Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is optimistic after two weeks of practice
Huskies' first-year coach cites play of running backs, cornerbacks and defensive tackle Cameron Elisara.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Two weeks from Saturday, the LSU Tigers will march into Husky Stadium to kick off the Steve Sarkisian era of UW football, though few expect it to be a victorious beginning.
The visitors are listed as anywhere from a 15- to 16 ½-point favorite.
"Is that all?" Sarkisian asked with a laugh after practice Friday. "I thought we'd be more than that."
Lou Holtz imitation aside, Sarkisian said he is feeling increasingly optimistic about his new team as it crosses the halfway point of fall camp with a scrimmage at 3 p.m. today at Husky Stadium that is open to the public. It will be the second of two full-scale scrimmages of camp and is the 15th of 29 practices until game day.
"I feel really good," Sarkisian said after the first of two practices Friday. "You never know until you have to play. But I feel good about the way camp has gone."
In particular, he cited the team's ability to stay "relatively healthy." Through the Friday morning practice, UW had suffered just one injury that figured to impact a player for the opener: Backup linebacker Matt Houston could be out as much as a month with a biceps injury.
Sarkisian said he feels like "one or two" more players are completely buying in each day, and that the confidence of the players in what the coaches are selling continues to increase.
"I think our guys are responding really well," he said. "They are starting to feel like, 'OK, this is really how we practice, the intensity we practice with is normal.' We're just trying to expand their comfort zone as best we can."
Personnel-wise, he says the most pleasant surprise of camp might be the play of the team's tailbacks, especially with the move of Johri Fogerson from safety.
"We're better at running back than I thought," he said. "We are deep with [Chris] Polk, Fogerson, [Demitrius] Bronson, [Curtis] Shaw, [Willie] Griffin. Those are five good backs, and they all bring a little something to the table that you like. I came in obviously a little hesitant because of the depth thing and moving Johri over and because Polk had a little bit of an injury bug. And Bronson was brand new and Curtis didn't play last year. There were a lot of question marks. But I think they have answered the call really well."
The defense has yielded its own revelations, said defensive coordinator Nick Holt — namely, some of the youngsters at cornerback and the improvement of junior defensive tackle Cameron Elisara.
"He has really done a nice job in camp," Holt said of Elisara. "He's really changed his demeanor and changed his disposition and it's happened in the weight room, too. He's gotten a lot more explosive.
"Some of the corners are starting to rise up and it's really neat to see that, too. But the guy that stands out is Cameron Elisara. His play is lights-out right now for us."
All the optimism is relative, of course, given the 14 straight losses the Huskies carry into the season. Washington is picked by most as the ninth-place team in the Pac-10 this year.
And there remain concerns. Sarkisian noted as one significant worry the depth on the offensive line. Three players were out with minor injuries for the morning practice, leaving just nine scholarship linemen available to participate.
The overall depth also remains an issue, one reason Sarkisian is putting a premium on trying to keep players as fresh as possible and limit exposure to injuries. Friday's morning practice lasted only about 70 minutes.
But they'll go longer than that today, when Sarkisian also plans to give the first offense and defense more than the two series apiece they were on the field for Tuesday's scrimmage.
"I'd like to see the first offense put a 10-to-12-play drive together and cohesively work together and communicate well and find a tempo and try to drive," he said. "And I'd like to see our defense possibly get in a situation where they give up a couple of third-down conversions and then get a stop there on the fringe. There's some things about the mental-toughness aspect of things I'm looking for."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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