Aug. 17, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - When he's not running, catching passes or blocking for quarterbacks, Dezden Petty can barely stand still.
If he isn't carrying the football, he's pretending to. He's usually the guy behind the huddle pantomiming the "Dawg claw," the high-and-tight hand placement over the ball that UW assistant Joel Thomas constantly preaches to his running backs as the sure way to keep from fumbling.
Dawg claws or drills, whether as a tailback or fullback, Petty's got a down-home reason for doing extra to impress his coaches during this Huskies preseason training camp: The native of Carson, Calif., was committed to San Diego State out of high school -- until he took an 11th-hour visit to Washington.
"Oh, that's definitely why I am trying to do everything I can right now," Petty said after a recent practice, eying UW's opener against the Aztecs at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 1.
The redshirt freshman calls the UW campus "the prettiest place I've been in my life." That plus the atmosphere of family, competition and opportunity that coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff create with the Huskies got Petty to change his mind on the final day of his Washington visit during the 2009-10 academic year.
He was so instantly convinced he cancelled a visit he had scheduled to Nevada for the days following his one to UW.
The Huskies are plenty glad he did right now. On Thursday, Sarkisian listed depth at running back as one of his concerns midway through fall camp.
Washington is searching for a productive rotation of backs to replace some of the prodigious production lost when Chris Polk, UW's second-leading rusher for a career, to the NFL in April. Then this month Deontae Cooper was lost for the season with his third torn anterior cruciate knee ligament in as many summers.
Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey appear to be 1A and 1B on the running-back depth chart. That leaves Petty, freshman Erich Wilson II and reinstated Willis Wilson in a gaggle competing for playing time.
"Honestly, I've got to find where I fit in," Petty said.
He is the Huskies' biggest running back at 5-feet-11 and 225 pounds. Asked what he learned from the bullish Polk last year while redshirting, Petty said Polk offered tips on how to be a powerful, punishing runner while maintaining speed.
Polk must have taught his potential protégé well - because he's got some ambition and confidence to go with his energy.
"By the time I leave here I want to be better than Chris Polk," Petty said. "And he told me I can do it.
Whoa! Better than the second-leading rusher in school history?
"I know that's a tall order," Petty said. "But I'm here for a reason."
JOHNSON, KEARSE HAVE SURGERIES: Sarkisian announced after Friday night's practice that wide receiver James Johnson had surgery to repair a dislocated elbow and ligament damage and linebacker Jamaal Kearse had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his lower leg near his shin. The coach said each of his starters will miss approximately four to six weeks.
With Nate Fellner on crutches with a broken foot, the Huskies have three starters likely to miss at least the first two games, including the Sept. 8 test at Louisiana State.
That made Friday night a good time for junior wide receiver Kevin Smith to run some plays with the first-team offense while wearing a yellow, no-contact jersey.
Smith caught 15 passes and returned 37 kickoffs last season in 12 games, three of them starts. Then he tore the ACL in his knee during practice in San Antonio days before the Dec. 30 Alamo Bowl.
"He was just excited to be out there," Sarkisian said of Smith's Friday role as a wide out for running plays inside.
Sarkisian said depth at wide receiver isn't a huge concern thanks to Smith's return and the emergence of freshmen Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor. The coach loves their speed and what he called their "high football IQ."
INSIDE CAMP: Sarkisian reinstated Wilson and H-back Joshua Perkins days after dismissing them off the team. Both practiced Friday night. The coach said he learned more about their role in an unspecified situation and that "it felt like the right thing to do." He consulted the team's veteran leaders before welcoming back Wilson and Perkins. ... Keith Price got most of the night practice off, so Derrick Brown, Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist quarterbacked the starter's plays with the offense. Price, who set a UW record with 33 touchdown passes as a redshirt sophomore last season, demonstratively waved his arms and gave coaching tips to Lindquist behind the huddle during the team portion of drills. He ended the mentoring by patting the freshman QB on the back. ... The Huskies will scrimmage more fully than they have yet this month on Saturday afternoon on East Field, two weeks to the day before the opener. All practices are closed to the public this season because of the space limitations on the back practice field. It is mere feet from the quickly progressing renovation of Husky Stadium.