Competition Reins Among UW Receivers

April 6, 2010

SEATTLE - Competition is one of the bedrock principles of the Washington football program. When Steve Sarkisian took over as coach last year, he talked how competition would be at the forefront of everything the Huskies did.

The receivers have been some of the most loyal disciples to this mantra.

After practice on Tuesday, sophomore James Johnson talked of a competitive air not only at practice with the receivers, but inside the weight room, in class and inside position meetings. A tight-knit group socially, the receivers are nevertheless in a heated battle for spots on the field. Make no mistake, this is one of the deepest positions the Huskies return for the 2010 season, and each receiver is making a case for himself as the team wrapped up practice No. 4 this spring at Husky Stadium.

'We all push each other every day to get better,' Johnson said. 'We're all trying to get that edge.'

So far there are nine receivers back in the fold this spring, and the coaches have not parsed their words in praise of the group. Everyone is entering their second season in the program, meaning there's less confusion during practices. Players like Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar are the focus as the two leading receivers, but the talent level is so much that coaching staff feels each part is capable of having an impact in the passing game.

'They're interchangeable,' said wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty. 'I can move them around and they don't miss a beat.'

This makes the inevitable injuries easier to handle. The Huskies were without Cody Bruns (concussion) and Jordan Polk (hamstring) on Tuesday, yet practice moved forward at its usual crisp pace. Receivers hustled in and out of their rotations, jumping into the one-on-one drills against the defensive backs without wasting a beat.

What's more prevalent now with the receiving corps is how quickly they adjust to coverages. Last season, most focused on learning their routes and playing with 'horse blinders,' a term Dougherty used to describe a receiver who is missing the bigger picture. Now the group can approach the line, make a pre-snap read and modify the route based on man or zone defenses. Playing with an experienced quarterback in Locker has only hastened the maturation process.

'They're reading defenses now more,' Dougherty said. 'They're able to use the techniques that we've given to them. When you're so worried about your route or your job on a particular play, all of a sudden your technique goes in the trash and you don't see what's going on with the defense. They're playing more loose and free.'

One player who has been particularly impressive this spring, according to Dougherty, is Johnson. The sophomore from just north of San Diego (Valley Center, Calif.) has re-discovered the athleticism that made him a fall camp standout last season. Johnson tailed off as the season wore down, something Dougherty predicted with a young player trying to juggle school, athletics and a social life. He ended the season with 38 catches for 422 yards and three touchdowns.

Now, after putting his focus into the offseason program, Johnson returns to the field with a fresher perspective on football. Not coincidentally, he's returned to making plays.

'He really worked hard to get his body back right,' Dougherty said, 'and it's showing up on the field. He's playing with a lot of confidence right now.'

With Locker, the receivers have a chance to be at the other end of what could be a dangerous and dynamic UW offense. When the senior QB announced his return, he sent a group text to the receivers, letting them know that a) he was coming back for a final year, and b) they were going to be a part of something special in 2010.

'We have great potential,' Johnson said. 'We have nine guys coming back. We're only going to get better each day out here.'

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