Aug. 10, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Sean Parker was so excited for the Huskies' first day in shoulder pads this season, he bolted out of bed at 6 a.m. ready to hit an end table, a light pole, his classmates - anything.
"I was amped up just to know we had pads on," the sophomore safety and heir apparent to departed co-captain Nate Williams said.
It was his first contact work in nine months, since he pinched a nerve in his shoulder area days before last November's UCLA game. His first hit since November came head on into running back Jesse Callier in a 9-on-7 drill. The play exemplified Wednesday's increased physicality, which has been the theme Steve Sarkisian and his coaching staff have pushed for this three-day-old fall camp and Washington's 2011 season.
Fiery defensive coordinator Nick Holt loved the uptick in hitting.
Of course he did.
"We finally got to play a little football. We finally got out of the underwear," Holt said, after what for him must have been the monotony of watching his defense run around in just helmets, pad-less jerseys and shorts the previous two days.
Yet the demanding architect of the defense was far from satisfied with his growing unit.
He needs to find two starting outside linebackers this month, to replace now-Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa. And he needs to find game-ready depth at defensive tackle to rotate size with inside brick wall Alameda Ta'amu in the Sept. 3 opener against Eastern Washington.
He didn't sound like he found much Wednesday.
"It looked basically like the third day of practice," Holt said. "We've got to get our pads down. The young guys were a little wide-eyed ... That's to be expected. They'll get it."
He did sound like he's found the replacement for Williams, to play next to junior and returning starter Nate Fellner on the defense's back line.
"Sean Parker - it's obviously really early - but he's doing a really, really good job," Holt said.
Parker was the fifth defensive back in passing situations last season -- until he missed the final, four-game winning streak with the shoulder-nerve injury.
"He's in shape. He's quicker. He's more mature physically," Holt said of heralded recruit a year ago out of Los Angeles. "It's like we said he would be last year: A really good football player.
"We've got to find some depth behind him."
Sophomores Taz Stevenson and Will Shamburger are the first in line behind Parker right now. Stevenson had offseason knee surgery after being one of a school-record 14 true freshman to play for UW in 2010 - he played in all 13 and had four tackles each at Oregon and at Washington State late in the year. Shamburger, from Huskies quarterback Keith Price's St. John Bosco High School in Compton, Calif., played in 10 games last season primarily on special teams.
The starting competition at outside linebacker is far more wide open. Sophomores Princeton Fuimaono and Garret Gilliland have been getting the first-team reps in the first three days of camp. John Timu, who enrolled in January after missing last season with an injury, redshirt freshman Jamaal Kearse, sophomore Cooper Pelluer and junior Jordan Wallace are also in the crowded mix.
"Hopefully we have six or seven guys who can play there," Holt said. "If that means rotating (during games), so be it.
"It's still very early. Hopefully in three weeks we will clarify the issue."
Holt is entering his third season as leading UW's defense, having followed Sarkisian in coming north after being a USC coordinator. He says that even though it lost its two biggest playmakers in Foster and Aiyewa and a leader in Williams from last season, this defense may be deeper and thus better overall.
It's the natural evolution of a successfully growing program, of promising recruiting classes growing up.
"The big thing is we have some depth now," Holt said. "We just have more numbers of better football players."
One of them has his name. Holt's son, also named Nick, is a walk-on who turned down a scholarship offer from Montana of the Football Championship Subdivision to play for the Huskies.
The younger Holt, who played quarterback and linebacker at Seattle Prep High School, was a linebacker until Tuesday. That's when the offensive staff gave him a purple jersey for the other side of the ball and had him try fullback. The only No. 50 in the backfield is part of Sarkisian's quest to find depth behind converted linebacker and new starting fullback Jonathan Amosa.
"Yeah, well, I would love to have him on defense, but they need some bodies over on that side of the ball," Coach Holt said.
"It's fun to see him out there. He's having a great time being a Husky. It's fun."
Asked if his 5-foot-11, 220-pound son looks like himself when he played, Papa Holt said, "Well, he's a little faster."
Then the intense coach with a shaved head smiled through his sunglasses and said, "Not as good lookin' as I am, though."
QUICK HITS: DT Sione Potoa'e, who started the Oregon and Stanford games last season as a true freshman, practiced for the first time in camp. He's had a knee injury. Sarkisian said junior Semisi Tokolahi, a late-season revelation as a starter in 2010 until he broke his ankle and sustained nerve damage in the Dec. 4 Apple Cup, is close to returning, too. Those two are keys in the DT rotation the Huskies went to use next with Ta'amu. ... Freshman WR Kasen Williams turned heads - including those of defenders looking at the back of his jersey - when he turned a short pass in the flat into a long TD. "I like those kinds of touchdowns," Sarkisian said of the easy-play, big-result score. ... Thursday's practice at Husky Stadium begins at 3:15 p.m. and is open to the public.