The Washington Huskies’ first practice under coach Steve Sarkisian and his new staff was quicker and louder than most players were used to. And the team on the field was quicker and more athletic than most of the fans lining the field at Husky Stadium have come to expect.
• HUSKIES INSIDER: Don Ruiz blogs live from UW spring practice
Part of that is attributed to winter conditioning work, which slimmed the offensive linemen by a combined 200 pounds. But another part was due to lineup changes introduced by this staff.
One day after Sarkisian said his team would enter spring work without a depth chart, the new staff rolled out some lineups designed to improve the athleticism across the board, and especially across the once-lumbering offensive line.
Former guard Ryan Tolar was at center. Former defensive lineman Senio Kelemete was at right guard. Former tackle Ben Ossai was at left guard. Redshirt freshman Drew Schaefer practiced with the first team at right tackle, opposite returning tackle Cody Habben.
“That’s a very athletic group up there that went with the ones for the most part,” Sarkisian said. “We had some guys sprinkled in, but we’re athletic, we’re quick; and hopefully when we get the pads on that will show up even more. ... Ben is obviously a pretty athletic guy – he’s dropped quite a bit of weight. To bring him inside allows us to stay athletic on the edge and stay athletic on the inside.”
The defensive line also took on a new look as Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who was second-team all-Pacific-10 Conference last season at defensive end, was moved to tackle.
“We’re starting him inside,” Sarkisian said. “He creates a lot of havoc when he’s internal because he is so quick. And our defense likes to move and slant so much that when he’s on big guys in there he can create a lot of problems, like he did for our (offense on Tuesday). He was in the backfield a few times right at the snap of the ball.”
Sarkisian also singled out linebacker Donald Butler and free safety Nate Williams on defense and tight end Chris Izbicki on offense.
Quarterback Jake Locker said his right thumb felt fine after the injury and surgery that shortened his sophomore season. Ronnie Fouch ran the second unit. David Freeman was the first to carry the ball, but a number of tailbacks rotated in no obvious order.
There is no attempt to keep any of these moves a surprise from opening opponent Louisiana State or anyone else as Sarkisian has thrown spring practices open to everyone who wants to watch.
An estimated crowd of around 400 showed up at its peak Tuesday, although that dwindled considerably as a light rain fell and the temperature dropped.
Still, Sarkisian said he was pleased with the turnout. And player after player said they liked practicing in front of their fans.
“I love this atmosphere,” senior linebacker E.J. Savannah said. “I want people to come out here and check us out.”
Fans and media didn’t have much to compare this practice to, since practices were closed under previous coach Tyrone Willingham. However, players remarked on the enthusiasm of the coaching staff – most notably the energy and booming voice of defensive coordinator Nick Holt – and the quicker tempo of the work.
“I enjoyed it, and I think you guys saw it was up tempo and it was fun,” Locker said. “Everybody was moving and always doing something and always being coached. It was a good atmosphere. (This staff is) a little younger, a little more energy and stuff. It’s just a different style, something that is new to all of us I think. It’s exciting and we’re looking forward to it. The whole tempo of the practice was upbeat.
“I personally didn’t have a time when I was really standing around not doing a whole lot. And we’re always doing something, always being coached on something.”
The Huskies will return to the practice field at 4 p.m. Thursday, once again without pads.
They will practice in shoulder pads for the first time Saturday and then in full pads Monday.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808