, Doug Nussmeier and the quarterbacks, and whoever else, try to hit the crossbar from about the 30. Schaefer took part Friday, though Sarkisian said he wasn’t necessarily invited. “He snuck in on us.” From this vantage point, Montana was the first one to hit it Friday.