Aug. 18, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Ho-hum. Keith Price completed his final eight throws and chucked three more touchdown passes.
After UW records of 66.9 percent on completions and 33 TD throws last season, that's not a huge development in a practice.
What was huge Saturday in the Huskies' fullest scrimmage of the month so far: Shaq Thompson.
Huge in playmaking. Huge in presence. Huge in potential impact on Washington's defense -- beginning right away, against San Diego State in the opener.
The freshman from Sacramento, Calif., heralded as the top high-school safeties in the country this past winter, blitzed from a linebacker alignment. He jammed inside receivers off the line and broke up multiple passes as a safety. He even ran back a kickoff. He sprinted 90 yards and it would have been a score -- except for the fact there is never live tackling on kickoffs in UW's intrasquad scrimmages.
Put another way: Thompson showed why he will be one of the 11 starters on defense when the Huskies run onto CenturyLink Field for real two Saturdays from now.
Coach Steve Sarkisian said after Thompson's latest impressive show that it's "definitely a reality" Washington could start the season with five defensive backs in its base defense.
That would partly be to offset the hit injuries have taken to depth at linebacker. That would partly be to counteract spread offenses UW will see this season.
And it would largely be because the 230-pound Thompson's size, skill and performance are forcing him onto the field somewhere. Anywhere.
"It's about putting the best 11 guys out there that we can. We think he's one of the best 11 guys," Sarkisian said. "We're just trying to find a role for him.
"He's just a dynamic football player. What I've been really impressed with him is his ability to really learn the defense, (even) having sat out there a couple days (due to a mild concussion recently). He's a really smart player. He's got a really high football IQ. And then he applies it when he goes out and plays.
"He plays with a big-play mentality, and obviously his closing speed is evident."
So, yes, that might mean an unconventional, 4-2-5 alignment for new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Such a set would highlight the two strengths of this more aggressive unit for 2012: Outside pass rush speed with Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson; inside run-stopping strength with mammoth Danny Shelton and Semisi Tokolahi, whom Sarkisian singled out for really coming on this week; plus experience and depth in the secondary with returning starters Desmond Trufant, Sean Parker and Justin Glenn.
Can Sarkisian conceive of having five defensive backs in the base defense to start the season?
"Oh, easily," he said. "So much of college football now, we see so many opened-up sets. ... We see so many more three wide-receiver looks, that's almost the norm.
"The unique thing that Shaq things, the versatility he brings, is that he is 230 pounds. Granted, he's a DB. But he's bigger than a lot of linebackers already, as a freshman. So he can almost play as a hybrid nickel, and then as a backer. We can blitz him - he's got great speed coming off the edge.
"I would think that's definitely a reality."
Offensively, Price did exactly what Sarkisian wanted after a slow-paced start Saturday. And not just because he was unofficially 10 for 14 passing and completed his last eight throws before a no-tackle, 2-minute drill. He was 4 for 4 on a touchdown drive against the second-team defense, including a perfectly placed sideline throw for 42 yards following a double, out-and-up move by surging freshman Jaydon Mickens.
Three times, Price followed Sarkisian's preseason orders and threw the ball well out of bounds instead of extending plays while under pressure. On a third down from the defense's 10-yard line, Price stepped up and threw it almost off the goalpost rather than take a sack.
Sarkisian has said in order to keep Price healthier this season he is almost over-emphasizing to him to throw the ball away now, knowing the fourth-year junior will likely fall back to some of his characteristic and uniquely effective improvisation once the action gets real Sept. 1.
"Oh, yeah, get rid of it. You don't want to take sacks in the `red zone,'" Price said.
Then he added with a chuckle: "I got cussed out pretty bad last week (for that)."
INSIDE CAMP: The coach and his QB didn't like the offense's slow pace to begin the scrimmage. There were a couple alignment mistakes, one of which caused a delay-of-game penalty, and some false-start flags. Standard stuff for two weeks into preseason camp, but Sarkisian was demanding urgency nonetheless. "Let's GO! Hurry UP!" he often yelled from the sidelines, wanting to better simulate the speed at which he wants to play during games. "We've got to pick up our tempo. And that starts with me," Price said. ... Sophomore WR Kasen Williams said the delays were partly the result of scrimmaging for one of the first times with the coaches away, on the sidelines, signaling in plays - and from employing impressive, young receivers such as Mickens and Kendyl Taylor. "It flusters people up a little bit," said Williams, who caught Price's first TD in the scrimmage on a jump-ball, back-shoulder throw in the end zone. "I remember being out here last year in this scrimmage and the same thing happened to me. It just takes time, more practice." ... Price's other TD throws were to wide-open TE Michael Hartvigson down the sidelines off a pump fake, and to Cody Bruns to end the no-huddle, 2-minute drill. Bruns deftly dragged his lead toe inside the sideline in the end zone on his catch. ... The Huskies are off the practice field Sunday, returning to it Monday afternoon. ... Sarkisian said he hopes to have Glenn back practicing then. The senior has been out this week with a concussion.