Washington has some fun at the spring game
SEATTLE – Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian knew conditions wouldn’t be ideal for the Huskies’ final spring practice. Still without a home field as renovations continue at Husky Stadium, the team was going to head over to the aging Memorial Stadium in the shadows of the Space Needle for their annual spring game.
Sarkisian, perhaps drawing on years living not far from Hollywood, also knew that spring games typically don’t make for great television.
So the fifth-year coach decided to mix things up a bit on an overcast Saturday afternoon and injected some fun in what was an otherwise typical spring practice for the team.
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“I’m always happy when the spring game ends and nobody gets hurt, first of all,” he said. “I thought the day was fun. Sometimes the spring game or last spring practice can get overvalued. We had 14 really good practices and today was another good one.”
Although much of the early part of the action mimicked practices by Montlake, there were a few new elements that excited fans in the stands and those watching at home on Pac-12 Networks.
Golfers had a closest-to-the-pin contest featuring Harry the Husky. A pair of small dogs made their way toward the end zone in a race. A young fan called a few plays. There was a fun gauntlet drill with plenty of big hits that elicited oohs and aahs from the crowd.
A number of famous alumni (including current assistant Marques Tuiasosopo and Warren Moon) also competed with the current Washington quarterbacks in trying to hit the crossbar from 40 yards out. The head coach nailed it on his first attempt, prompting a large post-game smile when asked about the feat.
“I’m glad I hit the crossbar so I can hold that bragging right on Warren Moon for a while,” Sarkisian joked.
It wasn’t all fun and games for the Huskies on Saturday, however. Snaps seemed to be a bit of an issue and a number of receivers had a drop or two. The defense appeared relatively stout, but a number of key starters received only a handful of reps as younger guys were worked in.
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The big emphasis this spring, an up-tempo no-huddle look, also appeared slower than expected for fans getting their first glimpse of the 2013 version of the team. That was partially by design and partially due to a few execution issues.
“We’ve been faster than this. You’re in a spring game and want to give the fans something to see and a taste of what fall camp will be about,” Sarkisian said. “I’m also aware we’re on national television and you don’t want to give up all of your goods.”
“There’s still a lot to learn, but our young guys are playing fast,” quarterback Keith Price said. “It’s an exciting offense.”
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Price went 5-of-14 for 56 yards and a touchdown during limited scrimmage action. Though he wasn’t as sharp as he was in previous practices, most on the offense think he’s primed for a breakout year after an up-and-down 2012 season.
“I felt good. I felt my swagger come back a little bit,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m not satisfied and know I have a long ways to go. I’m going to continue to improve.”
Bishop Sankey had just three carries as Kendyl Taylor took most of the reps out of the backfield during scrimmage situations. The running backs could be featured a bit more in the passing game as the offense evolves heading into fall camp. To a man, everybody on offense was happy with how things turned out this spring and the direction things are going.
“I think the no-huddle was very successful,” backup quarterback Cyler Miles said. “We get more reps and more plays in practice, so I think it makes us better.”
The defense didn’t allow many big plays on Saturday and kept just about everything in front of them. Though it didn’t seem as though many position battles were settled after the 15th practice it does look like a unit primed to make the jump from being solid to very good.
“The guys did a good job in spring. They brought energy every day and that’s important,” coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “I can’t really complain, but we have to clean things up and improve in some areas.”
“The team feels good. We should be great this year,” linebacker Shaq Thompson added. “It’s great to have (all the linebackers) back. We just keep taking all the reps and switching in and out.”
With spring practices over and months until putting the pads back on in the fall, the Huskies start the slow process of turning the focus from themselves to their next opponent. Given that Boise State beat them in the Las Vegas Bowl, there is plenty of motivation for the team heading into offseason workouts.
“The next thing is the home opener and I feel like that’s on every single person’s mind on this team,” Sankey said.
At least Washington had a little bit of fun on Saturday before heading back to work.