New Defense Feisty, Formidable Again In Scrimmage
April 14, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - The coaches came from high school and college, even off UW's recent schedule, for Steve Sarkisian's annual clinic.
They came from as far away as Phoenix, and as close as Beau Baldwin, the coach at Eastern Washington that narrowly lost to UW in last season's opener.
The guests got their coaches' toolbox augmented. And they got their eyes opened.
Not just because the sideline speakers went from blaring Rick Springfield to Snoop Dogg in a matter of minutes, either.
A handful of coaches lining one corner of the east practice field to watch Washington's 2½-hour practice and first full-go scrimmaging of spring ball Saturday gasped and then shook their heads when Austin Seferian-Jenkins soared to make a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone. The sophomore tight end and forward for the Huskies' basketball team then nimbly got his foot down inside the end line to complete the touchdown pass from Derrick Brown in a 7-on-7 drill.
A few plays later a well-covered Seferian-Jenkins leaped over a linebacker to snare another throw. He then somehow got his foot inside the end line again for another impressive score.
The coaches then got to see Washington's defense. The unit being remodeled by coordinator Justin Wilcox and three other new assistants continued its encouragingly feisty month during the scrimmage.
Linebacker Thomas Tutogi dropped Bishop Sankey short of the goal line on a run. Safety Sean Parker did the same to Jesse Callier. About half the defense stopped Antavius Sims on a power run off right tackle. Then defensive tackle Sione Potoa'e and linebacker Princeton Fuimaono slammed into Sankey for the final goal-line stand, as the defense held the offense out of the end zone from the 3-yard line six times in 11 tries.
The defensive players roared and jumped and slapped each other around like it was October, not April.
"Yeah, it's been pretty cool. And it's been pretty spirited," Sarkisian said. "And by no means do I think it was manufactured; the defense is winning these plays. We had the goal-line setting today where it was a 10-play sequence and it ended at the end of 10 plays five to five. We went one more play with the ones to see who could win the drill, and the defense won the play."
Then in first-and-10 scrimmaging with the starting offense and defense facing each other, Parker cut in front of an out route and intercepted a pass from Keith Price. And sophomore linebacker John Timu made plays all over the field.
Yes, Wilcox's task of reinventing the defense has been an early success - with the accent on early.
"I think it's exciting for our defensive players that they are winning some of those head-to-head competitions with the offense," Sarkisian said. "I think that builds spirit and builds morale and builds want-to.
"I think it's a little too early to ... make that comparison (to last season's defense). We're still in the growing stages. We just really finalized our spring install. There's going to be a couple of wrinkles as we move forward, but the overall body of work at the end of spring will be better to assess that."
One thing Sarkisian can assess right now: His defensive backs are far more aggressive at the line of scrimmage and have applied tighter coverage across the field this month. Parker and Desmond Trufant, in particular, have been stride for stride with UW's deep corps of receivers, and safety Nate Fellner was in great position knocking passes away on Saturday.
That is the result of an attack mindset installed by Wilcox, a former defensive back at Oregon who often drops in on the position drills run by new defensive backs coach Keith Heyward.
"I am really excited about (being) much more sticky in coverage," Sarkisian said. "That's definitely very evident to me in the back end. We're on guys. We're covering guys. We're matching routes really well against good receivers. They are contesting balls, which is making it tough on our guys."
It was another example of Price's precision passing that the record-breaking quarterback last season completed seven of 11 throws in Saturday's scrimmage against that "sticky" D for 69 yards by unofficial, sideline count. Price threw a touchdown pass outside to Seferian-Jenkins in the goal-line series.
"There were a couple of throws I would like to have back," said Price the perfectionist.
Brown, a redshirt freshman and the only other scholarship quarterback until true freshman Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles arrive in August for fall camp, was five of nine for 80 yards and touchdown throw in the goal-line portion to tight end Michael Hartvigson, who continued his impressive preseason.
"Obviously we have a pretty good idea of who Keith Price is and what he's about," Sarkisian deadpanned about his star that threw for a UW-record 33 touchdowns and wowed the nation with seven combined TDs in the Alamo Bowl last season. "So as we move through spring we'll see a little bit more of Derrick Brown working with the ones and getting Thomas Vincent in there with the twos getting him some experience."
Overall, Sarkisian was pleased that his new offensive line, still missing injured starters Drew Schaefer, Colin Tanigawa and Erik Kohler plus recently retired starter Colin Porter, was sound in most assignments and didn't have nagging, common preseason problems such as false-start penalties. He liked the pace and flow to the scrimmage.
Most of all, he liked the energy that new defense continues to bring to each spring practice, with seven of the 15 workouts this month now complete.
"I like seeing our guys compete. I think that's the biggest that's exciting to me, that our guys, they're bringing it," Sarkisian said.
"I think one thing I was just touching on with the team about that I've appreciated this spring is, we've really accepted the notion of the `next play' mentality. ... Their ability to go to the next snap and focus on the next snap has been really good on both sides of the ball."
Sarkisian's annual clinic Friday night and again Saturday morning before practice featured as speakers Eastern's Baldwin, Bob Ladouceur of De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., Steve Belles, the coach at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz., and Butch Goncharoff, head man at Bellevue High in the Seattle suburbs. During the practice, coaches from up and down the West Coast watched the Huskies as Sarkisian ran them through his fourth spring camp at UW.
"Everyone loved it. They loved the intimacy of it," Sarkisian said. "We had some real quality speakers come from Beau Baldwin at Eastern to Coach Goncharoff at Bellevue and Coach Ladouceur at De La Salle to Coach Belles from Hamilton -- all three very highly respected programs. So they got that stuff, and then to be able to come to our practice and see our guys working was good as well."
QUICK HITS: Asked for his standouts after seven spring practices, Sarkisian mentioned his new offensive linemen first: James Atoe, Micah Hatchie, Mike Criste, and Dexter Charles. He also mentioned CB Greg Ducre, before a mild concussion sidelined him this week. ... Former Huskies Hugh Millen and Victor Aiyewa watched from the sidelines, along with athletic director Scott Woodward. Basketball coach Lorenzo Romar also dropped in on practice. ... The Huskies practice again on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings next week. The first spring practice open to the public will be 11 a.m. next Saturday inside Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center.