Thiel: A reason to get up early: ASJ on Huskies D

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by Art Thiel

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on November 14, 2012 at 6:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 14 at 6:30 PM

In case you were wondering, this is what an unarmored defensive end, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, looks like. He also plays a little tight end for the University of Washington football team. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Alert to Washington fans of night college football games (both of you): You're going to have to drag your sorry behinds out of bed at 10:30 Saturday morning to watch the Huskies game at Colorado. Decision by the Pac-12 Network, the wackiest empire since the Duchy of Fenwick in Peter Sellers' "The Mouse That Roared."

But it will be worth it: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the greatest tight end in the Huskies' illustrious history at the position, will again add "pass rusher" to his resume, thereby making him the most intriguing athlete at Washington since Nate Robinson.

At his Monday press chat, coach Steve Sarkisian explained that his surprise move Saturday against Utah to increase the workload of his ace pass-catcher by telling him to do something he's never done was not a one-time burst of, as his mentor, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, might say, "hormonal upsurge."

"I don't think it's ever just going to go away," Sarkisian said. "It's got to fit the game plan and who we're playing and what we're doing. I thought he was relatively successful in the game."

Seferian-Jenkins played cornerback and safety at Gig Harbor High School, and that only as a freshman. But at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, he's outgrown those positions a tad. And as freshman last season, he played for the UW hoops team, as did Robinson awhile back.

But the additional tasks were prompted by a near-emergency personnel situation on the D-line. The Huskies were in short supply, a disclosure that, given the state-secrets policy at UW, came after the game.

Sarkisian explained that he held out senior DE Talia Crichton and junior LB Princeton Fuimaono because of injuries, junior DT Josh Banks was playing hurt and freshman DT Pio Vatuvei is probably lost for the remainder of season because of a leg injury, forcing the Huskies to start walk-on sophomore Drew Schultz (6-1, 254 Olympia High School) against Utah. Given that they held Utah to 15 points, the outcome was salutary, even though third-string Utes QB Travis Wilson, a skinny freshman, has little business in a Pac-12 game.

After the game, Sarkisian said he figured ASJ had eight to 10 snaps as a pass-rushing lineman. He will be limited in the final two games, even though the offensive lines of Colorado and Washington State are thin to the point of transparency.

"It's (only in) specialty situations," he said. "He's not a guy that's just playing both ways. When Austin went in on defense it was an obvious passing downs on third down. It won't be for the sake of playing both ways."

Yet Sarkisian couldn't recall a similar analogy in his coaching career, at least involving a premier player. And he's taking a risk of injury with a tight-end powerhouse who may be the best in the country. News came Monday that Seferian-Jenkins is one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the best tight end in college football. With 96 receptions (seven Saturday for a team-high 99 yards), he broke as a sophomore the UW career record for tight ends set by Mark Bruener (1991-94). 

"Guys can get injured doing stuff when there's nobody around them," Sarkisian said, dismissing the risk. "I am not as concerned. It's not as if he's in there taking on run blocks. He's not in on goal-line.

"He's in there on obvious passing downs, where he's rushing the passer. So if we are coaching afraid to get hurt, then we are afraid to lose too."

The records, honors and responsibilities are pouring in, but Sarkisian is thrilled with ASJ's attention to details.

"He's really improved his blocking the last two weeks -- that's what's been cool to me," he said. "He's buying in and taking to the coaching and working on the little things. The playmaking ability is coming right to the forefront.

"Quarterback Keith Price is understanding that, and giving him opportunities to make plays. I don't know who right now is playing better him at that position around the country; I just know what he is doing.

(Opponents are) going to know where No. 88 is. The focus is going to be on stopping him. He can't get frustrated at times if the ball is not coming to him early in the games."

But if he is frustrated, these next two games give him the opportunity to go get the ball  himself -- presuming he gets his early wake-up call in Boulder.

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