The Huskies got off the field a few minutes earlier than originally scheduled today, UW coach Steve Sarkisian sensing his team could use a little break with training camp nearing its end.
The Huskies will hold a last two-a-day tomorrow and officially break camp on Saturday.
But today was the 20th practice UW has held since Aug. 8, and the players are beginning to feel it.
“We had a great practice last night,” said Sarkisian. “I loved our practice last night. It was physical, tough, grinding. But I look at our guys and we had a little reception over there at Conibear with our families and the guys coming in, they didn’t have quite the same pep in their step as they did a couple of weeks ago, and understandably so. It’s been a physical camp. And so we had one more segment planned for today, but as practice went on I said let’s get fresh now. Let’s get fresh as a football team.”
Today’s practice was full pads, but no full tackling. There were no significant new injuries apparent, and no new significant personnel news.
You can see Sarkisian talk to the media after practice in the video below about the progress of Danny Shelton and how he has overcome the personal tragedy of the spring, his thoughts on the defensive line, and a few other items. And there’s a few more notes below the video:
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There was lots of special situational work today, including at one point some fumble drills, the players being taught the proper way to jump on a loose ball, with another player then taught how to cover that player up from thieving opponents.
A lot of the situational work involved the passing game and that’s where the highlights were today, one coming on about a 70-yard TD pass from Keith Price to Kasen Williams on a toss down the middle of the field in which Williams then split the defense. A defensive highlight came when Taz Stevenson, appearing to get closer every day to his regular form, hit James Johnson, forcing him to bobble the ball, Stevenson then stealing it away.
The practice ended with Nick Montana running the No. 1 offense during a two-point drill, hitting three passes in a row for scores to begin the drill, one to Williams in the back of the end zone, another to Johnson.
Sarkisian said he was simply giving Price a little planned time off.
“I just wanted to have a plan to back off (Keith) a little bit,” Sarkisian said. “He’s had a lot of throws in this camp. Now it’s time to get fresh as a football team. And getting Nick some opportunities in there to show what he can do in some different situations. The blitz period and then with the two-point sequciencing where the windows are tight. I thought Nick responded really well. ”
Sarkisian reiterated the progress Price has made in the three years he has been here. “Coach (Doug) Nussmeier and I were talking about that last night,” Sarkisian said. “You show up and you are trying to install all this stuff. We are talking about protections, and pass concepts, and audibles at the line of scrimmage and all the stuff at that goes into playing the quarterback position for us. We are talking about actually Derrick Brown where he is at and we think about where keith was a couple years ago at this same time. It’s amazing how far they can come. It’s amazing how when you just live in the culture and the language it becomes you and it’s become keith. He doesn’t know any different. It’s just normal to him.”
Among those watching practice today was Don James, who spoke to the team briefly early in practice. Sarkisian said “Oh yeah, they knew” when asked if the players were aware of James’ presence. “We brought him out and he addressed the team early in practice. He talked about how proud he was of them last year and what we were able to do at the end of the season and persevere and what the challenges would be this year for our guys, especially early in the season, and what it would take to overcome those challenges. He was fantastic.”
Asked if he picks James’ brain on coaching ideas, he said: “Sure. I picked it today. Anytime you have a resource like that you have to use it.”
Sarkisian recalled that he got one recruiting letter from UW while in high school that had James’ signature on it and that it “gave me goose bumps.”
“I loved this program,” he said. “I was a sophomore in high school and our senior tailback/cornerback Josh Moore came to the University of Washington and it was a big deal. It was a big deal to our school that he was coming to Washington to play for the Huskies. It was very well-respected.”
IN OTHER NEWS. …
— Danny Shelton continues to run with the starting unit at one defensive tackle spot along with Alameda Ta’amu, a look it appears the Huskies may do more and more this year. Sarkisian said it’s simply a result of Shelton’s progress: “I was really impressed with him. One part of it is physically grinding, and the other part is a mental grind. We’re in the middle of week three now, and a lot of stuff has been installed, and a lot of tough coaching has taken place. And his mental toughness is as good as I’ve been around. He just puts his hand down and goes right back to work the next day. I’ve been very impressed by that fact. He’s a mentally tough kid.”
— As was well-documented, Shelton’s older brother, Shennon, was killed last May. Sarkisian said that makes it more impressive what Danny Shelton has done on the field in camp. “It was obviously a very difficult time for he and his family and I remember the night it happened – I was with he and his family at the hospital, and it was tough. It was tough on him, but he’s used that as a motivator. His brother meant a lot to him, and him coming to the University of Washington meant a lot to his brother. Now that he’s here, he’s using it as motivation – I don’t know how much he thinks about it, but I do periodically check in on him, just to make sure he’s doing OK.”
— Asked to recall the night and how much time he spent at the hospital, Sarkisian said: “It was hours. It was quite some time. It’s a tough time in anybody’s life; I can only imagine…I was trying to put myself in his shoes and how I’d be, and he handled it unbelievable. I can’t imagine if I was put in that place that I could have handled it that well.”
— But all of that, he said, is part of being a college football coach: “Nowadays, when you’re a college coach, you expect it all. We do everything. We’re counselors, we’re fathers, we’re moms, we’re teachers, we’re psychologists… we do everything, and we coach football. It’s part of the job, but it’s also one of the gratifying parts of the job. We do have an influence on these young guys’ lives. When you can have a positive influence on one of their lives – just one – it can be motivating to ourselves within. And to think I get to touch 105 of them every day…it’s a pretty good feeling.”
— As for how Shelton might have reacted, he said: “I didn’t know what to expect. I just kind of kept checking in with him, making sure he handled all of his business at Auburn High School before he got here – he still had a lot of work to do in school – he had to finish school. And I didn’t want him to fall off that way – first and foremost. And he didn’t. And then we got him here, and we said, let’s see how he goes. And he completely impressed our strength and conditioning staff and our people in Academic Services in the summertime when we couldn’t be with him. Everybody raved about his leadership skills and his work ethic, and he’s done nothing to disappoint us here for the last two-and-a-half weeks.”
—- Shelton’s emergence only adds to the optimism about the defensive line, Sarkisian said: “I was watching it again today. And I was trying to do the math there, and that’s just about 700 pounds in the middle of our defensive line when Danny and Alameda are next to one and another. And it’s difficult to run the ball. What that enables us to do is get Everrette (Thompson) on the edge where he is 275 pounds setting the edge, and Hao’uli Jamora on the other side. That’s a pretty good first down defensive line. It’s strong. It’s tough. It holds the point. It allows for our backers, who are really good athletes, to play over the top of things and not get blocked because they can take on double teams. It’s hard to come off those guys. ”
— That should give the Huskies a lot more versatility up front this year, he said: “Much more. Much more. We have so much more depth. To think that we could substitute and rotate those guys and have a nickel package and bring (Josh) Shirley on the field and bring Sione Potoa’e as part of that, and do different things, I know it’s fun for our defensive coaches as well. And the defensive players have embraced it.”
— Asked about Shirley’s progress in camp, he said: “He’s good. I think we are getting now into his phase of the game. You install things kind of in segments as you move forward. His specialty is rushing the passer. Now that we are into this third week and now we have got in nickel packages, dime packages, bandit packages. Those are his babies. That’s kind of his stuff. I’ve seen him show up more within this last week than maybe more so than I did in the first half of training camp. … I feel like he is where he’s not the biggest guy, but he’s so strong and what he’s able to do in the weight room – I’ve never been around a guy quite like that.
— Sarkisian explained the schedule for the next three days this way: “We’ve got a practice tomorrow morning, situational stuff. And then tomorrow afternoon is actually a walk-through of our walk-through. We’re going to walk-through our walk-through for Fridays as we get ready for the game next week. And then Friday we will have a mock game, kind of a dress rehearsal of game day where we will do all of our meetings from game day to pre-game meal to wearing our uniforms and go through the substitutions and situations of what a game will be like. We’ll have our Raise the Woof celebration Friday night over on the East field and then Saturday we will give them the base gameplan for Eastern Washington. And then we will practice Saturday morning and then camp breaks and they get to check out of the dorms. We give them Sunday off to be normal for a day and then we crank it back up Monday and get ready for a ball game.”