April 13, 2011

Kearse, Husky receivers stand out

The first two weeks of spring practice the Washington passing game has centered around the emergence of Michael Hartvigson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins as pass catching threats.

Tuesday, the Husky wide receivers showed that they can make just as big of an impact on the passing game when they are on the same page as quarterbacks Nick Montana and Keith Price.

Senior Jermaine Kearse had probably the best practice of all of the receivers and it started before he even caught a ball. During special team work, he leveled William Chandler, who was returning a punt. The collision got Kearse excited and the rest of the practice he looked impossible to stop.

Kearse is one of the Huskies' main targets downfield and that showed when he caught four balls that were thrown at least 10 yards down field. One was right at the sideline that he was barely able to get two feet in bounds.

[dv]Devin Aguilar[/db] also stepped up Tuesday, showing he can do many different things as a wide receiver.

First he had a 10-yard catch on a slant route, and then was thrown a screen pass, which he picked up a few more yards. Both of those plays were typical of what was seen from Aguilar last season when he used his speed to make plays.

Next Aguilar did something different. He was thrown a deep jump ball between two defenders and came down with it at the 5-yard line for a 25-yard gain. If he continues to progress as a downfield threat as well as a slot receiver, the Huskies will be looking to Aguilar often in the coming season.

The most impressive catch of the day was a 20-yard sideline grab by James Johnson, who has already had a breakout spring.

With two defenders covering him, Johnson went up at the sideline and made the catch. He was shoved out of bounds, but was able to drag a foot on his way out to complete the catch. It was his only long catch of the day, but Johnson did look good on some shorter routes.

Another receiver who has been impressive this spring has been sophomore Kevin Smith and Tuesday he caught a couple of passes for solid gains, but it was the catches he didn't make that are the most telling.

He was targeted on two passes of 45 yards from Price on two different occasions. The first one was juggled and intercepted by Desmond Trufant. The second was thrown incomplete into double coverage.
It is early, but Smith may emerge as the Huskies' home run threat if he can find a way to make catches on balls thrown deep down the field.

After a few weeks of the receivers playing such a small role in practices, coach Steve Sarkisian explained that the receivers are benefiting from the success of the tight ends.

"When you start to disperse the football to five different players and you're utilizing tight ends and fullbacks and different things now when those tight ends are running shallow crossing routes and they gather that they get that attention," Sarkisian said, "that creates big voids for receivers down field and that's obviously what happened out there today."

The Huskies will hope that will continue when the season starts because if they have enough weapons on offense either quarterback should be able to succeed in moving the football, although that wasn't the case Tuesday.

Husky defense puts the clamp down

Sarkisian wanted the offense to score during practice and as time was winding down the offense had four possessions from inside the 50-yard line; all four ended with missed field goals.

That's when he decided to get linebacker John Timu, a high school kicker, to kick a 25-yard field goal to end practice, signifying the defense had won the practice.
"I wanted practice to be over," Sarkisian said. "We were in overtime and we couldn't move the ball and we couldn't make a field goal so we let a defensive player kick it and he made it."

The defense is anchored by senior defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu, who has been so disruptive that at times the offense can't move the ball down the field at all.

"I thought this was by far and away Alameda's best practice," Sarkisian said. "He was really disruptive. He hurt us in the run game. And what he's able to do in the pass game is really collapse the pocket to where the quarterback is having a difficult time stepping up to where our speed guys coming off the edge can really be effective."

Also stepping up and having a strong practice was Thomas Tutogi, who showed his strength on a few different occasions.

On one play, he was in the middle of a huge hit that forced a fumble and on the very next play he crushed Cole Sager in the backfield forcing a rushed throw by Montana. A few plays later he came around the edge to drag down the running back in the backfield for another strong play.

In the secondary, it's no surprise that Desmond Trufant was the player of the day. Along with the interception he had a great defensive play on a ball thrown to Kearse when he was able to get a hand on the ball without committing a penalty.

The Husky defense came on strong to finish the 2010 season and it appears that the same type of defense is coming back this year.
Until the Huskies face another opponent it is tough to know if their offense is just bad, or the defense is just too good.

Quick Hitters

Jesse Callier rolled his ankle in practice and missed the second half of the day, but Sarkisian said he will be fine and the injury is not serious.

Zach Fogerson sat out part of the end of practice due to a slight head injury. Sarkisian said he would be checked out, but didn't think it would be an issue.

Price took his first hit of spring ball when he fumbled and dove on it as several defenders also dove on top of him. He was fine but looked as if he wasn't expecting to be jumped on; quarterbacks wear gold jerseys and are not ever tackled during practices.

Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar and his daughter were at practice Tuesday afternoon.

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