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Originally published August 26, 2010 at 6:11 PM | Page modified August 27, 2010 at 1:58 PM

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Coach Steve Sarkisian remains optimistic as Huskies break camp

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian says the Huskies are much improved on offense, defense and special teams.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Steve Sarkisian kicked off Washington's training camp three weeks ago by reiterating what he's said since the day he took the job: "It's not going to take us very long."

And nothing he has seen in camp has changed his mind.

As the second camp of his UW tenure ended Thursday, Sarkisian said, "I love where we're at."

He said he thinks all three units of the team are better than a year ago.

Starting with the special teams, he said, "We are so much further along than we were last year at this time. I think the comfort level with Will (Mahan) punting and Erik (Folk) kicking, the comfort level of our schemes on special teams with what we are doing and contingency planning for injuries and depth, I just think we are such a better football team on special teams that I'm excited about it."

Defensively, he said, "To watch our guys fly around and play, we are playing faster football and I think part of it is that we are almost appearing faster than we really are because our knowledge of the defense is so much better in year two than in year one."

And offensively, he said, "It's just continuity. It's (Jake Locker's) comfort level with the system, his continuity with the receivers, Chris Polk's comfort level within the scheme and understanding all of it, the depth on the offensive line.

"And so, all in all, I like our football team and where we are at. I think we have accomplished a lot in three weeks."

And for the most part, the Huskies emerged unscathed from the rigors of camp.

In the most significant injury, freshman running back Deontae Cooper was lost for the season with a knee injury.

But the rest of the aches and pains appear relatively minor.

In fact, Sarkisian said after Thursday morning's practice that only one other potential starting player is in danger of missing the opener against Brigham Young — receiver James Johnson, who has been out about two weeks with a sprained ankle.

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However, with Johnson out, Sarkisian said junior Cody Bruns of Prosser has stepped in and had a great camp. "He's proven he belongs," Sarkisian said of Bruns, who looms right now as the team's fourth receiver behind Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar and D'Andre Goodwin with Johnson out. "He's going to play."

Middle linebacker Cort Dennison was limited Thursday, struggling with a sprained knee. However, Sarkisian said Dennison is "not a concern for the game" and that the Huskies are being cautious with him. With Dennison out, true freshman Garret Gilliland — one of the recent surprises of camp — has been working with the No. 1 unit at middle linebacker.

In good news on the injury front, left tackle Senio Kelemete returned to take part in practice after being out much of the past week with a high ankle sprain, and Sarkisian said "he looked fantastic."

Still to be determined is exactly how much the Huskies will be able to get out of defensive ends Everrette Thompson (Achilles) and Kalani Aldrich (knee), who each missed the spring and have been gradually worked into duty.

However, Thompson worked with the No. 1 defense Thursday and coaches say he will definitely play against BYU.

And despite lingering uncertainty on the line, defensive coordinator Nick Holt said Thursday the defense is unquestionably improved from a year ago.

"Well, I think we know our defense a lot better than last year because we have been doing the same stuff now for over a year," Holt said. "The older kids are all a lot better, so I feel good about that. We need some of these freshmen to come along, especially on special teams.

"But as a whole we are better now than we were a year ago at this time heading into the opener, and hopefully it will show in our first couple games."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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