Clinic and Scrimmage Reflect Changes

Ossai and Noble butt heads (Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

SEATTLE - The change is so uplifting and refreshing in Husky football that it's hard to tell how good this team can be or will be when it is time to play for real come September. I signed up for and attended the annual coaches clinic hosted by coach Sarkisian and his staff and also attended both practices this past weekend.

I ended up watching the scrimmage with Bob Rondeau, the golden voice of the Huskies, and although we are both homers, we still came away impressed.

Realizing I wear purple-colored glasses when it comes to my favorite team, I continue to be amazed by the change in tempo, enthusiasm and steady improvement by this group of kids. The coaching change has covered everything related to the program, making it fan and media friendly. Saturday's scrimmage, which was basically just a practice, drew close to 2,000 fans, complete with concession stands, a merchandise booth, music and full sideline access.

Considering it was also a beautiful day and there were lots of recruits in attendance, not to mention the two hundred coaches at their clinic, it was a great day and a wonderful atmosphere for Husky football.

It hasn't been like this in years.

They have literally changed everything, including attitudes and there is no doubt they are becoming a better team. No question they have a long way to go in order to attack their schedule but they are working hard, accepting coaching and obviously having more fun doing it. The intensity is still up, the energy is still positive, and the coaching is on the run and full of excitement. They are playing the game like it is a college game - with lots of running, lots of intensity and lots of competition.

The team appears willing to accept the changes and the kids resemble sponges with their eagerness to learn and become winners.

This team is already better in how they do things: They are better in their tempo of work; they are better conditioned; they are better in tackling, blocking and fundamentals; they are better at stripping the ball out; they are better in the weight room; they are better in their drill concentration; they are becoming better competitors; they are better in the team aspects of the kicking game; they are better in their run emphasis on both sides of the ball.

Most of all, they are better simply because they want to be. They are better because they are totally buying in.

During the coaches clinic I concentrated on the defensive side of the ball in order to get a feel for their schemes, drills, and practice organization.

Because of my linebacker background, I sat in on a session with Mike Cox, the new linebackers coach, and a man who I know understands linebacker play. He has five veteran players returning, and I think all are becoming better players under his coaching. They should be the leaders on this defense.

Even though E.J. Savannah got hurt right before the scrimmage started, Mason Foster emerged as one of the most dominating players on the field. He had an interception, a number of sacks, a blocked kick, and seven tackles, three of those for loss. They are playing him on the outside and he was a force on both rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. He was super on Saturday.

Foster, Donald Butler and Savannah are the best group of linebackers to play together at Washington in years. They are all better both as players and leaders. Add slimmer and trimmer reserve players in Trenton Tuiasosopo and Matt Houston, and coach Cox has both depth and experience.

The linebackers are better.

During the scrimmage itself it looked like the offense is getting better at running the ball. Willie Griffin is steady, always there and a tough runner, but he is being challenged by no less than four guys including the new guy, Demitrius Bronson, who continues to impress with his vision and power.

Bronson has shown a nose for the goal line and at 210 pounds always moves the pile on contact. His low and square shoulders allow him to slide after he hits the line of scrimmage, and he is not afraid to lay his hat on blitzing linebackers.

Chris Polk just might be the special back everyone thought he'd be when he turned down USC to come to Washington. Unfortunately for him he was forced to play too much too early and broke down. I think it was given to him in recruiting that he would be the starter last year and now he is having to earn it.

Polk has only participated in two practices this spring, but he has showed both exceptional speed and running ability. There is no doubting his explosive qualities. He too stuck his nose in there on blocking and on a red-zone drill on first down literally blew around the corner and almost scored. He appears to have another gear that could make him special and by this fall should be right in the hunt for substantial carries.

Curtis Shaw, likewise, showed his obvious speed, and David Freeman had a quickness about him that continues to keep him in the competition. Add a veteran like Brandon Johnson, who looks in much better shape, and you have six scholarship backs all fighting to get on the field.

That's great competition at the running back position, and I'm positive that competition will continue all the way through fall camp. I'd be surprised if a starter was named any sooner than right before the first game and that we could even see 'tailback by committee' this coming fall.

Regardless, I think the backs are better simply because it's so competitive. Besides, the best runner on the team might be the quarterback, Jake Locker. His backup, Ronnie Fouch, has been showing his running ability as well. They are both improved and will continue to do so because they are now being coached by two former quarterbacks in Sarkisian and Doug Nussmeier.

The wide receiver position has been equally competitive, and with D'Andre Goodwin out due to a nagging hamstring there are great battles brewing to help determine playing time. There are nine kids in the mix, and each brings something unique to the table. There are still too many drops but otherwise they are all getting better.

Unfortunately, there is not that kind of depth at either the tight end or offensive line positions, but the improvement in both areas is becoming evident. With the exception of one horrible drop on a great throw by Locker down a seam, tight end Chris Izbicki continues to develop, and Kavario Middleton is slowly growing into his body.

The sophomore has great hands, and after a summer with head strength coach Ivan Lewis will be even better come the fall. Hopefully help is on the way with this incoming class that features no less than three additional tight ends - Dorson Boyce, Marlion Barnett and Kimo Makaula.

The offensive line has seven or eight kids who look like they can play, but they too need three more months with coach Lewis before the fall camp begins.

Dan Cozzetto is a grinder, and his approach as UW's offensive line coach is right in your face, so these kids are at least improving in their attitude towards practice. He won't accept anything else and I'm positive he will be pushing hard for them to bring in a full offensive line in this next class. I would think that a full defensive line is likewise a must for recruiting as well.

Speaking of next year's class, that is another thing that jumped out about the changes going on at Montlake - they are aggressive on the recruiting front and had some big-time recruits from California at practice as well. On top of that, their high school head coach was one of the featured speakers at the coaches clinic.

To hook those kids up with the Athletic Director and President of the University shows that this staff is intent on pulling out all the stops. With seven kids already verbally committed for the 2010 class, they are obviously off to a great start in recruiting, and the time they spent with the high school coaches will help them now and in the future.

I'm not going to tell you an 0-12 team is going to win them all next year, but I am confident this new system is working and slowly improving this football team. That begins at the top, and there is no denying that coach Sarkisian has brought many positive changes to Husky football.

It is a long process and they have miles to go in order to be a winning team, but I think there is more hope now than has been here since the 2000-01 Rose Bowl team.

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