OK, it’s game week. This is why we do what we do to get to this point. I’m proud of what our kids have been able to accomplish for three weeks of training camp. I think we’ve evolved as a team. We’ve come together as a team which is vitally important. And now we are posed with a challenging schedule and season to kick it off against Eastern Washington. I congratulated Coach Baldwin when he won a national championship at the end of the year, and I had to remind myself that we play them at the beginning of this year.
This is a football team that plays extremely hard. They are very well coached. And because of that, they are opportunistic. I think we saw that in the playoffs, when you watch the games and look at the film. They make the plays at the most opportunistic times to really change games. You have to have good players in place to make that happen.
Obviously on offense with the quarterback (Bo) Levi Mitchell, the offensive line returning four or five starters, the long rangy tall wide receivers they possess offensively, present challenges.
Defensively, up front with (Renard) Williams at defensive tackle and the Johnsons (Zach and Matt) at middle linebacker and safety, their defense is really anchored right down the middle, which is where you want to be anchored. That’s where your defense has to begin.
It’s an exciting time for us, but yet one that we know is very a challenging. A team that’s coming in here with a lot of confidence, that’s won a lot of football games. More games than we’ve won the last two years that’s for sure. It will pose a great threat for us that way.
As far as our football team, where we’ve come a long way, in my opinion, is just the depth. The simple fact that we are going to play more bodies than we ever have at wide receiver, at defensive line, at linebacker, at safety and play guys earlier in the ballgame, not waiting. You are going to see guys in the third series of the game. You are going to see a lot of different numbers. That’s the beauty of creating depth on your roster and playing guys and giving them opportunities to play. I think you’ll see that as a little different bit of a change of who we are and what we’ve been the last couple of years.
We do not yet know the status of Polk, Richardson or Fogerson. We’ll assess them as the week goes on. We’d like to make some form of a decision, at least internally at least by Wednesday, but that remains to be seen, so we’ll see where we go from there.
As for the punter, Rasp and Mahan will both punt. Hopefully we don’t punt too many times. You never like sending your punting unit out there. You’ll see both those guys punting.
Some other notes … The goal for us this year is to redshirt Cody Bruns for a lot of reason, some personal, some strategic on our part. It would be great to have a veteran leader, senior wide receiver next year as we graduate some seniors this year. Because of the depth at the position and some of the things in his personal life, we think that’s the best thing for him and the best thing for us. We’ll see how that goes.
As far as other redshirts on our roster, there’s some really easier decisions to make. The Kasen Williams’, the Austin Seferian-Jenkins’, the Danny Shelton’s, those guys are going to play. There’s a lot of easier ones to make of guys that are ensuring of redshirts. And then we’ve got some gray areas on some guys that we are going to have to make some tough decisions on here throughout this week and then potentially into next week and the week after that as they develop. Some of those guys are obviously are a Bishop Sankey, a James Sample, a Marcus Peters, some guys that are on the cusp and kind of in and out of the two-deep and with injuries and what-not how that plays.
The last thing I want to do is have a kid play and have him get 18 or 20 snaps on a year. That’s not worth it for him and that’s not worth it for us in the long run. We have to make sure it’s worth their while, it’s worth our while, that they are getting substantial time where they can benefit this year from playing. If not, I know the majority of these kids can benefit from this year from redshirting for the long run of this program and where we are headed. We’ll have to make some tough decisions as the week goes on.
I do feel like this ball game traditionally is one when you kick off the season and it’s your first ball game, so much of the stuff concerning on my end, is the line of scrimmage, the false starts, the illegal procedures, defensive linemen lined up in the neutral zone, the timing on stuff like fly sweeps and things we like to do – to make sure that stuff is on point. Things can go astray when you are starting first and 15 because of a false start or you are fumbling a snap, or an exchange on a fly sweep. Those things will really be our focus throughout this week and to make sure we are clean at the line of scrimmage come Saturday. And also that are our energy, our enthusiasm and our effort is right come Saturday. Of course we want to do things right. I want to make sure our energy is right, our enthusiasms is right and our effort is right when we come out to play Saturday afternoon.
And lastly, it’s going to be great to get out in front of our fans. To be in Husky Stadium for the final season of this place and to kick it off an in-state opponent – Eastern Washington – it’s an exciting time. I think our kids are really going to embrace the atmosphere, and we are hopeful our fans embrace the ball game as well.
Are your guys ready to hit someone else other than themselves?
Well, that’s natural. It’s about that time. Some of our guys don’t get sick of hitting anything (stop signs?). They’ll hit whatever they can. It’s time. It’s about that time. That’s why training camp has traditionally been about three weeks for college football and then you’ve got to get ready for a ball game.
What’s the big difference between the FBS and FCS, obviously talent, but is it size? Speed? Depth?
“I think the ultimate thing is depth, just naturally. Having the X number of players in place that when injuries occur you can replace them and we’re starting to finally have that luxury ourselves. So I don’t’ think it’s so much the front line guys as much as it’s the depth factor. You’re going to see Demetrius Bronson running the ball for them on Saturday and running well like he ran for us here in practices and scrimmages and whatnot. For a variety of reasons guys end up at FCS schools, especially good ones like Eastern Washington and when the coaching staff like Eastern’s with Coach Baldwin (can bring that thing together and get guys believing in their culture and style of play, they can be pretty good. That’s what they’ve developed there and to their credit they’ve got a good football team.
You mentioned Renard Williams, how disruptive is he on the D-Line?
He’s really disruptive. For a big man he’s an excellent pass rusher. He does a nice job with his spin move and using suddenness and when he gets 1 on 1 opportunities on guards he can cause havoc.
Which team that you play is comparable to their passing attack?
Probably Washington State’s. Washington State’s and maybe Arizona’s to where they get in their four-wide sets and really spread you out and keep dinking and dunking the ball and getting completions and completions and completions and you finally come up and bump ‘em and get in ‘em and then they’ve got those big tall wide receivers and throw a lot of fades and receiver screens to those guys and they make their plays.
Were you following Eastern’s run into the playoffs?
Sure, we have to. This isnt’ the biggest state so you have to support one another (even the Cougs?). A lot of those are in-state kids and kids that we’ve had in camp or known through the recruiting process and you wish them the best of luck. They earned it, they deserved it. IT’s good for the state of Washington that they did what they did.
On playing an FCS school for the first time in school history?
"I don't think it's disappointing. I think that's college football. It's Pac-12 football really for us, you are talking a nine-game conference schedule. We are the only conference in the country that does that, and it's a good schedule, a hard one, a tough one and so the reality of it is you look at our conference the last two years, we haven't filled our bowl slots - I think we have seven available to us and we can't get but 4-5 teams eligible for bowl games. And so I think you are seeing that trend occur more now where teams are willing to play FCS schools and not to guarantee a win per se but just not to be so beat up. You go and play a top-tier Big Ten team, a top-tier Big 12 team, a top-tier SEC team and maybe it may not be so much that game alone but a factor of what it can do to your roster moving forward and guys getting beat up.''
Were you frustrated by the late injuries to Polk, Fogerson and Richardson?
"No, I'm not frustrated. They were fluky deals. It wasn't about the wear and tear --- it's not like we have a bunch of sore shoulders or concussions or things. We had a physical camp and we had a couple of fluky deals where guys got injured. Johri's hip flexor occurs scoring a touchdown in a mock game where nobody's near him. Quinton, it's a 50-50 ball on a fade and Kasen happens to fall on him awkwardly to do it. And Chris is making a cut and we don't know if that's even when the injury occurred or if that's just where he aggravated it. So I think we are a very fresh football team. I'm not frustrated about that. Our kids are upbeat, they are enthusiastic, they are flying around when we are going. So I don't feel fatigue by any means or sore as a football team. I feel very good about us.''
Did the depth allow you to do different things in fall camp?
"Just the special teams. We really emphasized it and worked on it. We've put a lot of time and effort and special situations to do that, so that's been a special focus for us.''
When did you start reminding your team, you haven’t been 1-0 in your tenure?
"Since spring ball.''
How often have you done it since?
You mentioned rotating at some positions, but will you be rotating at quarterback?
Are you settled at offensive line?
"I think we've settled in Hugh. I like what we've got with Senio and then Colin Tanigawa next to him and Schaefer at center and with Porter and Kohler on the right side. I like where we're at. We won't be shuffling around much there.''
What do you need to see out of Chris Polk?
That he’s healthy. I need to see that he’s healthy. I need to see that there’s no swelling. I need to see him play full speed. I need to see him cut. I don’t necessarily need to see him take a hit; I know he’s a tough kid. But I need to make sure that he’s healthy. This is not just about Saturday; this is about October, November as well. So I just need to see him healthy, doing the stuff that I know I’ve seen him do before. He’s a tough kid. I’ve seen him play through injury before. But I want him to be healthy on this deal.
Are any one of those three close?
I don’t know yet.
Is Polk on schedule?
There’s no timeline for it. Everybody’s body’s different. We don’t know. We don’t know how he was going to heal. He’s just been kind of getting better. He hasn’t had any setbacks, which is a good thing.
What did you want to see improved on special teams?
It was the whole thing. It was all of it. Every phase of it. I don’t like the fact that we got a couple fakes ran on us on field-goal block the last couple years. I don’t like the fact that we haven’t had a very good return team the last couple years. I don’t like the fact that we haven’t covered kickoffs like I think we can the last couple years. Every phase of special teams has been really pointed to to areas of improvement in all of our phases. I think we can be a better return team. I think we can be a better coverage unit. I think we can be better at blocking kicks. The fact that we haven’t blocked a kick in two years is a little disturbing to me with the athletes we have in place. And I think the fact that we’ve only blocked one field goal in two years. We should be better at that stuff, and it’s been a point of emphasis.
You had to play so many true freshmen on special teams in the past few years, is it a good sign that you don’t to play them quite as much?
Without a doubt. You’re seeing the true freshmen numbers a lot lower. But also, you’re seeing those guys get more experienced in those phases of the game. So they might not be frontline starters on defense, but they really understand what we’re asking them in the special teams categories.
Will Erik Folk continue to kick off?
Are both Aguilar and Williams going to take punts, based on the situation?
Yeah, it will be different situations within the game, if we’re backed up and different things. So you’ll see Kasen, you’ll see Devin. Those will be our two frontline guys. Our other guys are steadily getting better, but I feel most comfortable with those two guys.
What do you expect to see from Price?
Oh, I’m curious, like you are. You never know. The lights are on, and it’s your team. I expect them to play well, but I’m still curious.
Keith was known as making plays with his feet, but can he do more than that?
Oh, I think he’s very complete. I actually think of him more as a passer than a runner, without a doubt. He’s a definite pocket passer, movement passer. I wouldn’t think that his most dangerous and first threat is his legs, by any means.
On Cort's leadership -
"He's been fantastic, but he's grown into it. It's taken time. He's had an opportunity to learn from Donald Butler, from Mason Foster…but he's a tremendous leader. He exudes everything that we want our players to embody. And he's been great."
On his improvement as a player -
"Pretty good. He was fourth in the conference in tackles last year, and nobody really wanted to write about it and didn't get a whole lot of votes for All-Conference…but that's pretty good for a middle linebacker."
On James Johnson and getting a starting spot -
"He's earned it. I think he's had a tremendous training camp. But again, you guys have seen us enough now, all six of those guys are going to play. You're going to see all six of those receivers in the first quarter of this ball game on Saturday. They are all playing, and they'll all have opportunities to makes catches and make their plays. But I do think James has earned it."
On the tight ends -
"They are both going to play."
Is there one question standing above all others that has been left unanswered?
"The biggest one is - who are we on game day. Who is this 2011 Husky football team when you come out of the tunnel, thousands of people are in the stands, the lights are on…who are we? Are we the same team that we were on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? Or do we change, and I have to tweak that? The goal is, we don't change. We're that team. I think that's who we are, but the biggest question is - until that happens on Saturday, that's my biggest question mark. Are we the same guys that we were all training camp that as a staff we fell in love with - we love the camaraderie, we love the energy, we love the enthusiasm, we love the effort. Or, do some of our guys sit back because all of a sudden it's game day. I don't envision that happening. I don't think we'll ever talk that way, but you've seen it a lot of times with teams - sometimes you put on the real uniform it can change a little bit. I'm hopeful that won't occur, and I believe it won't occur, but until I actually get a chance to see it, it remains to be seen."
Can the defensive line be game changers
"I think there's playmakers that can. You talk about Jamora coming off the edge, you talk about Shirley coming off the edge, you talk about what Alameda can do to disrupt a run game, or Danny Shelton to disrupt a run game. But they have to do it for me to get to say that they can. We saw flashes of it late in the year last year, but I'm challenging them this year to see if they can be - if they can be that much of a consistent factor, to see if our defensive line can have that much of an effect. What they bring versus our offense in a 9-on-7 drill is the same thing they bring come Saturday afternoon at four-oh-whatever kickoff is."
Are you dizzy from watching film of them playing on red turf?
"No, I'm glad we are playing on our green ... grass ... field -- whatever that is. It's a little bit distracting."
Coach Holt said it made him a little dizzy late at night.
"We all get a little dizzy, by that point."
How is Price at reading defenses and understanding them?
"I think he's awesome, awesome -- at least the way we want him to read it, you know? He's grown up in this system, and it's a real good credit to Doug Nussmeier in training this guy. From where he was the first day of training camp his freshman year to where he is now, he's been fantastic. Now, again, just the other positions I've talked about, sometimes on game days that doesn't always translate with guys. They can be great in practice, great in the meeting room -- all that stuff. Then all of a sudden here comes the game and it has to translate. So that's the little bit of the unknown. But he's done nothing to show us or tell us that he's going to be that way. I think he's going to be really locked in to what we are doing. He's going to be focused. He's going to play with great tempo, great sense of urgency and he's going to have a lot of fun. That's the way he is. The important part for us is to realize that when he does get out of his comfort zone is to, 1., recognize that and, 2., get him back into it. That's going to be challenge come Saturday."
Were you able to use anything from last year’s game at Oregon to help Keith out?
"Not a whole lot. Not a whole lot. We were able to look at a few things, good plays he made and a few he didn't. But, no, I really tend to a lot of times (say) last year was last year. And players evolve, they grow, they mature mentally and physically. We've kind of moved forward. He's a better player than he was at that point last year, that's for sure."
Are you still seeing him making jumps in his improvement?
"Sure, sure. Without a doubt. His ability to take to coaching is there. I thought that early on in training camp he was pressing a little bit, trying to make all the plays. I think the second half of training camp he really settled down. His completion percentage has gone up and up and up. So he has evolved -- and he will continue to evolve in games. I think he's going to do really well, I really do. I've gotten no indication to think that he's going to come out Saturday, or a week from Saturday, or week from that, that he's not going to perform. But, not every game is going to be his best ball game. So there are going to be points in these games that he's going to have to learn from. There are going to be games that he's going to have to learn from. And that's going to be his biggest challenge, that he can find that level of consistency that he is going to feel good going into every Saturday believing in what we are doing, and believing in himself."
Keith is a little undersized, have you had to change things because he isn’t as big as Jake?
We’ve tweaked it a little bit without giving away what we’re doing. I think we’ve done stuff that fits Keith Price within our system, and we’ve emphasized those things a little bit more. He’s got an extremely quick release. That’s helped him, not being the tallest guy. Most guys that aren’t real tall, if they’ve got a long delivery, that’s when balls have a tendency to get batted down, but he’s got a very quick release, he can make awkward throws, he doesn’t throw from the same angle every time. He can kind of come a little sidearm or over the top if he needs to. But we’ve done some things I think that have helped him to do the things that he does well. I think that’s the beauty of the system, is that we’ve got enough flexibility to fit our personnel and not just be stubborn and say we have to keep doing the same things over and over.
What have Kasen Williams and Seferian-Jenkins shown you that didn’t expect coming into fall camp?
Their mental toughness. You know kids are talented. You can tell that the first practice, but you also know that as freshmen, they’re going to have some ups and downs. They’re going to get knocked on their tails a couple times. They’re going to forget plays. They’re going to line up wrong, the vets are going to rib them and give them a hard time here and there. But those two kids are really mentally tough. They’re competitive. They want to be great. So I was impressed. I was waiting for that kind of lull in the middle of training camp, but they powered right through it. They came to work every day with the mindset of they’re playing this fall. And they proved it and they earned it.
Any changes to coaching roles on game day?
No, we’re going to keep it as we have done. But I think now more so than ever, I felt it during a couple of our scrimmages, then into the mock game this past week, our line of communication is just even better. Our wavelengths are really tied in, knowing what each other are thinking, and it’s being expressed and there’s less words to be said to know what somebody’s trying to get across to you, and that’s especially important for the playcaller on offense and the playcaller on defense and coach Holt, to know that what Doug is trying to get across to me, or Danny Cozetto, or Jeff Mills to Nick. It can happen even quicker. I have a feeling of what they’re already wanting to tell me. And so I don’t have to wait for a dissertation. I can get one or two words and I can move on to the call.