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Originally published Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 7:59 PM

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Freshman safety Thompson playing up to his billing

Given his status as one of the more heralded recruits to sign with Washington in years, it figured to be no surprise if Shaq Thompson forced his way onto the field early this fall.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Given his status as one of the more heralded recruits to sign with Washington in years, it figured to be no surprise if Shaq Thompson forced his way onto the field early this fall.

So consider Thompson — a 6-foot-1, 230-pounder who was regarded as maybe the best safety prospect in the country last year while at Grant High School in Sacramento — to have been as advertised through the first two weeks of his UW career.

When the Huskies held the second full-scale scrimmage of training camp Saturday, Thompson was with the starting unit at defense, usually as a fifth defensive back, or nickelback. UW coach Steve Sarkisian said the scrimmage was designed to work on that defense, one the Huskies will play a lot this season.

But he also said that Thompson's presence on the field with the starters was no accident.

"It's about putting your best 11 on the field that we can and we think he is one of those 11 guys, so we are just trying to find a role for him," Sarkisian said.

Thompson spent the summer playing baseball in the Red Sox organization and also missed a few practices last week with a minor concussion.

But none of that has slowed him down. When on the field, Thompson has shown everything that had the recruiting gurus raving last fall.

"He's just a dynamic football player," Sarkisian said. "And what I've been impressed with about him is his ability to really learn the defenses, even with sitting out there a few days. He's a very bright football player, a very high football IQ, and then he applies it when he goes and plays, and plays it with a very physical mentality, and obviously the closing speed is evident."

So is his return speed as Thompson handled a kickoff. While it was apparently a noncontact drill, he drew a few oohs and ahs from the sidelines with a quick burst for a touchdown.

Thompson was usually on the field in sets that featured four down linemen and two linebackers along with five defensive backs. It's a common look that Sarkisian said UW may use even more this year given the nature of the offenses in the Pac-12.

"The I-formation, not that it is extinct, but we see so much more three-receiver set looks that that's almost the norm," Sarkisian said.

Thompson's ability to play such a position at 230 pounds also helps somewhat mitigate depth issues at linebacker.

"That forced our hand a little bit," Sarkisian said. " ... The unique thing that Shaq brings, the versatility that he brings is, he is almost 230 pounds so he is a (defensive back) but he's bigger than a lot of linebackers already at 230 as a freshman. So he can almost play as a hybrid nickel and then play somewhat of a backer in some of those sets, as he was doing today, and we can blitz him. He's got great speed coming off the edge, so I would think that's definitely a reality."

It was largely a day for the defense during an 85-play contact scrimmage. In 12 possessions, the offense scored two touchdowns, both by the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense on passes by Keith Price of 9 yards to Kasen Williams and 30 yards to tight end Michael Hartvigson.

But the No. 1 offense got just one first down on its first three drives before finally getting rolling, much to the consternation of Price.

"We are not ready yet," Price said. "We've still got a long way to go, obviously, getting lined up and getting set. That's our biggest thing. Once we get that down and we teach the young guys our tempo, we are going to be pretty good."

Getting lined up might sound like a simple thing. But as Price noted, it can be a challenge for younger players in a hectic game. Because of injuries to veterans James Johnson and Kevin Smith, true freshmen Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor are seeing ample time with the starters, and Sarkisian said afterward each is certain to play this season.

When things worked properly, though, Price looked like his usual self, completing 14 of 18 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns.

Bishop Sankey led all rushers with 58 yards on seven carries, and Jesse Callier had 23 on five attempts.

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


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