After Price, it’s all questions for UW
It’s the last time to see the Washington Huskies football team until fall camp.
Today’s annual spring game at CenturyLink Field will be more of a controlled scrimmage than a game, but that doesn’t mean progress can’t be measured.
“I think (fans) will see an energized group on both sides of the ball,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “From a scheme standpoint, it will be interesting. … It could be a little bit vanilla that way. But I don’t think that will diminish from the style we play and the way we play and our big-play ability that I think this team has on both sides of the ball.”
Here are three things to look for when Washington steps on the field at its new home away from home:
1. The 3-4 defense
Much of the talk this spring has been about the changed look that new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has brought to the much-maligned unit. When a 3-4 defense was first mentioned by Sarkisian and Wilcox, there was a buzz amongst Huskies fans.
But when you watch the Huskies practice, sometimes it’s hard to tell if they are in a 3-4 or still the same 4-3 front. That’s the idea. Wilcox wants to show multiple looks.
“It’s what we think is the best chance for us personnel-wise and also schematically for the teams we’re going to play against and the style of offenses we see and guys that fit the skill set now,” Wilcox said. “Whether you’re a 4-3 or 3-4, there’s no magic answer. If there was, everybody would be doing that. You pick your philosophy, your scheme, you move forward with it, you teach it, you make sure the guys understand what the expectations are, how to play it and you have to get better at it.”
A new alignment won’t make the Huskies impenetrable. But it might help their players.
Defensive end Josh Shirley will occasionally stand up on the edge and rush the quarterback as an outside linebacker. Tackle Danny Shelton will line up against the center and try to control the middle with Andrew Hudson, Talia Crichton or Jarett Finau flanking him as defensive ends that play like defensive tackles.
“This defense is going to demand a lot out of our defensive line as far as a multitude of alignments and assignments,” defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi said. “At times we might have five defensive ends on the field.”
Maybe the biggest change will be at linebacker, where a bulked up John Timu is playing inside along with either Princeton Fuimaono or Thomas Tutogi instead of on the perimeter, and former safeties Nate Fellner, Taz Stevenson and Evan Zeger vying for time at outside linebacker.
“It’s more a matter of getting the best guys on the field and fitting them into spots where they can be the most successful,” Wilcox said.
2. The effectiveness of the offensive tackles
The offensive line has been ravaged by injuries. But the two guys anchoring each side, sophomores Micah Hatchie and Ben Riva, have not missed a first-team snap. Have they done enough to keep their starting job? Yes and no. Each has shown hints of being effective. But they’ve also shown lapses, leaving questions as to whether quarterback Keith Price will be able to avoid crushing sacks and stay healthy.
Watch Hatchie and Riva in pass protection. Are they able to drop step quick enough to take Shirley’s speed rushing momentum and push him past Price in the pocket? Can they sustain their blocks on Hudson long enough for Price to run the bootleg and have time to set his feet and throw?
Riva came from a running system at O’Dea, so pass blocking is something he’s still working to perfect.
“We passed like 20 times my senior year,” he joked.
Hatchie came to Montlake at 240 pounds and is now 300. Line coach Dan Cozzetto said he believes Hatchie has all the makings of a great left tackle.
“The one thing I like about Micah is that he doesn’t get overexcited,” Cozzetto said. “He’ll play through a bad snap and he’ll get back to his fundamentals. He has tremendous concentration. He’s not a freak show out there on an island, and that’s not what I need.”
3. Running between the tackles
The competition between junior Jesse Callier and sophomore Bishop Sankey for Chris Polk’s vacated starting tailback spot has been even so far. Sankey may have a slim lead over Callier, who has been slowed by an ankle injury.
“Right now between those two, those would be the guys that would be 1A and 1B and I’ll let you guys decide that between the two,” running backs coach Joel Thomas said. “But it’s been a competitive battle. I really like the energy and the effort they bring every single day.”
Both will get carries next season, but who gets more will be determined by who can run best between the tackles. Ideally, you want that guy to be a threat running inside and outside.
Callier has shown the ability to be effective on fly sweeps and toss plays but he has yet to really have success running inside. Sankey is a 35-yard burst waiting to happen. He has shown better vision and patience this spring letting blocks develop.
What made Polk so valuable was his ability to take advantage of power plays up the middle, take some contact and keep going. That also sets up play-action and bootleg plays.
“One of them is going to do it, and it may be a 55-45 deal, 60-40,” Thomas said of the distribution. “I don’t know, I don’t have a crystal ball until we get to next season.”
1 p.m. today, CenturyLink Field, free admission (gates open 11:30 a.m.)
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports