The Steve Sarkisian era "officially" began Tuesday, as the Huskies took the field for the first of 14 Spring practices. Despite the cold, wet weather, spirits were high as the Dawgs look to move forward from the nightmare that was the 2008 season.
"I thought it was good. I thought our guys responded really well," said Sarkisian of the first Spring practice of 2009. "We're still learning the flow of practice, but I thought our guys responded well, and I thought as we moved through practice, the tempo picked up more. I'm anticipating that it's only going to get better as we move forward."
The practice, as all 14 will be, was open to the public. Considering the less than favorable weather, the turnout was good. However, Sarkisian expects many more Husky faithful to turn out on weekends, especially if the weather permits.
"It wasn't he warmest day of the year, but we had a decent turnout," expressed Sarkisian. "I was a little nervous when I looked at the forecast - thought we wouldn't quite get the crowd we wanted. Generally, the weekday practices aren't as big, but as you hit the Saturdays and the good weather comes, you get a pretty decent crowd.
"I thought our kids responded to it, and I thought they enjoyed having people out here," explained Sarkisian. "Hopefully the response is good, the turnout continues to grow and we get more people out here."
One thing was clear from the get-go: practices under the new regime will be of much faster pace, allowing little to no downtime. While this style of practicing is new to the players, Sarkisian felt they kept up well.
"I thought the tempo really increased as practice went on. I thought there was a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm," expressed Sarkisian. "I like that our kids are into it and they're competing. I'm anticipating that we'll just pick up right from there."
The defense appeared to be a little more on it's game, as it won what Sarkisian deemed "Competition Tuesday".
"We have a first-and-ten competition, where a four-yard run or any completion wins for the offense," explained Sarkisian at Monday's press conference. "If you hold them to less than a four-yard run or an incompletion, it's a win for the defense."
"They got the offense today and they played well," said Sarkisian of the defense. "I thought our backers, as the practice moved on, started making more plays, especially in the run game. [E.J.] Savannah got into the backfield a couple of times and made a couple of plays."
Senior Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who shined from the defensive end position last season, lined up at defensive tackle for a large majority of the practice, which is something Husky fans may see much of in the future.
"We're going to start him inside, but we've got to move him around. He creates a lot of havoc when he's internal, because he's so quick," explained Sarkisian. "Because our defense likes to move and slant so much, when he's moving on big guys in there, he can create a lot of problems like he did for us today. He was in the backfield a few times.
"We'll anticipate to see where he goes from here, but I like what he did today when he was inside," said Sarkisian. "He did a few things on the edge that were encouraging as well. He's obviously a great player."
"Ben is obviously a pretty athletic guy, and he's dropped quite a bit of weight. To bring him inside, allows us to stay athletic on the edge and stay athletic on the inside," explained Sarkisian. "We're athletic, we're quick, and hopefully when we get the pads on and we're able to get down field and get to the second level, that'll show up even more.
"I thought our guys up front played pretty well. It's always difficult the first day, when you're not in pads and the defense is moving the way they move," said Sarkisian. "You've gotta block guys like Daniel Te'o-Nesheim - it can be hard on them, but I thought our guys responded really well. I thought the mistakes we made are stuff that I don't want to say are easy to clean up, but I'm anticipating we'll get them cleaned up by Thursday."
Junior quarterback Jake Locker appeared to be completely healed from a broken thumb he suffered against Stanford, though it's obvious he's got some rust to shake off.
"I thought health wise he was fine. Obviously some things we're doing are new to him, but he's working his way through it, and I thought he did some really nice things today," expressed Sarkisian. "He was fighting the urge to take off on some stuff, but he'll get more comfortable in the pocket and his accuracy will only increase. As we turn him loose more of running, he'll become a very dangerous threat."
The Huskies will pick up practice on Thursday at 4:00 pm, but not before Sarkisian has a chance to look at film and review his first practice as the Huskies' head coach.
"I thought we did some good things, but I'm anxious to watch the film," explained Sarkisian. "When you get a chance to look at the film and analyze it, you start to see guys that are doing things right, and you start to see some of the guys that are maybe guessing a little bit to make their plays. We'll have to analyze it really well, get it cleaned up and coached up and come back Thursday to go again."