Aug. 13, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Two years ago, Steve Sarkisian's second season U-turning the Huskies, the overall roster was shallow and there were many jobs as open as the air above Husky Stadium.
Washington played 16 true freshmen that 2010 season. That was tied for most in the country with Florida.
Today's Dawgs are in deep. Way deep.
The roster depth to begin year four of Sarkisian's program is such that Travis Feeney, a safety last season, was playing first-team linebacker on Monday night as the Huskies finished another two-practice day on East Field. That's so the defense can find a place, any place, for another playmaker.
The move comes after the same ones made in the offseason by senior Nate Fellner, sophomore Taz Stevenson and redshirt freshman Evan Zeger. They all went from a position of ultra depth to one of need with Cort Dennison, Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa all having departed the last two offseasons. (Fellner broke his foot last week and will likely miss the first two games next month). John Timu, an outside linebacker last season, is the first-team middle backer this month.
On offense, senior center Drew Schaefer has been working some at tackle. Depth - and continuity - on the offensive line got a boost Monday night when Colin Tanigawa was back at first-team guard. It was his first regular work there since the bulldog-like blocker tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during last November's game at Oregon State.
"It's good. Colin's getting back into the flow of it," Sarkisian said. "Colin defines sort of that nasty streak on the offensive line that we relish. He's got that. And we love it. He's a tough-nosed, tough-minded guy that is technically sound.
"Not only from the front line but from a depth standpoint it's great to have him back."
Joshua Perkins has gone from a wide receiver while redshirting last season in his first year at UW to an H-back with blocking and receiving roles off tight end or from a wing or fullback alignment. True freshman defensive end Pio Vatuvei was a 6-foot-2, 281-pound fullback during Monday night's practice, returning to a position he played some at Patterson High School in California.
Redshirt freshman Dezden Petty is playing tailback, fullback - heck, he'll stand on a hatchback if it gets him on the field for the Sept. 1 opener against San Diego State. Petty almost became an Aztec during the high-school recruiting process.
"We're just trying to put as many playmakers as we can on the field, so we can cover as much ground as we can," Sarkisian said.
As for the more aggressive defense under new coordinator Justin Wilcox and his three first-year assistants, Sarkisian said: "We are realistic enough to know we are going to miss some tackles. But if one guy misses we'd sure like another guy to be there to clean up the mess. And the more, longer, faster, athletic body types we have to clean up the mess when one guy misses the better off we are.
"When we are right, it's going to be great. It's when we are wrong can we make up for ourselves where when a guy misses a tackle it doesn't turn into a 50- or 60-yard gain it turns into a gain or 16 or 17."
This depth is the evolution of a rising program.
These Dawgs are just pups anymore. The juniors have played in bowl games in consecutive Decembers, giving them two more months of on-field practices and two more postseason games than any Husky had experienced in a decade.
"Year four, I feel like we're becoming a more mature football team, I know sometimes the age is the age issue and we don't have many seniors and all those things, but I think we have experience," Sarkisian said. "And sometimes experience outweighs age.
"We've had a lot of guys that have played quite a bit of football for us since their true freshman, true sophomore years that are now in their junior seasons, or sophomore seasons. That experience (is something) we can rely on.
Vatuvei's move across the line to fullback was one of the results of Sarkisian and his staff assessing the first week of practice on Sunday, the first day without practice in fall camp. The coaches exchanged ideas on how to tweak the schemes and roster for maximum efficiency three weeks before the opener.
"We are going to have some guys who have specific roles on the opposite side of the ball that they are designated to, and Pio is one of them," Sarkisian said, adding there could be roles for him in specific packages on offense.
"For a big man he's got good feet. He's kind of nimble, light on his feet. And he's got a very high football IQ, so he can anticipate things."
These days, he and other Huskies freshmen have to anticipate playing anywhere to get playing time on this deeper, more experienced roster.
"That's the sign of the times of where we are headed," Sarkisian said. "I do know that I won't ever not play a kid just because he is a freshman. The best guys on the field are going to play for us.
"But I know it's harder for our freshmen to get on the field now than it was before. I think we have recruited the type of athletes that fit our schemes. They have the personal makeup, the competitiveness that we love, the unique and special qualities."
INSIDE CAMP: The coach singled out Tre Watson and Greg Ducre for great practices Monday night. The two are battling for the starting cornerback spot opposite Desmond Trufant. ... The Huskies, all 102 plus staffers, enjoyed seeing Jake Locker play at CenturyLink Field Saturday night for the Tennessee Titans in an exhibition against the Seahawks. As Sarkisian noted Saturday, for many it was their first time seeing an NFL game in person. Sarkisian thought Locker looked comfortable in the pocket -- especially on a couple of pass plays when Sarkisian joked the "old Jake" would have taken off with the ball to run rather than stay in the pocket to throw. Locker, last year's eighth-overall draft choice, is competing with Matt Hasselbeck for the Titans' starting QB job. ... The Huskies practice one time Tuesday, in the afternoon.