Huskies open practice under bright Tuesday Night Lights

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comMarch 7, 2013 

Surely, this had to be one of those Midnight Madness deals, where college basketball teams schedule practices in the middle of the night as a festive event for students and fans.

But it turned out that when the Washington Huskies opened spring football drills at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, it was merely the start of an unorthodox schedule instituted by coach Steve Sarkisian.

The Huskies will practice at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the first two weeks, take two weeks off, and then come back with 8:30 a.m. practices until the April 20 spring game.

The goal, Sarkisian explained, is to push the Huskies outside their “comfort zone” and break existing regimens.

The most obvious trend he’d like to put an end to is their 7-6 record each of the past three seasons. It’s a zone in which he’s no longer comfortable.

I’ll agree with Sark on this: See-your-breath, 42-degree practices at zero-dark-thirty is not for the complacent.

It’s fair to wonder how sharp a defensive tackle might be if he’s got an 8 a.m. econ class after a short night, but it’s only for four nights this spring.

A bigger change is that the only people huddling up during the practice were the reporters on the sideline. Gathering to discuss the upcoming play apparently is going to be an infrequent occurrence for the Huskies’ offense until further notice.

Oregon’s hair-trigger offense has forced a number of teams to scrap the huddle and pick up the pace. Last season, the Ducks averaged about 12 more offensive

snaps a game than the Huskies.

The no-huddle tempo not only suits the Huskies’ talents, Sarkisian said, but it also helps the defense prepare for an approach that he expects to be used by no fewer than eight opponents in the fall.

“It won’t be so foreign to us (defensively),” he said. “We’ll be comfortable in that arena.” And the daily conditioning will mean fewer dragging tongues the week the Ducks are on the docket.

Looking particularly comfortable in the new scheme under the Tuesday Night Lights was senior quarterback Keith Price.

The most important report on Price is somewhat mathematical: He has two healthy legs and was wearing zero knee braces.

That left him romping around like a colt. He pitched a couple of nice deep passes, and also showed the elusiveness and quickness that made him such a threat as a sophomore.

He said he’s bulked up to 206 pounds. Adding 10 pounds of muscle while subtracting 10 pounds of orthopedic support devices should amount to a net gain.

Of course, Price hasn’t been avalanched by defenders in a couple of months, and this was a no-pads practice in which the competence of his offensive line was not tested. He was sacked 37 times last season, and chased from the pocket on several dozen other occasions.

It is suspected that the no-huddle offense will help take some of the pressure off the offensive line since it makes it more difficult for defenses to substitute into special rush or coverage packages.

The practice also was a good chance to see redshirt freshman quarterback Cyler Miles on the hoof. He’s big (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) but still speedy and nimble on the keepers.

While Price has bulked up, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins – a legit All-American candidate at tight end – has bulked down. At 270, he’s 15 pounds lighter than last spring.

The drop in weight should be easier on the ankle he hurt last season, and also make him an even more appealing target in a quick-strike offense.

“My main goal is to become the most complete tight end in the country, and give relentless effort every single play,” the Gig Harbor product said.

If there was a play of the night, it came from sophomore cornerback Marcus Peters, who high-pointed a pass from Miles, tipped it away from the receiver, and still managed to intercept it.

And for the most appropriate post-practice quote? I’m offering a comment from junior running back Bishop Sankey, the leading returning rusher:

“I’m gonna go home and get some sleep.”

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 @DaveBoling

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