The effort is there. The energy level is acceptable. Now, heading into the final week of the Washington Huskies’ preseason football camp, phase three of coach Steve Sarkisian’s plan goes into effect.
“Game management and game mechanics,” said Sarkisian, when asked about the emphasis of the final six days of camp before the team turns its attention toward a Sept. 5 regular-season opener against Louisiana State.
“I think we’ve obviously addressed the effort issue,” Sarkisian added. “I think we’ve addressed doing things right. I think we’re executing well. Now our challenge is to be able to function in game-like settings, like today, to where we’re still keeping our tempo, we’re still keeping our intensity.”
With two-deep positions still on the line, this should be the week when the starters separate themselves from the backups.
Here is a look at three crucial position battles:
Easily the most competitive position of the preseason, with five legitimate contenders – junior D’Andre Goodwin; sophomores Devin Aguilar, Jermaine Kearse and Jordan Polk; and true freshman James Johnson – going after two or three starting spots.
Arguably, Aguilar has been the most consistent performer in camp. Goodwin has come on recently. Kearse has made difficult catches but shown lapses of concentration. Polk and Johnson, who started the final scrimmage Saturday, are exciting big-play threats.
“We’re still evaluating every day,” receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty said.
• What will happen: Based on experience, it would be hard not to see the experienced players (Goodwin, Aguilar and Kearse) keep their starting spots.
• What should happen: Johnson, a prep star near San Diego, is a must-start at some point. If it’s at the expense of one of the possession receivers, so be it.
Nate Williams, the junior out of Kennedy High, is the unchallenged No. 1 strong safety and has done nothing in the preseason to fear losing the job.
The free safety position is where the battle is. Greg Walker, a scout-team MVP last year during his redshirt season, holds down the top spot right now. He seems to be the most complete package of any of the candidates – a fierce hitter with apt hands and the type of communicator defensive coordinator Nick Holt wants in his last line of defense.
Walker’s emergence last spring helped alleviate some of Sarkisian’s concerns over depth at the position – enough to move Johri Fogerson back to running back. So why isn’t Walker a lock to start? He’s the least-experienced of the group, having never played in a college game, and his size (5-foot-11, 198 pounds) isn’t ideal.
Thing is, his challengers have had their issues. Converted receiver Alvin Logan still looks tentative coming off a knee injury. Jason Wells has suffered from a recurring right Achilles’ tendon problem. And coaches are still gathering information on junior college transfer David Batts.
• What will happen: Walker will take the field Sept. 5.
• What should happen: Batts’ versatility is intriguing; it stands out against both the pass and run. Thing is, he could be a cornerback down the line too. He’s a nice insurance policy to have in case Walker isn’t up to the task.
SPECIAL TEAMS COVERAGE
It got to be almost comical last week in practice – punt returners were cutting in and out of coverage during drills, as if no defender cared to slow them down. Twice in scrimmages, a kick returner found his way to the end zone.
For the Saturday scrimmage, the starters on kickoff coverage were seven defensive players – linebackers Joshua Gage, Brandon Huppert and T.J. Poe; cornerbacks Justin Glenn, Adam Long and Anthony Gobern; and Walker. Running backs Demitrius Bronson and Fogerson and receiver Cody Bruns filled out the unit. Many of those are on punt-return teams too.
• What will happen: Special teams coordinator Johnny Nansen has options. He has newcomers who are playing hybrid roles on defense he can to tap, including Tim Tucker or Jordan Wallace, who has been impressive.
• What should happen: Improved conditioning should lend to having a few more starters – linebacker Mason Foster and Williams, for example – taking the field at times with the special teams. Why not?