Coach's Corner - Spring Review

Jake Locker (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

OK, so the 14-13 score in Washington's spring game wasn't what most of us had in mind, but regardless of the score, or "bore" for that matter, there can be no denying that this Husky team has made some significant progress over the 15 practices in the month of April.

I saw 10 of the 15 practices and there was an obvious methodical approach to teaching and implementing, reviewing and applying of the basic team concepts of play (They even had segments with no helmets just to keep it on the mental movement level). They worked hard as units, and when looked at from that standpoint it was a highly efficient and productive spring.

UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian didn't have to spend nearly the amount of time showing the kids how he wanted practices to go. The kids already knew the system, so this year they were able to jump right into the "what" (meaning the plays and situations, all broken down into the reads, steps, and fits as they relate to all three phases of the game). They simply got a lot of team work in, as well as individual fundamental "review".

Even though they didn't run kicks and punts during the spring game, there were actually lots of highly competitive, full-speed team drills in the kicking game and this is where the upgrade in athleticism - through recruiting - is especially apparent. Washington will be better in the kicking game this coming season because they found a snapper in Brendan Lopez, who looks quick enough to be the answer; a holder in Cody Bruns, who is capable of throwing or running a fake; and a returning kicker in Erik Folk, who although not real long is extremely accurate from 40 yards in.

With a returning punter who is likewise proven in Will Mahan, the kicking game should be improved. They will likely become more aggressive in blocks and returns because of the kicking emphasis this spring.

If competition and speed are indeed the keys to this program, it was obvious on defense in the secondary and linebackers, and in the running backs and receivers on offense. Remember that as many as 12 players, including the starting tailback (Chris Polk), starting offensive tackle (Cody Habben), best cover corner (Desmond Trufant), and the best receiver (Jermaine Kearse) all missed the spring game. Those experienced players will all be keys to the success of this year's team.

Jake Locker hardly looked like the number one pick for next year's draft, going 3 for 7 for 15 yards. Still, he hardly played and was not allowed to run. His short stint was good for the back-up competition. I continue to empathize for all the unending expectations that have been placed upon him since he entered this program. First he was named the "savior" of the program, and now the "number one". Heck, he's only one player on a team of 85 scholarship players. When will they just give him a chance to go out and win some games, get to a bowl game and just be a college kid? I guess it just comes with that position.

The spring game was more of an experience in football fun than football itself. Fun for the fans (who got to see the team run around and play some ball), fun for the players (even if there were only about 60 of them), fun for the coaches (because they divided up and competed) and fun for coach Sarkisian (because he could just sit back and watch).

I can also tell you that it was really a lot of fun for the ex-Husky players who came out for another reunion of the program. For the second year in a row, the administration, through Elliot Silvers and the Big W Club, put on a "welcome back" appreciation evening for ex-Husky players spanning the last five decades. Over 300 ex-players and their families watched the game from the Don James Center and then the old Dawgs were bussed to the Duchess for a social filled with cheer and copious quantities of quality BS.

Coach Sarkisian and his staff joined the celebration. It was great to see the coaches, along with great Huskies like current pros Lawyer Malloy and Olin Kruetz, mingling with the kids who had just graduated. It was another wonderful blending of decades of old Dawgs. To a man, every one of these ex-players is on board with the state of the program. They all have so much pride and sincere respect for the university, their friends for life and for the state of the team. They carry the expectations of champions. Everyone sees the need for more depth, but these guys are all loyal Dawgs and know to stay positive. It is the mending of these old bridges that will help bring this program back. Coach Sarkisian gets it, just like he does with the rest of the big picture. We will win another championship soon under this coach and these guys know it.

Whose House? Dawgs' House!

That is what is so obvious about the direction of the program. There is such a different atmosphere and it's all so positive. The recruiting continues to be stellar, the position improvement was obvious this spring, and an overall enthusiasm continues to permeate the program.

It is just as obvious that there will be a number of the incoming freshmen who will be called upon to contribute right away. They were barely two-deep in the lines but used the spring to look at kids in different positions. Regardless of the numbers, there is a lot of diversity in both lines in that they have lots of players who can play both the inside and the outside positions. Another real positive is the upgrade on the back end of the defense, where there remains lots of competition. With two proven linebackers they will be able to play more nickel and dime, or five- and six-defensive back sets.

The scrimmage was really very vanilla from the offensive standpoint but then, why should you show your opponents what you're doing? I promise you that game was scouted by someone and taped off the television for the BYU staff, for instance.

The back-up quarterback position remains in competition with true freshman, Nick Montana, going 21 for 34 for 156 yards in the spring game, and red shirt freshman Keith Price going 4 for 9. I counted at least 2-3 drops of Montana's passes and Price's greatest strength is probably his running, so that competition continues to be a good one. I'm almost certain they will get another walk-on or transfer to help with scout team duty because it's almost impossible to operate without at least four or five quarterbacks in your program.

All in all, I saw some things we haven't seen in years, and most of it is for the better. This staff was able to get so much more done the second time around, and the four kids who joined the team right out of high school this spring will all end up in the depth. Of the four, the two freshmen running backs are certain to be in the depth.

Deontae Cooper made sophomore Johri Fogerson even better, and Jesse Callier served notice he can play as well before getting hurt in the third week of practice. Demitrius Bronson had the best numbers of all the backs in the spring game and that gives them a stable of five kids at running back once Chris Polk returns from shoulder rehab. If the rest of their signing class proves as good as these kids then this team will take another major step in August.

Coach Sarkisian and his staff have never lamented the lack of talent they inherited and let's face it - there were some glaring holes when they took over. After two springs, it is clear that they have changed not only the numbers, but also a lot of the culture of the program, and will continue to do so through aggressive recruiting. The biggest changes have been in attitude and the pace by which they do things, focusing on fundamentals and doing everything the right way.

That way, it doesn't matter who or where they play to open the season - this will be a better team.

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