Given that most teams would load up on Chris Polk
this fall because Washington
is bringing along two very young quarterbacks, Sarkisian might adhere to the time-honored principles of using the pass to set up the run, and using a short, horizontal passing game to stretch defenses and keep them honest - beliefs brought to life by Bill Walsh
, LaVell Edwards, and others. Those two coaches also happen to feature prominently in Sarkisian's own offensive philosophy.
If one looks at USC
's offensive output in 2007 and 2008 - the two years Sarkisian was Offensive Coordinator - it's clear Sarkisian likes to spread the wealth, and that the distribution of that wealth extends out to the fullbacks and tight ends. USC's leading receiver in 2007 was tight end Fred Davis
. The Mackey Award winner for that year caught 62 passes for 881 yards and eight touchdowns - all team highs. By way of comparison, Jerramy Stevens
caught 48 passes for 651 yards and nine touchdowns in 2000. The 48 catches is the most all-time for a Washington tight end, a place Sports Illustrated once called 'Tight End U'.
2007 also marked the redshirt freshman season for USC fullback Stanley Havili
. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Havili, from Salt Lake City, caught 34 passes for 248 yards, and five touchdowns. He had more catches than rushes (21). In 2008, he duplicated the feat, catching 24 passes, but only running 13 times. Sarkisian loves dual-threat fullbacks - players who are just as adept leading the tailback on a lead play, carrying the ball themselves, or going out in a pattern where they might be able to take advantage of a defensive mismatch.
"It's a real threat, especially down here in the red zone, which was a big focus for us today," Sarkisian said after Thursday's practice. "I think it's the addition of the fullback and the tight end. If you noticed in our 7-7 period, I think Austin (Seferian-Jenkins) caught a couple of touchdowns down there. Those targets are big for us, where you have to defend all five players, and not just a couple of wideouts that are there."
And that's the key. Last season, Jermaine Kearse
caught 12 of Jake Locker's 17 touchdown throws. None of the others went to a fullback or tight end. Chris Izbicki
, no longer with the Huskies, caught a one-yard pass for six from Keith Price
against USC. It was only one of 11 passes thrown to the fullbacks and tight ends in 2010, which equates to less than one-half of one percent of Washington's total completions for last year.
Players like Seferian-Jenkins, Zach Fogerson
, and Michael Hartvigson
are focused on bringing the fullbacks and tight ends back into Washington's offensive vocabulary - and not a moment too soon.
"I just want to help out any way I can," Fogerson said Thursday after a spirited two-hour workout at the Dempsey Indoor Facility.
"Whether that's on the block, catch or run…anywhere I can fit in, I'll just go. We've got some weapons on offense. Of course we've got (Jermaine) Kearse going deep, (Chris) Polk's in the backfield, and then Keith (Price) is like a (Michael) Vick out there. With an added fullback and tight end, that's just more ammo for our offensive gun."
While people will instantly gravitate to the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Seferian-Jenkins, a tight end target Washington hasn't had since Stevens, it just might be Fogerson that ends up proving to be the most surprising asset to Sarkisian as he develops an offensive identity to match the personnel he has at hand. "He's a really talented kid, and he's got a lot to his game," Sarkisian said. "If we can continue to expand his role, it's pretty taxing on a defense when he's in there because he does so many different things."
The 6-foot, 238-pound Fogerson came to Montlake a fullback prospect, but quickly had to change his game to fit what the coaches required. When big brother Johri was beset with a nagging hamstring/groin injury that just wouldn't heal, and fellow frosh Deontae Cooper
went down with a knee injury in spring, that meant Fogerson became the third tailback behind Polk and another true frosh - Jesse Callier
"It just goes back to old times, but now the roles are switched," Zach said about playing in the same backfield as Johri. "When we were kids, he was the one always watching out for me. Now it's my job to make sure no one gets on him."
A neck injury derailed a promising start to his UW career, one where he only played seven games in 2010. But he's fully healthy this spring, and ready to show he can be to the Huskies what Havili was to the Trojans.
"Out of the group, he'd be the first guy that comes to mind," UW Running Backs Coach Joel Thomas said of Fogerson's talent and the ability to be that go-to guy Sarkisian is looking for from the fullback spot. "But day by day…I'm not putting all our eggs in one basket right now with him. I want to see how he develops as we feed him more and more. Right now it's positive development, so now we have to complete a full spring and not be injured.
"Obviously with his (neck) injury it hampered him as he was going through his freshman year. Each day we're working on different things, whether it's pad leverage, whether it's the physicality of the position - we're building on positive things from each practice. There's technique involved, and that's where those other two veterans I had - (Paul) Homer and Austin (Sylvester) - we've got to build with these new guys, because they are so fresh and so young at the position."
"Last year I didn't play much fullback," Fogerson added, matter-of-factly. "In practice I was always playing tailback. It's more or less getting used to playing fullback again. That's the biggest thing."
Thursday was a big test for Fogerson. With Polk getting rest, the UW coaches threw him into the mix in a number of scenarios. They are serious about trying him all over the place to see what he can do with the ball in his hands.
"They tell me every time I get the ball, to run low," he said, adding that by his count, he was in for nine of the final 15 scrimmage plays of practice. "I'm a big, strong kid. Every time I mess up, they throw me right back in. I got a lot of reps today. I'm going to sleep like a baby. "
"We're just seeing what he can do," Sarkisian said. "We're trying to gather as much information as we can about what his strengths are, what his weaknesses are, where we can improve him."
Their actions Thursday spoke volumes; they want to try and get Fogerson in the game. And if he continues to play well and work hard, he could find himself playing a lot on Saturdays. "It's always been about work, so that when my time does come, I'll be able to take it," he said, matter-of-factly.
"I think we've still got a whole long ways to go. We're not anywhere where we need to be for the season, but that's what spring ball is for - so we can see where we are as a group, so when the season does come around, we are where we need to be."
History has shown that when Steve Sarkisian has quality fullbacks and tight ends at his disposal, he uses them. For real. It's slight of hand; they are as integral a part of his offense as the running backs and wide receivers. It complements what he tries to do in a way that gives him a full deck to work with, and it stretches every part of the field against every defensive player imaginable.