Huskies Heading Downtown For Open Spring Practice
April 20, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Pearl Jam. Bob Dylan. The Grateful Dead. R.E.M. The Ramones. Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Metallica. Santana. Black Sabbath. George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. The Beach Boys. The opening ceremonies for the 1962 World's Fair.
And ... the Huskies.
They've all played - or, in UW's case, practiced - at 65-year-old Memorial Stadium in Seattle Center.
Saturday, for the second consecutive year, coach Steve Sarkisian is leading his Huskies off campus and downtown to Memorial Stadium for the first practice open to the public this spring. The team will do some live scrimmaging and some without tackling in the practice that begins at 11 a.m. Admission is free.
"I kind of like it. Gives us a chance to embrace Seattle, you know. You get downtown. You get under the Space Needle and you get a chance to play," Sarkisian said. "Just the environment. It breaks up spring ball, with the stands and all that.
"I know our guys get excited about it. I know our fans do. Again, it's a chance to embrace Seattle and to get down there."
Friday's was the 10th consecutive, closed spring practice on the construction-cramped practice facilities next to Husky Stadium's renovation. After looking at each other for three weeks - three-plus months, counting offseason workouts -- the Dawgs can't wait to show off their progress since the public last saw them in December's wild Alamo Bowl.
Space limitations on the campus back field are forcing Sarkisian to close his free-flowing practices from the public this season. So Saturday's drills are bound to have extra juice, especially with sun and 60-degree temperatures expected.
"Oh, I think it's great. And the forecast looks good," Sarkisian said. "We are hopeful that we get a great turnout. I know our kids are excited. They are talking about it and are looking forward to it."
Here's what fans will notice when looking closely beneath the Space Needle Saturday morning:
Washington's defensive backs and linebackers are playing more tightly on receivers across the field, especially at the line of scrimmage. Sarkisian has repeatedly praised cornerback Greg Ducre, recently sidelined by a mild concussion, and safety Sean Parker for their coverage and plays on the ball this month. And senior cornerback Desmond Trufant is poised for a starring role in the new, aggressive scheme being instilled by new coordinator Justin Wilcox, a former defensive back at Oregon.
"Dez Trufant has really great quickness. I like the way he handles himself out there," Wilcox said.
Wilcox has been dropping in on the in-your-face drills being run each day by new defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, who impressed Sarkisian when he had the same job at Oregon State the last few seasons.
"We definitely want to be aggressive," Heyward said. "The big thing for us is being accountable to each other, on how we line up and how we play.
"We are going to stay aggressive."
Nate Fellner, usually a safety, has been playing closer to the line on run downs as more of a linebacker. John Timu, who was a starter at outside linebacker as a freshman last season, has moved to inside linebacker. Taz Stevenson added 12 pounds and moved up from safety to linebacker, and Thomas Tutogi has also been inside. The moves are steps to replace middle linebacker Cort Dennison, a senior captain last season.
Up front, new defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi has his ends standing up more in new, 3-4-like techniques, especially rush man Josh Shirley. Last season's team leader with 8½ sacks been a spring star, using his quickness, strength and new pass rush moves Lupoi has shown him to be a constant headache for UW's offensive linemen to block.
That O-line has been the focus of the development on offense this month. Starters Drew Schaefer (sprained knee), Colin Tanigawa (knee surgery), Colin Porter (retired because of degenerative shoulders) are missing, and Erik Kohler (still banged up from 2011) is slowly working his way back through the second string. That has four redshirt sophomores - tackles Micah Hatchie and Ben Riva, center Mike Criste, and guard James Atoe - plus redshirt freshman guard Dexter Charles on the first-team offensive line.
Fans will notice Keith Price as healthy as he's been since last August, though he has been wearing a brace on one knee as a spring precaution following season-long pain last season. Washington's record breaker with 33 touchdown throws last season has wowed new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau with his accuracy this month.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has caught almost everything thrown within a few yards of him since coming back this month from playing Huskies basketball. Senior wide receiver James Johnson has seized a leading role outside at wide receiver with sophomore Kasen Williams, as UW replaces departed seniors Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar plus Kevin Smith, who is recovering from a major knee injury sustained in practice days before Dec. 30's Alamo Bowl.
Sarkisian has been employing a committee of running backs to replace Chris Polk. Jesse Callier, Bishop Sankey and Dezden Petty are likely to be the first ball carriers in scrimmaging Saturday, and in the spring game at CenturyLink Field April 28 at 1 p.m.
Oh, one other thing fans will notice the next two Saturdays: All the new coaches.
Five new assistants, four on the revamped defense, are bringing a patient, teaching-heavy approach this spring. That is especially true on defense, where Wilcox is installing what the coordinator confirms is "a whole new language."
"It's exciting," Sarkisian said before Friday's practice. "They are starting to come out of their shell a little bit more and starting to feel comfortable on the field and in their surroundings and in their position groups.
"There is a unique demeanor about all of them. But inevitably they are good coaches. That's what I'm learning; these guys are good coaches. They coach their kids hard but they coach them well. They communicate well, and the players have responded."
QUICK HIT: Asked before Friday how Saturday's practice will be run, Sarkisian said: "We still need to work things from a situational standpoint. So we'll have our special-teams phases involved as far broken up into it. There will be moments where it will be live scrimmage atmosphere, and there will be moments where there is more of a 'thud tempo.' ... We'll try to give our guys as many opportunities as we can to play live football. But we have to monitor that so that we get the guys who aren't full contact in there playing and getting their opportunities, as well."