The Washington Huskies opened up Fall Camp today, in what marks a turning point for this once storied program. Although the players are not allowed to partake in full contact drills for five days, the 2008 Dawgs got plenty of work in and broke a sweat in the summer sun. The day began with individual position drills and moved into 7-on-7's and 11-on-11's later on in the practice. Many of the much talked about 2008 recruiting class showed why they were so heavily touted, while some familiar names looked to set the pace for this every important season.
With the graduation of 1,000 yard back Louis Rankin, everyone has assumed that the job would be handed over to last seasons number two, Brandon Johnson. But with grumbling over his offseason workouts and a crop of talented freshman entering the picture, the job might be more open than once thought. Today, true freshman Chris Polk, who was expected to be the starting slot receiver, was taking a lot of handoffs with the number one unit. Also, true freshmen, Johri Fogerson and Terrance Dailey worked with the number one and two units, and both showed flashes of talent. Combine them with another true freshman David Freeman and already seasoned Willie Griffin and Brandon Yakaboski, and we might just have a full camp long battle on our hands. Polk has turned heads ever since stepping onto campus and you heard his named bantered about all day from coaches and players. Fogerson is a big time athlete who excels on the biggest stage, while Daily showed explosiveness today that just might earn him some reps.
The fullback position might as well be set in stone with the return of Paul Homer and Luke Kravitz. Both got plenty of reps today and they will provide the running game with a consistent battering ram. Austin Sylvester got some reps and walk on Tobias Togi also got into the mix and actually made a few nice catches out of the backfield.
CALL TO ARMS
There was no surprises here as returning starter Jake Locker and last seasons back up Ronnie Fouch took nearly all of the snaps from center. Both looked good, especially Locker who is continuing to show improved touch on his passes. The other quarterbacks present were true freshman Luther Leonard and walk-ons Taylor Bean and Justin Gunn. Nothing really stood out today, but Locker did have a couple of nice strikes to his tight ends across the middle, something we never saw last season.
RECEIVERS OFF AND RUNNING
This season's receiver corp might be as young as any in the country. Luckily for Husky fans, it's also as good as there's been on Montlake in many seasons. The only returner with significant playing time is redshirt sophomore D'Andre Goodwin. Goodwin has made huge strides since he stepped foot on campus as a skinny corner back, and coaches have been gushing about his playmaking ability. He and Locker have formed a bond and he should be the go-to-guy all season. He's the fastest receiver on the roster and he's starting to display quality rout running ability. Today he spent the entire day with the number one unit and don't expect that to change. Redshirt freshman Alvin Logan spend much of the day lined up opposite of Goodwin and he just looks like a Pac-10 receiver. He's 6-foot-2 and is now up to nearly 220-pounds and it's all muscle. He is certainly one of the most impressive looking players on the roster. There was a strange site today, in the form of one-time prized Duke University commit Chancellor Young. The 6-foot-3 Young has always had the tools to dominate at the Division-I level, but off the field troubles have slowed his progress. If he can get it together, Young might be a real spark for an untested unit.
The rest of the youngsters also looked good today, however there were limited balls thrown their way. The one that truly stood out to me was home grown talent Jermaine Kearse. Kearse opened up the 11-on-11's with a nice over the shoulder touchdown catch on a corner route. He showed the ability to get behind the secondary and could fight for playing time early. Anthony Boyles looked long and smooth and seemed to be putting the extra work he got in spring to good use. Devin Aguilar also got a lot of reps with the number two unit and showed good rout running ability and solid hands. Curtis Shaw is a playmaker and combined with Polk will provide mismatch problems for secondaries all season. The wild card of this position could be true freshman Cody Bruns. No he's not the biggest, fastest or strongest, but he could soon be the best rout runner on the roster and he catches everything thrown his way. That was evident on a fade route where the ball was actually thrown out of bounds and the corner was draped all over him. Bruns just stayed calm, used his body to shield the defender and caught the ball at his hips with ease. Sure it was out of bounds, but it showed the kind of moxie and presence that has been missing at the position for years.
The tight end position should be solid this season with a returning starter and two young talents ready to push for playing time. Michael Gottlieb took most of the snaps with the first unit, but the gem of Washington's 2008 recruiting class, Kavario Middleton also got a lot of work in today and impressed. Walt Winter made the catch of the day leaping across his body to snag a Locker pass for nearly a 25 yards, while Chris Izbicki also got some quality reps in.
The secondary is big. No really, it's huge! The number one unit goes like this: starting at corner back is 6-foot-2, 202-pound Mesphin Forrester and 6-foot-0, 205-pound Quinton Richardson. At safety is 6-foot-1, 215-pound Nate Williams and 6-foot-1, 210-pound Victor Aiyewa. This might be the biggest starting secondary in the Pac-10 and it will certainly be a different look from last season. It should be noted that 6-foot-2, 208-pound Jason Wells could very well occupy one of the safety positions, but is slowed due to injury. Darin Harris got a lot of work in with the number two unit, while Tripper Johnson impressed in his first fall camp after spending what seemed like an eternity playing minor league baseball. At cornerback Byron Davenport and Vonzell McDowell worked much of the time with the second unit, while a host of younger players also made appearances. A tough Justin Glenn, Marquis Persley, a blazing fast Adam Long and Anthony Gobern will all be available if needed. This is a much deeper position than last season, but a lot will be asked of two former safeties as they transition to the corners. Hold on tight, it could be a wild ride.
DEFENSIVE LINE ON A DIET
The defensive line lost some girth due to graduation. Currently the starting front four, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Darrion Jones, Cameron Elisara, and DeShon Matthews only averages 264 pounds. Te'o-Nesheim is the returning leader and showed some great moves during one-on-one pass rushing drills. He will be called upon to be the palymaker for this group. Luckily there are some big bodies waiting in the wings. 296-pound Johnie Kirton is probably the most physically gifted of all the lineman after moving from tight end. If holes start to open up in the running game I wouldn't expect him to sit long. 6-foot-2, 348-pound true freshman, Alameda Ta'amu looks like a beast. If he can become the noise tackle they need, the Huskies would probably flirt with running some 3-4 defense, something we didn't see today. Tyrone Duncan and Nick Wood are 278 pounds and 299 pounds respectfully and will provide depth at a position in need of it. Jovon O'Connor and Kalani Aldrich are the likely back ups at defense end, but true freshman Everrette Thompson could push for playing time.
JUAN GARCIA WATCH
Sixth year senior center Juan Garcia is recovering from a Liz Frank injury and is progressing much faster then anyone expected. The offensive leader participated in early position drills and was doing light work on the sidelines for most of the day. In his spot was Ryan Tolar and Matt Sedillo. Neither has locked down the starting role in Garcia's absence but both looked to provide quality play at the position. The offensive line is solid with or without Garcia, but with him they might be one of the best in the Pac-10.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Redshirt Freshman tight end Chris Izbicki was charged with two misdemeanors for unlawful trespassing and minor in possession of alcohol but still fully competed in practice today.
The 2009 recruiting class may have gotten off to a slow start, but today things sure picked up. After we broke the news that South Oak Hill High School's Kenneth Pinkard decided to be a Husky, another athlete made his commitment to the Dawgs. West Seattle High School stand out, Aaron Grymes was offered by coach Willingham during Saturday's senior day, and today he decided to play his college football at Montlake. Those two combined with California quarterback Keith Price have the Huskies moving in the right direction.