Huskies' fab freshman receivers taking different routes
Kasen Williams is heating up, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins has cooled, but both are important to Washington's offense.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Even for the best of freshmen making the transition to college football, the rate of progress rarely goes in a straight line.
So it has been for Washington's two highest-rated players in the Class of 2011 — receiver Kasen Williams of Skyline High School and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Gig Harbor.
As the Huskies enter the final third of the season, the two have similar stats. Williams has caught 20 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns, and Seferian-Jenkins 22 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns.
They've traveled anything but similar paths to get there, however.
Seferian-Jenkins was the star of September, leading the way to a win over Hawaii with two highlight-reel catches on the first drive, then later making two touchdown grabs against California. The last two weeks, however, he has been surprisingly silent, with two catches for 8 yards.
Williams, meanwhile, took a while to get going, with just three catches for 13 yards in the first two games. Then, when he appeared ready to take on a bigger role, he suffered a sprained ankle at Utah that relegated him to returning punts for a game.
Finally healthy, however, Williams is beginning to flash his full potential the last two weeks with eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown, that coming on a play-of-the-night catch in the end zone against Oregon.
"He was competitive," Sarkisian said. "He made tough catches. And assignment-wise he was sound. He did a nice job."
Williams is listed as a co-starter for Saturday's game at USC at one receiver spot, and regardless of his official designation, seems likely to get increased time with junior James Johnson still trying to recover from an ankle injury suffered against Arizona.
Sarkisian said Williams seemed ready to break out before the ankle injury against Utah.
"I think he's just playing faster now," Sarkisian said. "There's so much less hesitation to his game. His ability to line up, know the call and play fast and play physical obviously was evident the other night. We know the natural ability that he has. He's one of the better catchers I've been around — just a sure-handed, strong catching guy. And then his stature, weighing 215 pounds, his ability to use his body to separate from a defender.
"It's taken time, like it does for some freshmen. It's taken longer to get comfortable."
Some figured it might come sooner than it has for Williams, who was the Parade Magazine All-America National Player of the Year after a standout career at Skyline of Sammamish.
Sarkisian, though, said he's never sensed any impatience from Williams, the son of standout former Huskies receiver Aaron Williams.
"He understands what it takes to work, and the work ethic needed to get better at this thing," Sarkisian said. "Not for a second have I felt him complain about it. There's been frustration. There's been days of frustration, where I think he wishes he could be doing more and doing better. But now he's gotten to the point where he's earned it. He's earned his playing time, and he's playing well."
Now to get Seferian-Jenkins' path to merge with Williams.
"I've seen Austin play better," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said this week of his play against Oregon. "That's not just to be critical of Austin. I've seen him play better. I've seen him run crisper routes and different things. The timing just wasn't great."
Sarkisian insisted the Huskies want Seferian-Jenkins to be a key contributor.
"Sometimes it doesn't appear like we're trying to get him the ball, when we really are," Sarkisian said. "When he is a primary (receiver) and the ball's just not going his way — for a variety of reasons. It could be coverage, it could be pressure on the quarterback, it could be he didn't run a great route. So I think a lot of things could add up to where the ball goes.
"Obviously, Austin's a very talented kid, and he's still working to find the consistency of playing at a high level, down after down after down. But without a doubt, we're trying to get him the ball."
• Sarkisian said there is increased competition on the offensive line this week after struggles against Oregon, though he said he couldn't say yet if there are any specific changes.
"All these guys need to play better and they know it," he said. "Senio (left tackle Senio Kelemete) on down, they all need to play better."
• Defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu, who suffered a broken hand in camp, again has his hand in a wrap during practice due to a thumb sprain.
• Running back Johri Fogerson, a senior who is out for the year with a knee injury, was not introduced with other seniors on Saturday. Sarkisian said Wednesday that's because the school is confident he will receive a medical redshirt to return to play in 2012.
• True freshman James Sample remains in red due to a shoulder injury. But Sarkisian said he hopes Sample can recover enough to play again this season. If not, the school will investigate medical redshirt options.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.
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