Huskies' altered spring game just part of changes

Huskies' altered spring game just part of changes

Credit: Getty Images

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach Steve Sarkisian of the Washington Huskies makes a point with a referee during the game with the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 12, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. USC won 40-17.


by Associated Press

Posted on April 27, 2012 at 7:56 AM

Updated Friday, Apr 27 at 7:56 AM

SEATTLE (AP) -- Spring practice became a four-week education process for Washington.

After touting the benefit of coaching staff continuity his first two seasons, Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian managed practices with five new assistants this April: offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, defensive line coach and recruiting guru Tosh Lupoi and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon.

That's meant an altered defensive system with the Huskies going with more of a 3-4 look under Wilcox and moving away from the 4-3 scheme that previous defensive coordinator Nick Holt used. Kiesau has also brought some new wrinkles to the Huskies offense.

Those will be on display on Saturday when the Huskies play their annual spring game at their temporary home of CenturyLink Field.

But this won't be anything near a traditional spring game. Because of injuries on the offensive line, the Huskies will not be able to field two full teams Saturday when they wrap up spring practice. Instead, Washington will use its practice scoring format.

"It's not ideal," Sarkisian said.

He could be speaking of the status of the offensive line during a spring of turnover. At Wednesday's practice, only center Drew Schaefer was practicing with the starters in the position he played all last season. And Schaefer was just back from a sprained knee that kept him out of two weeks of spring practice.

Colin Tanigawa, who started 11 games last season at left guard before an ACL injury, is now able to run. Sarkisian expects him back for fall camp. But even the backups are taking their lumps as Siosifa Tufunga broke his hand earlier this week.

"There are always concerns with the offensive line, even if they are 100 percent healthy," Sarkisian said. "You're one, two, three snaps away from guys going down."

The flip side to all the injuries is the opportunity this spring has presented for many of the Huskies backups who otherwise would have gotten limited reps.

"I feel good that these guys got so many reps this spring," Sarkisian said. "Whether it was Mike Criste, Tafunga before he got injured, James Atoe, Dexter Charles, Micah Hatchie, Ben Riva; a lot guys got a lot of reps that are valuable for them to learn from."

As part of the change to the defensive system, Wilcox is having defensive linemen standing up more often, rather than taking off from a three-point stance. The Huskies have also worked several safeties at linebacker. While getting the coaches caught up on what the Huskies have coming back, Wilcox's other job is rebuilding the morale of a defense that was shredded at times last season.

Washington was 11th in total and scoring defense among Pac-12 teams last season.

"I feel like we did a lot of individual work with guys," Sarkisian said. "Fundamentally, I feel like we've really improved this spring, maybe much more than other springs in the past, where it was so much scheme, scheme, scheme. This time around was focusing on individuals maybe a little bit more so than the overall schemes. And, in turn, I think it's helped our scheme."

Most of the offensive scheme will remain the same since it came from Sarkisian in the first place. Kiesau is able to provide a fresh critical eye, however.

Their primary job this spring has been finding a replacement for Chris Polk. He's being replaced by multiple backs, like Bishop Sankey, whose style is akin to Polk's forward grind, and shifty Jesse Callier, who has been used as a third-down back in the past. Redshirt freshman Dezden Petty has been cast as the power back. Washington is still unsure what Deontae Cooper, who showed impressive flashes two springs ago prior to dual knee surgeries, can provide.

"Bishop has stepped up his game," lineman Erik Kohler said. "He gets hit and he just keeps going."