The NCAA mandated acclimation period is over and full-contact practices have begun. The first two-a-day practice was held today at 8:45 AM; from what I am hearing, the defense is slightly ahead of the offense, typical of the norm at this stage of camp.
The offense has much more to learn than the defense, as they are learning a completely new scheme. While this may be said for the defense, as well, they play in react mode instead of the create mode of the offense, therefore have a automatic advantage. Expect this to be status quo for the first weeks of camp while the offense learns their plays, developing their rhythm and timing.
Early reports on the defense are promising; Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt already has his players executing at peak intensity. The experience and talent at linebacker and defensive end is noticeable, while the secondary appears extremely solid despite the loss of cornerback Dominique Gaisie.
Entering fall camp, the one big question mark on defense was the interior of defensive line. Junior Cameron Elisara appears to be ready for a breakout season, the former four-star recruit is thriving under the new leadership of Steve Sarkisian's staff. Elisara's partner at defenisive tackle, Ta'amu Alameda, is as big as ever and in much better physical shape, allowing him to plug the middle without moving backward.
The word on special teams is extremely encouraging. Punter Will Mahan has fantastic leg power combined with excellent accuracy. In Mahan, Husky fans will witness the best coverage in years as the coaching staff strategizes around the accuracy and power of his leg. Meanwhile, placekicker Erik Folk is having a solid training camp, as is accuracy and technique have improved considerably.
The return teams should thrive this season, as Washington finally has speed and depth in Chris and Jordan Polk, as well as true freshman James Johnson. In Johnson, the Southern California-native is giving early signs as a contender for for Pac 10 freshman of the year. He is making the quickest adjustment of any freshman receiver seen on Montlake since Reggie Williams.
The burning question mark for this Husky squad is the lack of depth, talent, and experience on the offensive line. The defense is dominating the battle of the trenches. The lack of running room for any of the offensive backs is worrisome. While expected for the defense to be ahead of the offense at this point in time, the O-Line must improve quickly in order to unleash a talented stable of running backs.
Speaking of running backs, Johri Fogerson is making himself known in a hurry. Fogerson is simply a football player, too tough to keep on the bench, whether on offense or defense. The team has five backs who appear equal in quality, meaning all will get significant reps this season. Keep an eye on Fogerson, as he has the drive of a warrior and the size to keep him healthy all season.
Finally possessing depth and talent, the tight end position is on a steep learning curve considering the lack of on-field experience. Expect all three to play quite a bit this season with the pecking order being determined by game time performance. Key to this is simply executing blocks and holding on to catchable balls. Chris Izbicki emerged as the starter this past spring, but has already dropped several balls which might have gone for touchdowns. As a group, the tight ends appear promising, but must take it up another notch before the season begins.
At receiver, the early star is clearly James Johnson, who amazingly was playing high school football only last season. Numbers-wise, UW is deep at the position, though stocked with a number of athletes similar in size and ability. Sarkisian has been recruiting a different type of receiver this spring and summer in the effort to provide a little more diversity down the road.
Quarterback Jake Locker continues to learn the nuances of the pro-set offfense. While he is still going to use his speed, the coaches have made considerable progress in his delivery, fakes, and looks. Same can be said of Ronnie Fouch, who started the majority of last season after Locker was lost to injury. Keith Price has been very impressive and while Husky fans hope the coaches can preserve a year of his eligibility, he appears ready to play this season in the event of injury.
Getting back to Jake, the upcoming first scrimmage should provide us a good look at how is offense is going to perform this season. As a unit, the offense clearly needs another week of practice; Jake has the ability to make an under-performing offensive line appear much better. Keep a close eye on that line, as I believe they are the only thing in the way of pulling out enough wins to become bowl eligible in 2009.
That's right...after the first week, I am still on the bowl bandwagon. The coaching, communication, teaching, and spirit tells me that this team is turning the corner. Contrast this to last season: when Jake injured his hamstring early in fall camp, it prevented him from practicing full speed and he started the season gimpy. We accurately guessed after the first week of practice the season was a potential train wreck. However, provided Jake can stay healthy throughout this camp, I believe good things will happen for the offense.
That said, the offensive line will not improve appreciably until a talent and depth infusion is completed. For virtually any stud high school offensive lineman in the 2010 recruiting class, Washington is a great choice. Furthermore, one who can graduate early and make it to campus in time for winter conditioning and spring ball, UW is a destination for early and meaningful playing time.
Sark's first recruiting class has already yielded one big jewel in James Johnson, but the loss of three junior college tranfers to qualification, plus no offensive linemen, means this class will have little more punch than did Tyrone Willingham's first at UW. Sark has a great challenge lying ahead, but the early returns for 2010 indicate he is getting the job done with a potential top-ten class next February. As former coach Jim Lambright stated earlier this week, this team is going to get a lot better quickly, but they still have talent and depth problems resolved only by time and hard work.
For those of you attending practice, have fun and we are always looking for a good fan post with your own reactions!