UW won’t often lose to a QB on his back

Commentary: Shirley, Jamora press passers at Huskies scrimmage

April 17, 2011 

The problem with trying to assess intrasquad performances, such as the University of Washington’s scrimmage/practice on Saturday, is that it’s a zero-sum endeavor.

Maybe big defensive plays are because the offense didn’t block well. Maybe the offense lights it up because the defense can’t tackle.

But sometimes, pure athletic performances can’t be disputed. Good is good.

So it was illuminating when quick-footed sophomore quarterback Keith Price found himself under pressure and beat a path out of the pocket. But as he has been all spring, freshman defensive end Josh Shirley was in pursuit.

Price did the stop-and-start, the stutter step, and then put on the jet-skates … unleashing the whole repertoire of his best moves. Shirley simply reeled him in for one of his four sacks on the day.

“As we all know, Keith is a very elusive guy,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Josh hung right with him a couple times today, which is really encouraging because we see a lot of elusive quarterbacks and we’ve got to be able to contain those guys. We’ve been hurt in the past couple years by those quarterbacks. Josh presents a real bonus for us coming off the edge that way.”

By unofficial count, Huskies quarterbacks were sacked seven times in live action on Saturday, with sophomore Hau’oli Jamora most frequently joining Shirley in the backfield.

The Huskies gave up more than 29 points a game last season, and finished with a middling 28 sacks in 13 games. So a strong performance by the defense is promising.

Sarkisian’s signing of Shirley carried some controversy. He was one of three players released from scholarships at UCLA after being arrested on suspicion of stealing a purse. Sarkisian said the Huskies exercised “due diligence” in researching the matter, and didn’t think it reflected his true character.

Shirley was brought to the campus last year, but Sarkisian kept him off the field with a redshirt season. Shirley benefited from the time on the sideline, Sarkisian said.

“It’s easier to play fast and physical when you know what’s happening,” Sarkisian said. “He learned the fundamentals of the position – that kind of hybrid outside backer/rush end position. He’s getting more and more comfortable. He’s got so much more room to grow, and that’s what’s so cool about it.”

It’s not so cool for Price or any other quarterback trying to avoid getting sacked.

“I tried to get him on the edge a couple times, but he got me today,” Price said. “That brings a whole different dimension to the defense when you have speed rushers who can contain a mobile quarterback.”

Shirley looks so lean that the fear would be he’d be a liability against the run, but he said he’s working on adding good weight to his current 225 pounds.

“I just want to progress every day, to get better,” Shirley said. “Just learning, getting the technique down and doing what the coaches want.”

Shirley talked earlier in the spring about the trouble at UCLA, saying he learned from it and is moving forward.

From what he has shown so far, he’s doing so at a high rate of speed.

EXTRA POINTS

Receiver Kevin Smith had another productive day, showing his skills as an open-field runner, getting nice gains on fly-sweep plays. He had another big breakaway with a run-after-catch play. …

Although the defense dominated early, Sarkisian was happy to see the offense finish strong, especially with Nick Montana’s play-action touchdown pass to freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Chris Polk’s 60-yard touchdown run. Polk’s play particularly impressed Sarkisian because is showed he is growing more comfortable in the open field, making full-speed cuts and then shifting into a higher gear to run past defenders. …

The only apparent injury involved defensive tackle Chris Robinson, who came to the sideline with an apparent aggravation of a previous knee problem.

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