Weather.com said it was supposed to be - and I quote - "58 degrees, partially cloudy with showers." Weather.com lied, so I was stuck in the north stand wearing leggings appropriate for February while the sun made a surprise appearance. My knees have rarely been so uncomfortably warm...
But other than that, the Husky Football Spring Preview went well.
Full 11 v 11 drills began with kickoffs. On the first kick, John Ross returned it past the kicking team and would have scored a touchdown had the whistle not been blown. Later in the day they came back to return drills though this time with abbreviated punting simulations and, although those appeared at only about 80% intensity, they seemed to verify the state of UW's special teams; there was consistent execution of assignments combined with returners that know how to work that space. Whoever was the ball carrier, they all seemed to be running like rugby players (more on what to gain from rugby later): straight forward at full speed with any lateral movement minimal but decisive. During returns I didn't see any of that dancing around east to west garbage that was the signature of the decade following Y2K. And it was great.
After the initial kickoffs, there were often multiple drills going on at a time. Since I only have two eyes (and, as my optometrist puts it, they are "so bad your vision cannot be accurately measured") I didn't get good observations on everything, but...
Here's the things that stood out:
The quarterbacks spent quite a bit working on longer passes, the inconsistency of those having irked plenty of fans last year. They in general seemed to have much better timing and placement on throws of 20+ yards on Saturday and it looked like that was attributable to improvement on the receivers' side as well.
The defense also spent some time doing the rugby-style tackling drills while Coach Petersen was interviewed about it. As a former rugby player I can confidently affirm the superiority of this technique. Obviously this isn't a bash on football - this is a football article after all and, and there is photographic evidence of this, four year-old me a few times fell asleep cuddling in one hand my stuffed animal cat and in the other a plastic replica Seahawks helmet. "Rugby tackling" is how they used to tackle in football. And you don't see missed tackles like the first 10 seconds of this in rugby. There are also no where near the amount of concussions or sub-concussive events in rugby as in football. Neither of those are coincidences.
The main differences in rugby tackling versus modern football tackling is about head placement and where to aim, and these make all the difference in safety and effectiveness. Whereas football tackling teaches putting your head across the body of the opponent, proper rugby technique has the head behind the opponent - all but completely safe from the epicenter of the collision. That's why during these rugby style drills, none of the players had helmets on. I heard some people in the stands questioning this, but no helmets is the best way to teach this method since the helmet otherwise acts as a protective crutch. I'm of course not saying that football players shouldn't wear helmets - the spacial dynamics of it mean there's a lot more crazy hits from different angles and distances than in rugby - but it really makes me happy that Petersen (and the other Coach Pete down at VMAC) have embraced this new tackle.
Furthermore, the emphasis on wrapping the opponent up around the thigh means there's way fewer missed tackles; essentially all tackles in a game of rugby are what is considered in football "tackling in space," and yet you don't see rugby players bouncing off opponents like Myles Gaskin did to SoMiss. Between that and the health impact on players (as attested to here by Azeem), our defense can spend less time recovering from the previous Saturday, and more time preparing for the next.
Anyways, enough on that digression.
They later divided the teams for two minute drills and scrimmages. Regardless of whether it was the 1s, 2s, or 3s on the field, the defense was generally in control, though the offense held their own and were able to make plays. Jake Browning's first play resulted in a touch-sack by Psalm Wooching, and from then on there was lots of pressure forcing him to move around the pocket or escape.
In the end of practice scrimmages, Nik Little continued being an occasional target from Jake before a Jake to John Ross slant route touchdown.
The second scrimmage saw TRod (guys, help me make that nickname stick) at quarterback, where besides a Lavon Coleman 10 yard run, the defense really stepped up and held to a 28 yard field goal.
KJ Carta-Samuels was up next and, while he completed many shorter passes, he really seemed to stare down his receivers. It appears to me, if we're saying TRod has the back up QB spot right now, this has a lot to do with it.
The hit of the day goes to whichever safety and corner back sandwiched WR Forrest Dunivin on a pass from freshman QB Daniel Bridge-Gadd. I'm talking sound-of-the-hit-reverberating-through-the-stadium-while-the-crowd-gasps type hit. Dunivin wasn't injured and would later end up closing the scrimmage with a TD reception from Bridge-Gadd in the left flat. DBG also got a few chances to show off his mobility with a run for about 20 yards and a read option which, let's face it, we won't be seeing from Jake anytime soon.
On a totally separate note, my three year-old nephew just came up to me with a full-sized Wilson football asking if I "want to play footgame?" I've taught him well.
The bottom line from Saturday's practice, as seen through my one-step-less-useless-than-blind eyes:
Our front seven is savage and it's awesome. Actually so is our secondary, too. I tried to come up with a better analysis than "the defense is badass," but I think that's about as comprehensive as I'm in the mood for.
As the player everyone's excited to see, Petersen has offered some thoughtful analysis on John Ross coming down to how we forget that he's actually pretty inexperienced as a wide receiver, but he was quite consistent as a reliable target for Jake on Saturday. In receiving drills and scrimmages, his speed (duh) but more importantly lateral ability and ability to get open looked good. He was targeted a lot and made plays when given the opportunity and that's something we need from our receivers next year.
Speaking of, although receivers are still probably the Huskies' weakness, there's some lesser-known guys that are stepping up; Nik Little continues to be targeted and could be an under-the-radar asset. Walk-on Josh Rasmussen, probably best known as being a popular high school target of this guy, showed off some speed with the 2s and 3s. And Baccellia validated reports of his strides in spring practice.
Also on offense, our O-line was clearly weaker than their opposition, but I'm not feeling panicky about them partially because I trust that they're going to continue improving as they solidify their chemistry as a unit and also because Jake is our quarterback. From what I saw last year and yesterday, one his biggest strengths is how cognizant he is of his surroundings in the pass rush while still being able to focus on his reads and distribute the ball. Because of how well he recognizes pressure and developments downfield, his mobility is impressive but even more impressive to me is that he doesn't have that tendency common in so many young quarterbacks to just pin his ears back and book it at the first sign of pressure. That is a display of maturity as a QB that gives me confidence for the offense, especially as the line becomes more comfortable.
'Til next time, do good things, don't do bad things, and bow down to Washington.