April 6, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - To Senio Kelemete, the Huskies' emphasis on physicality this spring isn't new. It's a way of life.
Ask him about being physical, and the senior-to-be left tackle will shoot you an incredulous look as if he's just been asked to wear a dress on the football field.
"This is a man's sport, man. You can't just come out here and expect to get by with a little push here and there," Kelemete almost scoffed Tuesday following his latest banging in the first full-pads practice of UW's spring drills. "You have to be aggressive. It's all in your head."
Indeed it is. Coach Steve Sarkisian has been drilling into there the demand that his Huskies be more physical on both sides of the ball.
Telling those guys to hit more is like telling butchers to chop more meat. It's why they do what they do.
"Every day, they tell us, remind us, to practice that way," Jamora said. "If that's all we did to come out here and just be physical, great. That's the best part of the game. I'm sure all of the guys love it. To be able to practice like that every day makes us a better team."
When Sarkisian listed the goals for what he wants to accomplish in these 15 spring practices that run through the end of this month, physicality was No. 1.
And it's not just the linemen. Coaches are constantly reminding safeties, cornerbacks, wide receivers and running backs to use their hands more "as weapons," as Dennison described.
That, coupled with the offseason work in the weight room with beloved strength coach Ivan Lewis, has these Huskies in a smash-mouth frame of mind.
"One thing Coach Sarkisian has emphasized is that we've got to create an attitude for our team," said the 6-foot-5, 306-pound Kohler, who is so tough he started against Nebraska and USC last season as a freshman while going through mononucleosis.
"Yeah, the 2010 team went to the Holiday Bowl, won the Holiday Bowl and everything. But this is the 2011 team, and we have to create an attitude and a mentality just for us. And it's that physicality, that mental attitude that we are going to go out there and be tougher than that other guy."
Tuesday was a perfect day for being tough. Not only was it the first day of tackling in full pads, chilling gusts blew in off Lake Washington in through the open end of Husky Stadium. One them turned a short, out-route pass from Nick Montana into a end-over-end lawn dart. Players' jerseys billowed like sails.
And the linemen just kept on grinding, as they would on an 80-degree day.
After about an hour or so, Sarkisian finally, mercifully took the final 45 minutes of practice inside to the Dempsey Indoor facility next door. And the linemen kept on whacking each other plus anyone else nearby.
Pass-rush drills with got so heated that defensive end Josh Shirley got his helmet ripped off. The redshirt freshman angrily responded at the blockers before teammates and coaches separated the scene.
All in another day of Husky physicality.
"This is who they want to be," Sarkisian said. "We still have a ways to go to actually to get that point, but they've adopted that mentality. Now it's that fine line of playing tough, physical football and yet understanding these are our teammates and we are practicing to get better.
"I think they've done a nice job of it so far, but I think we can be even more physical at the point of attack."
Sarkisian only needs to point to last November to remind his Huskies what increased toughness can do.
This emphasis on physicality began then, when UW was 3-6 and quarterback Jake Locker had a broken rib. Needing three wins in the final three games to reach their first bowl since 2002, the Huskies decided to rely on the rugged running of Chris Polk and brute force on both sides of the ball.
The drive that exemplified the change in mentality came at the end of the Nov. 27 game at California. The Huskies converted key third downs with runs up the middle then called time out. Sarkisian gathered them together on the sidelines before the game's final play, told them he wasn't going for the safe, chip-shot field goal to tie it and instead sent out and an unbalanced line and a stop-us-if-you-can play off right tackle. Cal couldn't. Polk's 1-yard touchdown run on the final play ended the Bears' season and kept the Huskies' bowl hopes alive.
Polk then romped to the second-biggest rushing day by a Husky ever - 284 yards on 29 carries, second only to a Hugh McElhenny day more than a half-century ago - the following in the Apple Cup win at Washington State. And the Huskies manhandled supposedly bigger, more physical Nebraska to win the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30.
For Kelemete, the demand for more physical play was a "Hallelujah!"-like moment.
"Yeah, it was. I know as an O-line we were a lot happier," he said. "It was just man on man, who's the better player. As soon as we ran the ball more, I was happy. I mean, I was happy passing the ball, too, let Jake do his stuff. But when it came down to running, man, that's one thing I love about football, man - just smash-mouth football."
Sarkisian's spring practice schedule also lends itself to more hitting. Having a day off between every practice, and two after the Saturday sessions, gives time for recharging. Saturday the Huskies will conduct their first full-contact scrimmage of the spring, though Sarkisian said he will limit the amount of plays that are full-go.
Not that Dennison wants any limitations. Even in April.
"Yeah, I love it," he said. "I love contact. I love making the big play, and I love when my teammates make a big play. I think everyone on the defense is stepping up to be more physical. I think everyone expects us to be a more physical defense this fall."