On a sunny spring day, with music blaring inside Husky stadium, Washington took the field in only shells as they prepared for Saturday's scrimmage. The practice got off to a sluggish start, until head coach Steve Sarkisian got into his players to pick up the tempo.
Most of the day was spent fine tuning and running through the new playbook. During the seven-on-seven, and 11-on-11 drills, the defense dominated, pressure the quarterbacks and making life hard on the offense.
"The defense did a good job today," explained Sarkisian. "They did a good job with their pressure again. It's a little difficult when you're not in pads with pass protection because it's hard to get into guys, especially when guys like E.J. Savannah and Donald Butler and Mason Foster are blitzing."
A player really turning heads on defense is senior end Darrion Jones, who again had another solid practice as a starter.
"Darrion, in my opinion, has been one of our most improved players this spring," Sarkisian said. "From what we saw from his evaluation film from last year to what he's doing for us now, he's become a real force out here."
"He's playing with speed, he's playing with power, he's doing a great job of rushing the passer which we need coming off the edge especially in passing downs and he's holding up really well against the run. I'm excited about where Darrion is. From where he was to where he's at now, he's become a real factor on that defensive line."
The cornerback position continues to be a dog fight, and today Vonzell McDowell was running with the starters, while Justin Glenn was moved back to the second unit with Matt Mosley who is back from injury. McDowell had a nice deflection on a Jake Locker to Cody Bruns pass attempt, and later broke up a would-be touchdown pass from Locker to Jermaine Kearse. Glenn also had a nice play, making an adjustment on a comeback route to deny Anthony Boyles a completion later in the practice.
The offense did have some positive moments despite being denied the endzone. Kearse especially shined, catching three long passes, and on one used his legs to gain over 40 yards. Chris Izbicki had a nice catch on an out route, and showed his speed racing up the sideline for a big gain. Bruns made an impressive 25-yard grab on a Locker pass, and although quiet for most of the day, Kavario Middleton ran a perfect come-back route for a first down catch.
However, the biggest highlights for the offense started before they ran a single play. Both Brandon Johnson and Chris Polk returned to practice today, and could be available for tomorrow's scrimmage.
Polk made his presence felt running with the second team. On one play in particular, he took a pass in the flat, turned on the jets, and split between two linebacker for a huge gain. Linebackers coach Mike Cox was not pleased and Matt Houston heard about it.
"Chris is very natural football player,'' said Sarkisian. "He's got a good burst, good acceleration, good hands. Tomorrow it will be good for him to get back in pads and have to take the contact and do some of the physical things this game calls for. He's going to need those final six practices to get going again."
A player really starting to find his stride is Locker. He was accurate today, and also showed off his legs with some nice runs.
"I like the way our quarterbacks are progressing," expressed Sark. "I'm really proud of them.''
"I think we are ahead of where I was really anticipating we were going to be. Our kids are plaing with the urgency and the intensity and the speed that we want. We are obviously still having mental errors and things like that, but I like the urgency they are playing with, the effort they are playing with."
SOME APPLE CUP TALK
Here are some quotes from a couple of players and Sarkisian and bout the proposed move of the Apple Cup to Quest Field.
Locker: "Quest Field is a great stadium and it would be fun to go over there and play. To have the excitement of a big time stadium to play in, so if it happened it would be a neat thing for us."
"What ever they decide is best for us, we just need to accept it and have fun with it."
Nate Williams: "That would be fun to play there. It would be a privilege to play there because it is the home of our local professional team. Either way, I just want to line up and play. I don't care if it's here, there, or wherever, I just want to play."
"Last year it was cold over there, and everyone said it would be could, and it really was. That is really the only hard thing about playing there is the weather. The fans weren't more of a factor there then anywhere else."
Sarkisian: "Yeah, I am ok with it. I think Quest Field is a great venue. I think it's great not only for the city of Seattle, but for the state of Washington, to have a common place where both teams can go, they can rally the state, and they can make it a really special event. So yeah, I am ok with it."
SARK HAPPY WITH TEAMS PROGRESS
With a young team learning an entirely new system, there are going to be growing pains. But coach Sarkisian is please with his team's progress and thinks they are ahead of schedule.
"I think we are ahead of where I was really anticipating we were going to be," he explained. "Our kids are plaing with the urgency and the intensity and the speed that we want. We are obviously still having mental errors and things like that, but I like the urgency they are playing with, the effort they are playing with."
He's also happy with how fast his team is picking up the playbook.
"Realistically we were thinking between 75 and 80 percent of it," said Sarkisian about the amount of his playbook he hoped to have installed during spring. "The final 20 or 25 percent we would get installed in fall camp, or throughout the season for game week specific preparation. We are very close, we are probably at a 65 or 70 percent clip right now. We have put a lot on these kids and they have responded really well. They have worked hard, they have prepared. We were hoping for that number of 75 percent, but I realistically didn't think we would get there. But we are, and the kids have responded very well."
A big reason the players have been able to easily pick up the schemes is due to Sark and his staff making them player friendly. They have changed some of the terminology from his days at USC, and tried to make it easy for the Husky players to understand it all.
"We tried to make it as player friendly as possible and I think we did that. We wouldn't have been able to get in as much as we have if we didn't do that and I think our kids have responded well to it."
"They understand the concepts and the verbiage and the calls, so they make sense and carry over so I think it's very player friendly, but it also allows us to be versatile and do the things we want to do."
- Tomorrow is the Huskies second scrimmage of the spring. Sark said things will be similar to last week's scrimmage. There will be four quarters, with 20-25 plays per quarter, each ending with special teams work.
"We've got a lot installed on both sides of the ball and I think they have responded well. Tomorrow is a big day. Tomorrow is the second mid-term and I'm anxious to watch our guys tackle in space, and anxious to the guys with the ball in their hands, if they can make plays. I'm anxious to watch our pass protection, if we can hold up and make plays down the field.''
- Sarkisian hopes to have the spring depth chart more nailed down next week.
"We are getting there, but the injuries are not helping us," he explained. "We kind of have some guys in and out, but as we move forward, I think we will get some more guys in for the final week. Next week I think it will be clear how we will finalize things for the spring so they have something to shoot for come fall."
- Greg Walker was getting work with the starting defense during 11-on-11 drills. Johri Fogerson was working with the two's. The coaches have been experimenting with plenty of combinations in the secondary as they search for answers.
- Starting Offensive Line: Cody Habben LT, Ryan Tolar RG, Mykenna Ikehara C, Senio Kelemete RB, Drew Schaefer RT.
- Backup Offensive Line: Nick Scott LT, Morgan Rosborough LG, Greg Christine C, Scott Shugert RG, Mark Armelin RT.
- WR Vince Taylor was in a foot boot because of a sprained ankle. LB Cort Dennison will be out of contact for the rest of spring after breaking his pinky finger and having a pin put in place to help it set.