The hint of irritation, over more questions than answers, can easily be detected in UW coach Steve Sarkisian's words when he talks about the lingering ankle injury of receiver James Johnson.
By now, the sophomore who caught 39 passes for 422 yards last season – who scored the very first touchdown in the Sarkisian era – was expected to be back and ready to contribute.
Day after day, he practices – with a slight limp, with hesitation getting in and out of cuts. And on Saturdays, he's out of the lineup completely.
It's no secret, the Huskies could use an offensive weapon of his caliber when No. 8 Nebraska pays a visit Saturday. Jake Locker could certainly utilize a speedy, wiggly receiver to get into soft spots of the defense, make the difficult catches and possibly break off a long run.
There is only one other regular receiver with his type of big-play skill set – junior Jermaine Kearse.
There are only two other receivers a defensive coordinator would really have to take a second look at when devising a game plan – Kearse and Devin Aguilar.
JJ, where are you?
"I'm frustrated. It's been five weeks, and it's a sprained ankle," Sarkisian said. "He's hurt. There's nothing I can do about it. Until he's healthy, it's hard to play him, and play him regularly – or to practice … him to play regularly. He's just got to fight his way back. It's been hard on him, it's been hard on us."
The initial injury happened on Aug. 14 during fall camp. Johnson tweaked his ankle early in practice, then sat out the rest of the session. Nobody thought it was that big a deal at the time. It was just a sprain.
Five days later on that same field at Husky Stadium, Johnson reaggravated the injury – serious enough that when he tried to come back, he was visibly bothered by it.
As the weeks went by, and the regular season dawned, it became pretty apparent a few around the program were starting to shift into a slow burn over Johnson's stalemate. Could he be THAT slow to recover? Was a toughness issue coming to light?
Meanwhile on the depth cart, D'Andre Goodwin took Johnson's spot in the starting lineup, and Cody Bruns shot past him in the rotation, too.
"It's just been a major setback that he missed so much of camp," UW offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Since the regular season started, Johnson has practiced. He looks timid with his footwork. He's dropped passes he never did last season, possibly a sign he's starting to get stuck in a mental rut over it.
"If you can't drive off that foot, it's going to hinder you," Nussmeier said. "I think it's starting to get there."
Just not in time for the biggest game of 2010.
• Quick-hit stuff from practice Thursday: Middle linebackerCort Dennison
(illness) was held out of afternoon practice Thursday. Sarkisian thought he would be OK to go for the game Saturday. If not, true freshmanGarret Gilliland
would make his first career start. … Running backJohri Fogerson
(upper leg) and linebackerVictor Burnett
(concussion) were non-participants Thursday. Both are doubtful, at best. …Erik Kohler
, the true freshman from California, started a third consecutive day at left guard, withRyan Tolar
at right guard. … Sarkisian is hoping for a bit of everything Saturday in the weather forecast. "We always like it a little gray, a little misty," the coach said. "And I wouldn't even mind some wind."