April 3, 2009
By Taylor Soper
Open practices, a new coaching staff and a healthy Jake Locker are all changes that were noticeable on the first day of spring football practices.
Add a more seasoned receiving corps to that list.
After receivers amassed just fewer than 2,000 yards last year, which was nearly 600 yards fewer than their opponents, coaches and players are optimistic that this year's receivers are improved.
"We have a year under our belt and know the game better," junior wide receiver D'Andre Goodwin said. "But we still have work to do."
New head coach Steve Sarkisian did not release a depth chart prior to the first day of spring practice. Every player started with a clean slate and will be evaluated from this point forward.
"[Not having a depth chart] raises the stakes and makes people compete," said Goodwin, who led the Huskies in receiving last year with 692 yards.
The Dawgs only managed to score six receiving touchdowns last year, compared to 24 by their opponents. Sarkisian hopes to change that by upping the competition level at practice and emphasizing consistency.
"We got some guys that have playmaking ability, but that ability to do it on an every-down basis, on third down, in the red zone, that's what we're looking for out of them," he said.
Sarksian and his coaching staff have implemented a competition between the offense and the defense at the end of every practice. The coaches hope that the practice competitions will help the team learn how to make tough plays in crunch time.
"No doubt [it helps]," said Demetrice Martin, secondary and cornerbacks coach. "Our program is based off of competition. If it's to see who can tie their shoe the fastest, we are competing, and especially the defensive backs and the receivers."
A healthy Jake Locker at the quarterback position should improve passing and receiving numbers across the board.
"Jake is going to help us a lot," Goodwin said. "He can get us out of situations that a lot of quarterbacks can't, and that is definitely going to help."
Locker said he was impressed with how the receivers looked on the first day of spring practice.
"They knew what they were doing, lined up in the right spots and ran the right routes," he said. "They did a really good job of knowing their assignments."
Along with Goodwin, Locker said the experience from last year should be beneficial this year.
"The game experience is something you can't get anywhere else, and they have that now," he said.
Jimmie Dougherty is taking over as the new wide receivers coach. Dougherty was the offensive coordinator at the University of San Diego, where he spent the last five seasons on the Toreros' coaching staff. In 2007, the Toreros led the country in passing efficiency, and in 2008, the team was fifth in FCS passing efficiency and 11th in scoring.
"He's a young guy with a lot of excitement," Goodwin said. "If you make a catch, he's right there celebrating with you."
Overall, the keyed-up atmosphere should help receivers and the team in general.
"I love [the intensity at practice]," said sophomore wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who finished second in receiving yards last year with 301. "It's more energized. You feel that rush, and you just want to go out there and compete."