Spring First Half Review - Receivers/TE's

Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

Austin Seferian-Jenkins' indefinite suspension based on a DUI arrest will most likely overshadow anything else that gets reported on this spring, and that's a shame because some real progress has been made with Washington's receivers and tight ends - namely the opportunities gained by going no-huddle and up-tempo through the first six practices in March.

ASJ's DUI: Seferian-Jenkins, the junior-to-be All-American tight end from Gig Harbor, found himself in the middle of an off-the-field issue involving a crashed car, a bloody nose and the appearance of alcohol that ultimately landed him on the outside of the rest of Washington's spring practices and beyond. Could he miss games because of this? Only time will tell.

"It's disappointing and we miss him," UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said of ASJ's arrest for driving under the influence and the one-car accident involving Seferian-Jenkins that took place the first Saturday after the Huskies' spring practices began. "Pending the investigation and where he's at, he's currently suspended from our football team. And when the investigation is complete then we'll make the decisions necessary based on our team rules and our school's policies that are fair to him and fair to us. We'll support him. Austin is a good kid. He made some mistakes but we'll continue to support him.

"You grow close to these guys. You grow close to them throughout the recruiting process and then as you move forward. Austin is as close to me as any one of these guys, and that the part that hurts. When you see one of your kids make a mistake like they were one of your own, it stings because you look at yourself and ask, 'Could I have done more? Could I have helped them any more? Could I have helped them make better decisions?' So that part makes it difficult. But I do know Austin is in the right frame of mind that he is going to learn from this and he will be better for it in the end, and I think our entire football team will, as well."

Who Picks Up The TE Slack?: Obviously the biggest question that remains in the aftermath of ASJ's indefinite suspension is who will step up and provide the 69 receptions, 850 yards and seven touchdowns Seferian-Jenkins accounted for in 2012? The obvious answer is not one person, because if you total up the combined 2012 catches, yards and touchdowns of the two remaining tight ends - Michael Hartvigson and Evan Hudson - you come up with 11, 86 and zero. That's the production equivalent of falling off a cliff. Ironic as it may seem, the same question posed this spring is the exact same question posed last spring; everyone already knew what ASJ was capable of doing. "They show cool glimpses of playmaking ability and then some inconsistency not catching the football," Sarkisian said of Hartvigson and Hudson so far this spring. "For us at that position, especially in the offense that we're in right now - it's critical to get completions. And to get completions we need to catch the football, and we have to catch it better than we have."

Looking ahead, UW does have a talented frosh in David Ajamu that could be used in the case Seferian-Jenkins misses a significant number of games. "It would be great to have another (tight end) and David Ajamu is coming in the fall…we love to use two tight end sets," Sarkisian said. "Something that's been unique to us in using this tempo in spring is not just being a spread team. We can still utilize our two-back run game, we can still utilize our two-tight end sets which have been effective for us - and to do that we have to have tight ends that can continually play, especially when we go tempo. We'll see what Ajamu brings in the fall and go from there."

Another option is Joshua Perkins, the 6-foot-3, 216-pounder from Cerritos, Calif. "We're using him as a hybrid - somewhat of a slot receiver as well as tight end, and with the suspension of Austin he's been getting more work at tight end than he had been getting in the first week of spring ball," Sarkisian said of Perkins. "But again, he's another guy we need more consistency out of him catching the football."

No Huddle Madness: Washington's next biggest talking point for the offense was the sheer number of reps being taken by them the first half of spring - 130-140 per practice, according to Sarkisian. "It's not a whole new offense, but we're going up-tempo all the time," said junior-to-be Kasen Williams. "That's uncomfortable for everybody. Granted, last year a lot of our good drives were up-tempo when we were at our best, but doing it for a whole practice is something different. It's just a little busy. It's chaos; a lot of things are going on. That's what we're used to. When you're playing a game in front of 50,000 people, it's chaotic. This is nothing out of the ordinary. We had up-tempo last year and we shined in it; now this is what we're going to do full-time."

Has Williams felt the stress, the pressure to perform now that Sarkisian has put down the very public mandate of putting these Huskies in as many uncomfortable positions as he can this spring? "You want to try and put pressure, but you don't let that stress you," he said. "I haven't felt any pressure on me. That's how I feel. Ultimately it's going to make our team better, but being able to get away from the pressure and focusing on your assignment is something that's key in this league."

"It's definitely different," added James Johnson when asked about going that many reps up-tempo in a no-huddle format. "That's one thing I've noticed being in this system - every year we're always growing and progressing, seeing what we can do different to be better. It's going to be a learning process. Once we get it it's going to be a really good system."

Mo' Tempo Creates Mo' Chances: Arguably the receivers are going to be the group most affected by going no huddle and continually up-tempo. If the Huskies plan on having consistent success in the passing game by going up-temp in 2013, they better find more than one option at receiver and tight end. With Price relying on Williams and Seferian-Jenkins as his go-to guys in 2012 their numbers exploded but the offense as a whole stagnated. "In this system, the wide receiver spot, the guys that are catching a lot of these balls - who are going to be those guys who are going to rotate in?" Sarkisian questioned when asked about position battles so far through the first six practices of spring. "The way it's set up it's not about one or two wideouts; you need 6 or 7 in this system to really make it go."

That's why it's incredibly important that receivers like Johnson, Kevin Smith, DiAndre Campbell, Marvin Hall and Jamaal Jones take their chances now, because they will all be counted on to contribute - as well as the talented trio of true frosh receivers coming to Montlake this fall - Darrell Daniels, Damore'ea Stringfellow, and John Ross.

"The competition - now that they are in the mix they are fighting for spots - everyone is fighting for spots," added Williams. "Everybody wants to get on the field, especially with this up-tempo offense. It gives people the ability to play more because more people are subbing in."

"I think we're awesome," said senior Johnson, coming back from a year redshirted due to an arm/wrist injury. "We've got some really good young guys coming in. I think this is going to be the best group we've had since we've been here. There are so many guys that can make plays. We're stacked at wide receiver."

Kasen Is Taking Control: Now that ASJ is not involved with UW Football for the foreseeable future, there's absolutely no question who leads this group of pass-catchers: Kasen Williams. "I think Kasen has had a tremendous first six practices," Sarkisian said matter of factly. "He's better than I've ever seen him."

Outside of the team goals, Williams has one set for himself. "For me, I want to catch 100 balls this year," he also said, matter of factly. He roped in 77 balls for 878 yards and six touchdowns last season, so his production would have to go up by nearly a quarter to make that happen. Can he do it? You'll have a hard time finding a lot of doubters on the team. "With the numbers that we put up last year - we don't want to look at those," Williams said plainly. "I just think that we are playing with a chip on our shoulder and it's playing to our advantage right now."

Williams is a relative wallflower compared to guys like Johnson and Smith who have some of the more outrageous personalities on the team - but he understands his responsibility to step up and be counted on as a leader of the offense. "We all want to get out at a fast pace," he said. "If I see a receiver that's slacking right now I'm going to yell at him, tell him to get on the line and let's go. The faster we get on the line the faster we can snap the play and the quicker we can score a touchdown."

Finding A Deep Threat: While playing faster has been a chief concern for Washington's offense this spring, finding big plays was something the UW coaching staff took a considerable amount of time looking at this post-season as an area of improvement. Frosh Jaydon Mickens had the long pass play of 2012: 47 yards. Compare that to 2011, where Washington had SEVEN offensive players with pass plays of 47 yards or more. So far through the first half of spring the coaches seem pleased to be making progress toward being a more dynamic offense in 2013. "We've created some big plays, and that was something that we were…coming out of the season we didn't have enough explosive plays, not enough yards in chunks," Sarkisian said. "We obviously need to clean up our execution, especially as practice goes on and we get a bit fatigued."

Johnson Excited To Be Back: It might be the understatement of spring to say James Johnson is happy to be playing football again. Before injuring an arm during fall practices, Johnson was poised to be that other 'go-to guy' for Keith Price alongside Williams. He caught 28 passes for 366 yards and four scores in 2011 and was poised to have his first healthy season since his true freshman campaign where he caught 39 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns.

"I've been out for six months, and I've been so hungry to get back out on this field - I can't wait," said Johnson. "Sitting down last year as a senior watching everybody play when I had such big hopes for myself…to put those things on hold there's been a lot of emotions and stuff that build up. I'm extremely excited to be out here."

One of the biggest motivating factors for Johnson besides being his last year of eligibility - scoring the first touchdown in the newly-renovated Husky Stadium. "That's all we talk about…Deontae, Jesse…all these guys, we're chirping at each other all the time," Johnson said about the competition to go in the record books for having that first score. It might be shrewd to put odds on Johnson; he was the one that scored the first touchdown for Sarkisian back in 2009 versus LSU.

Taylor Moving Back To The Slot: With Mickens poised on making a big jump from his first year to second as one of Washington's emerging receiving threats, he's got some competition at the slot spot again - Kendyl Taylor. Taylor, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound athlete from Chandler, Ariz. was pushed to running back against Stanford last season after injuries to Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier immediately put the depth at running back under stress. He performed admirably, running 35 times for 209 yards and scoring his first touchdown as a Husky, a 23-yard swing pass he tallied at Colorado. But with Ryan McDaniel healthy to run and the emergence of Dwayne Washington (himself a former receiver) and Erich Wilson as viable threats behind Bishop Sankey - not to mention the expected returns of Callier and Cooper (hopeful) - the UW coaches made the move of putting Taylor back at his initial slot position.

"Jaydon has created some big plays for us," Sarkisian said of the two sophomore slot receivers so far through spring. "I like his role of being in the slot where he is right now. I think he and Kendyl are doing something nice things in that position for us. I thought they started a little slow in the first couple practices but have come back in the second half and have played their best football."

And of course when you include those two along with return specialist Hall the Huskies offer a Fly Motion dimension to their offense to go along with the other wrinkles UW has begun to implement. Since the Huskies run their no-huddle and up-tempo within the framework of Sarkisian's existing system, there isn't a whole lot that's taken out when the offense goes on NOS to give their attack a serious kick.

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