Huskies count on Shirley and others to step up in Jamora's absence
On Tuesday, the Huskies held their first full-pads practice of the week in preparation for Saturday's game at Utah, and Josh Shirley had most of the duties at the defensive-end spot that had been Hau'oli Jamora's.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Injuries are the brutal reality of football, a reason college teams have 85 scholarships.
So after some time Monday to let the news sink in that defensive end Hau'oli Jamora will miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury against California, the Huskies got back to work figuring out how to replace him.
On Tuesday, the Huskies held their first full-pads practice of the week in preparation for Saturday's game at Utah, and Josh Shirley had most of the duties at the defensive-end spot that had been Jamora's.
"It's just an opportunity to step up," said Shirley.
A redshirt freshman, Shirley was one of the breakout stars of the spring when almost daily he harassed UW quarterbacks, usually in situations where he was asked primarily to rush the passer. He was so adept that the Huskies put the new position of "rush end" on their end-of-spring depth chart, listing Shirley as the only player there.
At 230 pounds, Shirley is still on the light side for handling the every-down duties of a defensive end, though coaches say they think he's big enough that it's not a major concern.
When fall camp began and the Huskies put in more of the playbook, Shirley's rise slowed as he had to grasp the entire defense.
"Even though he had the spring, it wasn't so expanded like the way it is now during the season," said defensive-line coach Johnny Nansen.
Shirley, a graduate of Kaiser High in Fontana, Calif., saw bit time in the first two games, and didn't record any stats.
But he got two tackles late against Nebraska, after which the coaches decided they had to get some of their younger players on the line more involved.
"Last week, we had a good conversation about him needing to play, we couldn't have Hau'oli taking all the snaps," Nansen said. "I think Josh took that road last week and then things happened and he ended up playing well."
Shirley was already in the plans to play a lot against California when Jamora was injured. He then saw extensive time the rest of the way, recording his first career sack among two tackles, beginning to play the way the hype of spring indicated he could.
Earlier in the year, Nansen said he thought "Josh in the back of his mind was (thinking) 'how many snaps am I getting?' After what happened to Hau'oli, maybe the light went on."
Said Shirley: "It's just more experience at getting comfortable with the flow of the game. The more I learn and progress, yes, I do (feel more comfortable)."
Shirley won't be alone in replacing Jamora. Talia Crichton, who has been playing primarily at the strongside-end spot (lining up over the tight end), will move back to the weakside spot. Everrette Thompson, who has been playing primarily at tackle, will see more time at end, listed as the starter this week at the strongside spot. Redshirt freshman Andrew Hudson will also see more time at strongside end.
Like Shirley, Hudson played the most of his career last week, and was credited with assisting on a tackle on Cal's final drive.
"It just came my way and I was ready," said Hudson, who attended Redlands (Calif.) East Valley High, as did running back Chris Polk.
He feels similarly of having to take on more responsibility, noting he has been playing more and more the past few weeks.
"But there's more of a sense of urgency now, yeah," he said.
Indeed, among UW's many defensive struggles has been its lack of a consistent pass rush. The Huskies have just six sacks, an average of 1.5 per game that ranks 10th in the Pac-12.
Nansen, though, said he's seen progress, and thinks that will continue.
"I wish we still had Hau'oli," he said. "But yeah, it's nice to see other guys step up. This might turn into a great situation for us because now we get Hau'oli for another three years (he should get a redshirt for this season and retain three years of eligibility) and these guys are in the same boat, the same class, but they need to show up and play. That's why we recruited them, counting on them to help us out, and I think they are getting to that point. The more they play the better they are going to be, that's the bottom line."
• Nansen, also UW's special-teams coach, said that the two punts by Will Mahan on Saturday were due to the situation and that Kiel Rasp remains the team's primary punter. Mahan will handle punting, he said, when UW is looking for a shorter "sky" punt to try to pin an opponent deep.
• Cornerback Greg Ducre, who suffered a concussion Saturday, is expected to return to full participation by Wednesday. He is listed as a co-starter with Quinton Richardson this week and they are likely to split time Saturday opposite Desmond Trufant.
• Linebacker John Timu, who suffered a neck injury against Cal, remains limited. Jamaal Kearse worked with the No. 1 defense at Timu's spot on Tuesday.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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