April 13, 2010
SEATTLE - As one of the elder statesman of the defense, Cameron Elisara came into Spring Practice ready to assume a bigger leadership role on the team.
The senior knew how vital Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was last season, and how his pull-no-punches approach to managing the defense helped bring the group together at critical moments.
He just doesn't expect to be as blunt.
"Daniel was - how do I say this - a (mean-spirited) leader at times," Elisara said with a laugh. "I kind of try to approach guys a little differently. I just try to relate to guys a little bit more."
With Te'o-Nesheim preparing for professional football, Elisara fills the void not only in leadership but in production as well. This spring, the coaching staff has tinkered with moving Elisara from tackle over to defensive end, a role he played at Ferris High School in Spokane. It's a position that feels natural for Elisara, but he also acknowledged his prep technique is not quite suited yet for the Division I level.
Speaking shortly after practice No. 7, Elisara walked with a slight limp, the product of a knee knock during a drill. As it is, he mans a unit that is thin on bodies this spring. No position has been as hurt by injuries as the defensive line, and Coach Steve Sarkisian admitted it's hard to build depth when there isn't a quality No. 2 pushing the No. 1 each day in practice. On a positive note, De'Shon Matthews returned to practice after battling a sore Achilles for much of the spring.
"That happens when you're thin," Sarkisian said. "Guys have to take a few more reps when you don't have the depth ... We'll be okay."
The Huskies don't project Elisara as a full-time defensive end. They like his motor at the position, and feel he could be effective when he's matched up in one-on-one situations. But Sarkisian has said earlier this spring that Elisara is better suited to play inside, where it's critical to get a push against the offensive line.
Last year, the Huskies occasionally moved Te'o-Nesheim inside to take advantage of matchups. If the opposite were to occur on a more regular basis, Elisara wouldn't mind one bit.
"There are some things I've having to adapt to with different blocking schemes," said Elisara, who played in nine games last year. "But there are also some things that are second nature."
In this regard, Elisara continues to pick the brain of Te'o-Nesheim, who remains in Seattle while he continues to work out for various NFL teams around the country. While his presence at practice has maintained consistent, he will certainly be missed on the field. Te'o-Nesheim was a terror on defense, totaling 11 sacks and forcing five fumbles in a terrific season that saw him earn a spot on the All-Pac-10 second team. He brought some of what Sarkisian hopes to replicate in the 2010 campaign - the ability to create turnovers in an instant.
After practice, Elisara and Te'o-Nesheim often talk not just to catch up, but to discuss defensive schemes and technique issues. Elisara, for instance, was particularly curious about how to approach the position when playing the six technique (i.e. over the tight end). Te'o-Nesheim has been there to answer any and all questions, particularly when it comes to leadership.
"He knows from being around me how I handled things," Te'o-Nesheim said. "He's more of a friendly guy. I think he'll handle it great."
To fill the void on the line, the Huskies are relying on not only Elisara, but others like Talia Crichton, who picked up valuable game reps last season at the opposite defensive end position. The Huskies will gain some clarity in the fall when Everrette Thompson and Kalani Aldrich return from injuries. When the fall class arrives on campus, depth should no longer be a concern.
Until then, the Huskies will continue building up their depth and approaching the spring practice like they do every day - get better each time out.
"I think our depth will be a lot better. We get Kalani back, we get Everrette back," Sarkisian said. "We also bring in three new guys. We'll be fine."