Balancing health and aggressiveness

Nate Fellner (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

SEATTLE - In spring football, guys get hurt; other guys come back from injury. It's a part of what happens. But with the Washington Huskies, they are already fighting a tough battle with numbers; they don't need to have too many more bodies go down before having to call a penalty on themselves for not having enough bodies at the line of scrimmage.

"Our number one goal is to get out of here better, realistically," UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said Tuesday. "We have to be a better football team than we were when we started spring ball. At the end I want us to be a better football team: I want us to understand our schemes better; I want us to understand what it's truly like to play with great effort every snap, to be relentless. I want our efficiency on both sides to be there. When it's our opportunity to make plays, we've got to make them. With that - yeah, we want to come out of it healthy. But healthy is a part of becoming a better football team."

Defensive Lineman Cameron Elisara went down with a knee strain during a goal-line period, already thinning a depleted group. Elisara's injury doesn't look to be anything to worry about long-term, but it just adds more stress.

Sarkisian sees it as just another opportunity.

"Guys have to take maybe a few more reps than you'd normally take if you had that depth," he said. "Fortunately De'Shon (Matthews) was able to go some today to lighten the load, Cameron strained his knee a little bit. We'll be OK.

"I think it's been good for a guy like Talia Crichton to get this many reps and this much opportunity. The challenge is not having another guy right behind him pushing him, competing with him like there is at every other spot. They're doing fine, but in a perfect world I'd like to have more competition there so there is another guy pushing him, competing with him so we can get better."

While the defensive line has been the clear loser in terms of depth hits, there's no question the running backs have blossomed despite the loss of Chris Polk for the spring. In fact, it look Cornerbacks Coach Demetrius Martin to stop freshman Deontae Cooper from scoring on a long run.

"What about that?" UW Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier said with a chuckle. "If it takes 12 to stop us, we'll be OK."

Lately it feels like the defense has had to take extraordinary measures to stop Cooper, as well as his frosh counterpart, Jesse Callier. Along with junior Johri Fogerson, they were the only three backs to carry the ball all practice. Could this mean sophomore Demitrius Bronson has been move permanently to fullback?

"We gave those three guys the bulk of the carries today," Sarkisian said. "They carried the ball every time. "We are letting those guys roll. Those three guys are really getting the carries right now and its fun to watch them battle and compete and see what some guys can do well and cant do well. It was interesting to watch the young guys on the goal line for the first time today and what their pad level was like think we can coach that up and get them lower behind their pads and continue to grow as the competitive nature of practice grows."

Sarkisian is just as interested in the growth of the frosh off the field, especially how they are acclimating themselves to becoming student-athletes at the college level.

"We need to pay attention to them," he said. "These guys, this is the first two-and-a-half weeks away from home, the first time they've been in college classes, in a dorm, in college football practices, needing training table and all the things this entails. We need to monitor them closely.

"We're with them every day," he added. "Obviously their attendance and alertness in class and in study hall, and their ability to be early to the things we're asking them to get to, obviously their ability to retain what we're installing tells us a lot. One of the biggest challenges for young guys is when you first move out of home like we all did at some point is to go to sleep at night. Nobody is telling you to go to bed. And nobody is tapping you on the shoulder, waking you up in the morning. The real challenge for these guys is to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning, so that they're fresh and alert, not only physically but mentally. That is something we monitor really hard with these guys.

"I thought this might have been more most competitive practice, really intense. As installation is really slowing down I think we are going to start to see all three of those guys play even faster football."

It didn't start out that way, though. Early on, it looks like the players needed a little kick in the pants, especially after Saturday's scrimmage, and the coaches were happy to oblige by using their voices to get their points across.

"It's almost halftime," Sarkisian said. "We are through seven practices now and been in full pads for a few days in a row as coaches and players can look around and say its just another one but there is never just another one. Try to pride ourselves that it doesn't matter what they are wearing, it doesn't matter what the weather is like. We only know how to practice one way and that's 100 miles an hour and we just wanted to make sure that that was the way we were going to go again today."

It helped that the coaches devised a special situation at the end of practice to get the team going; overtime. They went so far as to have a coin toss. The ones, led by QB Jake Locker, won the toss, and elected to play defense first.

The twos, led by Nick Montana, went from the 25-yard line and were able to march down the field and score off a Montana pass to Kavario Middleton for six.

"As in everything we do, we're teaching the situations," Nussmeier said when asked about the overtime period during the final team period of the day. "We had a coin toss, and the first team won the coin toss, so Jake elected to play defense first. The twos went first and went down the field and scored a touchdown. So that teaches our ones, hey! They know they are in a four-down situation and they need a touchdown to stay alive. You play the situation. Had the twos kicked a field goal or not scored, then it's a totally different situation for the ones. That's what everything we do in practice is geared around, special situations. We don't just run plays to run plays."

The ones matched that touchdown with one of their own, a Deontae Cooper run behind left guard Ryan Tolar on fourth down. But they set up one final play to determine the winner, and it appeared that Locker underthrew his intended receiver, Devin Aguilar.

It wasn't the only play of the day where the senior signal caller came up a little short. He also had two interceptions on the day, one to Quinton Richardson, and a pick-six to Vonzell McDowell.

"The defense is always on us," Nussmeier said when asked to evaluate Locker's day. "He's continuing to try and really work on grasping the finer details. Last year was really a steep learning curve, and now we're working on a different level right now. I wouldn't say today was one of his great days, but it wasn't bad either. He did do some good things."
Notes:
Film review: So what did Sark think of Saturday's scrimmage after getting a chance to pick it apart on film? "I thought we did some nice things, some things that were good," he said. "I thought our effort could be better, we could play with more of a relentless effort where our guys are really playing with their hair on fire, so that's something we assessed with our guys. I like the composure again after looking at the film, our two young guys they weren't perfect but their composure was there, they weren't just rattled, they will learn not to take sacks and that's just part of the maturation process of the position and we need to be more physical and stout up front on the defensive line. That showed up again today. And I know coach (Nick) Holt and coach (Johnny) Nansen were on it and we'll get better.

Saturday standout: Sarkisian did note one player that showed up on film - sophomore safety Nate Fellner. "I liked what Nate Fellner brought," he said. "He brought a real physical nature to the scrimmage. He was confident and was playing fast football. He's one guy that really stood out to me."

Fellner, who was already kicked out of the end of one practice, appears to only have one gear - and that's top. "I don't mind that," Sarkisian added. "That's what the great ones are like. That's how they play."

Injury update: There was one more red shirt to be added to the list of three that have been a constant throughout UW's seven practices. Cody Bruns donned red today, joining Victor Aiyewa, Cody Habben and Chris Polk. "They are able to let him run around and do some things," Sarkisian said of the junior receiver from Prosser, who is recovering from a concussion. "He obviously still can't have contact. But I think he's a lot closer. But again, anytime it's a head injury, we're going to monitor that thing closely. It's just not worth it. We're going to monitor it closely, and take the proper precautions. When the doctor says it's a go, it's a go."

There also have been nagging injuries to two other receivers - Jordan Polk and D'Andre Goodwin. While Polk has been able to fight through his hamstring injury, Goodwin has not.

"We're watching it," Sarkisian said of Goodwin. "I think we're seeing the benefit of giving a guy some rest in Jordan Polk who is fighting through it now, who took a couple days off. Hopefully we get the same out of D'Andre. He didn't have it in the off-season. We did some tough running – hard running. For whatever reason, it's come to light. We've done the same stretching routine that we do when we do our conditioning program as we do on the field now. It just came up, you know.

Sarkisian was also asked about Desmond Trufant and his groin injury. "We're not pushing him real hard," he said of the sophomore from Tacoma. "We've got good depth at the (cornerback) spot, and I want to make sure he is 100 percent before we get him back out here. His deal is not about what Tru can do, it's about making sure he is healthy as we hit this offseason and into the fall camp. I'm not sure what we'll get out of him. Hopefully we'll get something in the last two weeks or so. We'll see.

"What's been difficult for Jordan is - when you're not practicing, we're not seeing you. We don't see you on the field and we don't see you on the film, so you can get lost. And it happened to him early in spring ball when his hamstring tightened up on him. To his credit he battled through and was able to go in the scrimmage and came out and did it again today. I've been really proud of Jordan, because he's fighting to get back out on the field, and that's the right mentality to have."

Position battle emerging?: It appears as if the battle for the third linebacker spot next to Cort Dennison and Mason Foster is starting to heat up just a bit. Matt Houston and Alvin Logan each are putting their own stamp on the WIL/LEO position.

"He's doing a nice job," Sarkisian said of Logan, a junior from Aurora, Colo. "It's a new position. It's a little bit different for him, and he's in nice competition with a couple of other guys. He obviously has the athleticism where he can grow. It's just a matter of the consistency factor and the efficiency factor like I talked about. When he has opportunities to make plays, we want him to continue to make 'em. He has the stature that fits the mold. But for us, in our scheme to play linebacker, you've got to be able to shed blocks and come over the top and rush the passer. He did it again today; he came off the edge on a blitz and got a sack. So he shows the right qualities."

And Houston? "I thought he did pretty well in the scrimmage," Sarkisian said of the senior from Goleta, Calif. "I think he's coming. They are a little bit different type of player; Matt's maybe a little more physical than Alvin. So we're trying to get Matt to play even faster and Alvin to play a little more physical."

Kicking update: Erik Folk was 1-4 today, with a long of 42.

Dawgman.com Recommended Stories