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Camp's Out! Huskies Flee Like Giddy Schoolkids After Successful Training Camp Ends Early
Release: 08/27/2011
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Aug. 27, 2011

Watch Coach Sark's Press Conference Monday at Noon (also live on UWTV)

By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE - Huskies were huddling in offensive and defensive sets for team drills, and for what they thought were the final 45 minutes or so of preseason practices.

But Steve Sarkisian had seen enough Saturday morning. Plenty enough to be satisfied and happy, that is.

The third-year coach had relentlessly driven his guys through the most physical August Washington has had since he took over at Washington in 2009. Now he was suddenly blowing his whistle in extended and celebratory blasts.

Senior wide receiver Jermaine Kearse got so excited over summer camp unexpectedly ending, seven days before the season begins for real against Eastern Washington, he picked up Sarkisian and lifted the coach toward the brilliantly sunny sky. Players roared and jumped and ran around them like it was the last December's Holiday Bowl all over again.

"I was SOOOO happy," Kearse said a few minutes later, his grin still huge. "This being my last camp, and for him to cut it short, I was so happy -- and shocked, because you don't expect that from him."

Kearse joked the joy of the moment "was pretty close" to him tying UW's school record with three touchdown catches last September against Syracuse.

Sarkisian gave the gift of the early out, an early start on moving out of the dorms all players have been in this month and a jump on time off until Monday because his Dawgs accomplished their pre-camp goals.

And then some:

• The Huskies wanted Keith Price to settle in quickly as the first UW starting quarterback not named Jake Locker since the beginning of the 2007 season. Price smoothly ran the offense, called the right audibles and generally showed he can manage a game adroitly. That is all Washington, with its load of talent at the skill positions, needs Price to do. He shouldn't have to win games almost by himself this season, as Locker often had to. And the plan isn't to ask him to.

Indeed, asked what his biggest accomplishment was of camp, Price smiled as usual and said, "Having a mastery of the playbook."

• The Huskies needed to find a new starting safety to replace former co-captain Nate Williams, plus new starting linebackers to take the places of Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa. It took about two days to find all three. Sophomore Sean Parker was all over the field and led the defense with five interceptions at strong safety. High-school teammates Princeton Fuimaono and freshman John Timu, in his first contact work since blowing out his knee in September 2009, quickly seized the outside linebacker spots.

Coaches especially love Timu's tenacity, versatility and athleticism. He was a quarterback and safety at Long Beach Jordan High, then returned two weeks following knee reconstruction to try out and make his school's volleyball team early in 2010.

• UW needed to find more depth on the defensive line. That happened, thanks to the emergence of instantly dependable - and huge -- Danny Shelton. The 330-plus (plus)-pound freshman surprised defensive coordinator Nick Holt with how quickly he learned schemes plus how fit he is proving to be, given his legs are about as large around as Husky Stadium's light poles. Shelton will often be teamed inside with senior linchpin Alameda Ta'amu on early downs, with Hau'oli Jamora and part-time tackle Everrette Thompson at ends. It will be the largest, most physical and potentially best run-stopping front UW has had in years.

• Coaches, teammates and fans wanted to see how quickly heralded, coveted freshmen recruits Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins may contribute at wide receiver and tight end, respectively. Both will contribute right away, and likely significantly. Williams routinely made one-handed catches all month, and he used his state-champion high jumping and basketball athleticism to out-leap and wall off defenders for catches. The 6-foot-6, 257-pound Seferian-Jenkins caught almost everything thrown within a few yards of him. He will start the opener, teaming with rugged and healthy again Michael Hartvigson to give Sarkisian the tight-end threats he's been craving since the day he arrived at UW.

• The Huskies needed Desmond Trufant's confidence restored. It's back - with a vengeance. He was thudding into receivers all month to break up passes, most memorably with a shoulder to Seferian-Jenkins' chest in what was about the only time anyone separated the big tight end from a reception. Coaches thought Trufant, entering his third season as UW's starting cornerback, might have been the most consistently brilliant performer in camp.

• Sarkisian was curious to see how dedicated his mostly young players were months following the program's first bowl victory in nine years - and without the departed leadership of Locker, Williams and Foster.

That gets a big ol' check, too.

"We are really in this thing together," Sarkisian said. "It was somewhat of a pleasant surprise, because you never know. ... This team is very close and very intimate."

The head man and former USC coordinator also said the players' rapport with coaches "is as good as I've seen."

"I can tell you we are a football TEAM," Sarkisian said, "which is great."

All this is not to say camp was perfect - few, if any, are. Chris Polk had to have arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 18, and sophomore Jesse Callier is currently filling in as the lead back. Polk, a 1,400-yard rusher last season, seems likely to miss the opener -- though Saturday he did what Sarkisian described as his most movement work since the injury.

Senior cornerback Quinton Richardson sustained a high ankle sprain two weeks ago and may also sit out the Eastern Washington game. Greg Ducre has been getting most of the time with the first team lately.

"We'll assess them early in the week," Sarkisian said of Polk and Richardson. "I'm not going to try to say, 'Hey, we're not going to make a decision until Thursday,' or something. We'll be able to tell I think by about Tuesday where there at.

"I am encouraged by both, I will say that. I think they've come a long way in a short amount of time."

Running back Johri Fogerson had a hip injury and missed practice Saturday. That leaves Callier and freshman Bishop Sankey as the lone fully healthy top backs right now.

Mitigating those injuries: The progress of the guys who block for the backs. The offensive line has already jelled into a five-man unit with set positions, another goal entering this summer. Lone senior Senio Kelemete is at left tackle, redshirt freshman Colin Tanigawa is the left guard, junior Drew Schaefer is at center and sophomores Colin Porter and Erik Kohler will start at right guard and tackle, respectively.

It took months into the 2010 season before the Huskies had a set offensive front.

"When we came out Day 1, things just clicked. We just rolled from there," Schaefer said following Saturday's abbreviated, 80-minute practice in shoulder pads and shorts. "We just learned to battle, really compete. That's the emphasis of our program, to compete."

An unexpected competition emerged at free safety between 2010 starter Nate Fellner and Justin Glenn, the 2009 starter until he broke his leg in the fifth game of that season. Holt says that starter may not be determined until close to the first kickoff.

The punter competition didn't get settled, though that's not quite a negative. Will Mahan, the punter until a season-ending injury last September, and 2010 record-setting fill-in Kiel Rasp both boomed the ball all months. Sarkisian says there is likely to be a role for each senior this season, depending on field position and game situations.

The most enduring lesson from these four weeks may prove to be what senior middle linebacker and leader Cort Dennison took away from camp. It's the signature trait Sarkisian has been instilling in the Huskies since the day he took over in 32 months ago.

"I learned, first off, that they are going to compete. They are going to bring it every day," Dennison said of his 2011 teammates. "They realize competition brings out the best in everybody.

"I'll tell you one thing, when we play next Saturday, you are going to see 100-percent effort."

QUICK HITS: The players had the rest of Saturday and all Sunday off, their first extended free time and first time in their off-campus apartments in a month. Kearse and Schaefer had the same answer when asked what they were going to do with the freedom: "Sleep in my own bed." ... A day after the sold-out "Raise the Woof" fan event, players and coaches were still talking about the comedy act of Erik Wilson. The backup quarterback had the team roaring while he poked fun at his fellow QBs Friday night. He joked that until recently he thought Price's first name was "Teeth," because Price smiles so much. Sarkisian used Wilson's stand-up act in front of his peers and a couple thousand fans as another example of how comfortable and close this team is with one another.

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