Monday meant many things for the Washington Huskies.
It marked the beginning of game-week preparation for Saturday’s season opener against San Diego State.
It also meant that the first official depth chart was released by coach Steve Sarkisian.
Upon first glance, an outsider might see three true freshmen listed as starters and be a little shocked.
But after three weeks of fall camp, it comes as little surprise that defensive back Shaq Thompson and wide receivers Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor were listed as starters.
All three players established themselves as contenders for starting spots from the first day of camp. Of course, the injury to senior wide receiver James Johnson may have helped Mickens and Taylor.
“They’ve earned this right to start and play,” Sarkisian said. “They’ve had a tremendous fall camp, big play after big play.
“Again with freshman, we’re going to have to go through growing pains. I’m excited for the big plays and I’m a little bit reserved on some of the mistakes that can occur Saturday night.”
Thompson was the prized recruit of the 2012 class. Thompson has been so good that defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has the Huskies playing 70 percent of the time in a hybrid nickel package with two linebackers and five defensive backs.
Thompson is the startingg nickel back but it’s different in that he often plays like a strong safety near the line of scrimmage, almost like a linebacker.
At 230 pounds, Thompson can run like a cornerback and hit like a linebacker.
“Man, there’s a lot of things that I haven’t seen with a guy that big (who) can move the way he does and (has) the ball skills that he presents,” quarterback Keith Price said.
Mickens and Taylor bring an element of speed that the Huskies haven’t had in the past few seasons.
The 5-foot-10, 170 pound Mickens might be the fastest player on the team. Taylor is a little more physical at 5-10, 200 pounds and is comfortable to play inside as the slot receiver.
They are solid complements to Washington’s lead receiver Kasen Williams.
It was a year ago that Williams was in their position – 18 years old and expected to contribute. His first game was an adventure.
“My first two balls, I dropped, and I was kind of down on myself and I wasn’t really into the game anymore,” he said. “And the next ball I get is a touchdown. That’s an experience they can learn from. One thing with Keith is he’s going to hit the open receiver no matter if you dropped the ball two or three times already.”
Both Price and Sarkisian noted that the game-week plan is significantly smaller than the playbook that Mickens and Taylor were trying to grasp during fall camp.
“I keep telling them that if you don’t understand something just come to me,” Price said. “All season it looks like I’ll be holding tutoring sessions all week.”
Sarkisian said defensive end Hau’oli Jamora, linebackers Nate Fellner and Jamaal Kearse, wide receiver Johnson, H-back Cooper Pelluer and running back Deontae Cooper are out for Saturday’s game against San Diego State. All will miss the game with injuries. Jamora and Cooper will have their scheduled knee surgeries Thursday. Cooper is out for the season, while Sarkisian wasn’t certain about when or if Jamora would return. According to the school, 48,700 tickets have been sold for Saturday’s game at CenturyLink Field, which holds about 68,000. The Sounder train will not be running to Saturday’s game since kickoff is after 5 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network with Kevin Calabro doing play-by-play, Adam Archuleta doing color commentary and Yogi Roth as the sideline reporter. People with DirecTV and Dish Network will not be able to receive the game because neither company has reached a televising agreement with the Pac-12 Network.
Huskies’ opponent this week
SAN DIEGO STATE (0-0 OVERALL)
7:30 p.m. SATURDAY, CenturyLink Field
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 950-AM
Coach: Rocky Long (8-5, 2nd year)
Last year: 8-5, including a 32-30 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl.
Against the Huskies: The two teams have met twice in their history and Washington is 2-0. The first meeting came in 1982 when Washington, then ranked No. 1, defeated SDSU, 46-25, at Husky Stadium. The most recent meeting came in 1997 when the then-No. 3 ranked Huskies defeated the Aztecs, 36-3.
connections: UW wide receiver James Johnson (Valley Center High School) and linebacker Cory Littleton (Mount Miguel High) are both from the San Diego area. SDSU’s roster features two players from the state of Washington: Freshman wide receiver Connor Black of Wenatchee and sophomore tight end Aaron Boesch of Oak Harbor. With so many California players on both teams, there are plenty of former teammates and rivals. Perhaps the most interesting is that SDSU’s standout cornerback Leon McFadden will be trying to intercept the passes of his former high school teammate Keith Price. Both players, along with UW safety Will Shamburger, played for powerhouse St. John Bosco in Bellflower, Calif.
Scouting report: SDSU lost its two best playmakers to graduation in quarterback Ryan Lindley and running back Ronnie Hillman, both now in the NFL. Long was able to get some instant help in Oregon State transfer Ryan Katz, who won the starting quarterback job this fall. Katz threw for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore for Oregon State in 2010, but lost his job to freshman Sean Mannion early last season, and left Corvallis in search of playing time. Defensively, San Diego State is led by middle linebacker Jake Fely, who had 58 tackles last season as a freshman.
Did you know: Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian was an assistant coach for the Azetcs for about a month. After coaching as a graduate assistant for the USC Trojans, he accepted a position with the Aztecs, but he went back to Pete Carroll’s staff when he got a full-time job.
2011 RETURNING STATISTICAL LEADERS
Ryan Katz (w/Oregon St.)132552.010401
Saturdayat WashingtonSept. 8Army
Sept. 15North DakotaSept. 22San Jose State
Sept. 29at Fresno State*Oct. 6Hawaii*
Oct. 13Colorado State*Oct. 20at Nevada*
Oct. 27UNLV*Nov. 3at Boise State*
Nov. 10Air Force*Nov. 24at Wyoming* *Mountain West Conference game email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @RyanDivish