Aug. 14, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Justin Wilcox thinks the new defense he's spent the last seven-plus months scheming and teaching is now fully installed.
Pretty good timing, given the Huskies' opener and this remade defense's unveiling is now just 2½ weeks away.
These remaining practice will center on fitting a final couple players into new positions, emphasizing technique - and tackling, tackling, tackling.
"I think we are definitely better," Wilcox said, comparing Tuesday's 10th practice of preseason camp to when he arrived from Tennessee in early January. "We have the foundation, the concepts of what we are doing. Now it's refining the techniques and developing the younger players."
That development is coming mainly at linebacker.
"The linebacker position has been very competitive," Wilcox said, "and we continue to work out a lot of guys there."
He has to.
Injuries to 2011 starters Princeton Fuimaono (strained hamstring) and Nate Fellner (broken foot) plus to Thomas Tutogi (sprained knee) have thinned the position. Fellner will likely miss the Sept. 1 start against San Diego State plus the Sept. 8 task at Louisiana State after breaking a bone in his foot last week.
Those injuries have spawned increased opportunities inside for John Timu, an outside linebacker in 2011, plus Scott Lawyer and former safety Travis Feeney. Those three were with the No. 1 defense during Tuesday afternoon's team scrimmaging, though Wilcox who's playing on which unit right now means little to him with so much technique and tackling to work on.
"Unfortunately, we've had some guys get dinged up but that is part of football. The next guy has to step in there. That's why we have these meetings, and practices are so important," said Wilcox, a former Oregon defensive back who improved the defenses at Boise State and Tennessee through aggressiveness and varying looks before he arrived at UW this winter.
"Obviously you don't want to lose guys to injury ... but you have to move forward."
Feeney has taken big steps in that direction this month. Coach Steve Sarkisian keeps mentioning the rangy, 6-foot-4, 209-pound redshirt freshman from Pinole Valley High School east of San Francisco.
"Travis was around the ball again. This is two days in a row now," Sarkisian said. "I don't know how much he was right - I'll have to look at the film. But what I do know is, he's around the ball. He gets to the ball. When it looks like we are going to have big offensive plays, 41 shows up and knocks him out of bounds or gets the tackle."
Feeney did it Tuesday in game-like scrimmaging in which the first-team defense did not yield a score. Pac-12 officials were on the field and calls came in from the sideline rather than from coaches in the huddle with a script of plays as in the previous nine practices.
"This was the first time we had them go out on the field and let them play - without a coach on the field, without a script to see what might be coming," Sarkisian said. "They had to get a call, go line up and communicate and execute.
"I think there were some guys that we thought were further along that struggled with that a bit today. We need to keep pushing them in those types of settings to get better at that."
Sarkisian said quarterback Keith Price and the offense need to play faster.
"Our tempo needs to increase tremendously. We are in the huddle way too long," the coach said.
Asked which positions specifically need to improve by the first game, Sarkisian said: "All 22."
"We need to improve. Keith needs to improve. I've seen him better than he was (Tuesday)," he said. "Do I think it was bad? No. There were plenty of good things out there.
"But I know we can be better. ... I feel good about our team, in general. There are some areas we still need to work at."
On defense, Wilcox says players' pre-snap alignments in the varying 3-4 and 4-3 looks he is calling need to be more precise.
"Focusing when we are tired or maybe when we have a little adversity, being able to bounce back and being able to win the next play, having that mentality -- we need the practice," he said. "We are going to continue to grind it and continue to work on it."
As for tackling, it's been semi-live - "thud tempo" of hitting, wrapping but not bringing down ball carriers.
"It's a delicate thing. You want to tackle live every day, but it's not feasible," Wilcox said, adding work on technique will continue in controlled environments such as tackling bags. "That's something we will continue to stress and work on every day during the season.
"The guys are working their butts off," the defensive coordinator said. "Obviously, you always want the screws tightened tighter and tighter.
"(But) I like our work ethic."
INSIDE CAMP: As for who is working with the ones and who's with the twos, Sarkisian and Wilcox both said they have no timetable on wanting to establish starters for the opener. Both are more focused on improvement and growth between now and Sept. 1. "I just hope I feel good when we play San Diego State. I hope when we line up that Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. I feel good about the 11 on offense and the 11 defense, the 11 on the punt team, the kickoff team - all that," Sarkisian said. "As always, training camp is a work in progress." ... A day after returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he sustained in November, starting G Colin Tanigawa was back with the first team offense. He then went down with cramps in his hamstrings on the hot afternoon. ... As he does almost daily, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins soared above everyone for a scoring catch from Price. ... Safeties Justin Glenn and Shaq Thompson did not practice again with what Sarkisian has said are mild concussions. ... The Huskies practice twice on Thursday.