Getting Best Huskies on Field - In All Kinds of Ways
Nov. 13, 2012
By Gregg Bell UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Austin Seferian-Jenkins leaping and tapping catches to himself as the nation's leading tight end - then on the next series zooming through left tackles as a situational pass rusher at defensive end.
Kasen Williams muscling through defensive backs to seize passes as Washington's leader in receptions - then lining up at the back of the defense ready to knock down passes on the game's final play.
As the Huskies' season has revived into a chance at eight regular-season wins for the first time since 2001, UW coaches are finding more ways to put their best, most athletic players on the field in as many specialty situations as possible.
Some argue it exposes valuable starters - and in the case of Seferian-Jenkins, the only sophomore among eight semifinalists for the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end - to more chances for injury.
Steve Sarkisian argues it exposes UW to more chances for winning.
"This is obviously we know this is a violent sport. But guys can get injured doing stuff that there is nobody around them -- and we saw that early in the season," Sarkisian said, alluding to running backs Deontae Cooper in August and Jesse Callier in the open field during the opening game shredding knee ligaments. "So I am not as concerned (about that)."
Seferian-Jenkins, UW's new career receptions leader among tight ends, became a defensive end for the first time in his life last weekend in the win over Utah. He brought 6 feet 6 and 260 pounds of pass rush on about a half dozen snaps in the nickel, five-defensive backs defense on obvious passing downs.
Seferian-Jenkins said the only defense he played while as a star receiver at Gig Harbor High School was as a defensive back. In his freshman season at Washington last fall he worked some at defensive end during practices. Then early last week, defensive-line coach Tosh Lupoi informed ASJ he would be getting game time as a pass rusher to help fill in for injured ends Talia Crichton and Pio Vatuevei.
"Let's do it!" Seferian-Jenkins enthusiastically answered.
"I'll do whatever the coaches need me to do to help the team win."
Crichton and Vatuvei are still hurt, with Sarkisian saying Vatuvei may not play again this season. So Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox say it's possible Seferian-Jenkins will line up at defensive end Saturday in long-yardage situations at Folsom Field in Boulder if Washington gets Colorado in long-yardage situations on third downs, as it did to Utah.
"It's not as if he's in there taking on run blocks and different things and he's not in on goal line. He's in there on obvious passing downs where he's rushing the passer," Sarkisian said. "If we are coaching afraid to get hurt then we are afraid to lose, too. We've got to coach to win, too, and play to win and expect to do that and stay aggressive. This is just another example of that."
Imagine Wilcox's view. How many weeks does a 6-6, 260-pound star with strength and speed that is among the best in country in his position simply fall out of the sky onto his defensive line?
"Austin is a big, talented individual. He picks things up pretty quickly," Wilcox said after Tuesday's practice at Dempsey Indoor.
"There's a definite possibility we could see him there again. It's always going to be up to Coach Sark and what he sees fit for the team. He did a good job when he was in there, but he wasn't perfect. A good rush doesn't always end up in a sack. A good rush is you set the tackle into the quarterback's feet. Those things make a difference. And Austin's a big, strong, athletic guy who's got good quickness. So he has the tools."
Again, Sarkisian and Wilcox emphasis ASJ at DE is never going to be an every-down thing.
"We didn't give Austin a whole lot of different things. We put him in a specific situation: You are going to be an edge rusher, in our nickel defense, passing situations. Specialty (situations)," Wilcox said.
As for pass-rush technique, that's a work in progress.
"Yeah, he hasn't done it a lot. He's spent time with Coach Lupoi on that - and he will continue to as much as Coach Lupoi and Coach Sark see fit," Wilcox said.
Seferian-Jenkins isn't the only offensive standout that has been moonlighting on defense. At the end of the 21-13 win at California, with the Golden Bears trying a final, desperation pass towards the end zone, top wide receiver Williams was back as a deep defensive back ready to leap and bat down a pass that never came his way.
Then again, why wouldn't the Huskies use Williams in that role? His is 6-2 and high jumped 6 feet, 10 inches to win the Washington Class 4A track title in that event for Skyline High School in Sammamish in the spring of 2011.
Ever since his cameo on D at the end of the Cal game, Williams has been asking defensive backs coach Keith Hayward for more snaps in the secondary beyond the "last-play" defense to which Williams is assigned.
"Yeah, we've got to make a tackle (before that happens)," Wilcox joked.
"We are always going to utilize the guys we that we feel like give us the best chance to win, and sometimes we will play them both ways."
Wilcox cautioned there is a limit to how much the coaches are willing to experiment in specialty situations, though.
"Every DB thinks he's the best wide receiver on the team. And ever wide out thinks they are the best (DB)," he said. "It's just how they are; it's their nature."