Josh Shirley exploded off the line, blew past Ben Riva, didn’t slow down when Riva grabbed him by the jersey and shoulder pads, and kept on going toward an unsuspecting Keith Price.
Just at the moment when he could have pummeled his quarterback teammate, Shirley stuck his hand out and tapped Price while letting out a victorious scream.
It was just another day, another play, another would-be sack for the rapidly improving sophomore defensive end.
It seems any time the Huskies drop back for a pass in an 11-on-11 situation, Shirley is in the general area causing havoc.
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“He’s been really disruptive, especially in days like (Wednesday) where the second half of practice was a real pass emphasis – second-and-long, third-down situations,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “That’s where Josh can really pin his ears back and go. And he’s got such a great get-off, that’s when he’s at his best, especially when we’ve got some push coming from the inside that can collapse that pocket. He’s tough. He’s tough on all the guys, whether it’s been Riva or whether it’s Micah (Hatchie) or whoever else has been out there. He’s caused problems.”
Those problems are a good thing for the Huskies, who ranked seventh in the Pacific-12 Conference last season with 28 sacks. Shirley led the team with 81/2 sacks and really picked it up toward the end of last season, particularly in the Alamo Bowl.
With another productive offseason that saw him get his weight up to 235 pounds, the Huskies hope he can be a force from the edge.
“I think I’ve taken a lot of steps,” he said. “I still have a lot of improvement to go,” but the coaches are pushing daily to get him better and helping him do what it takes.
Shirley’s new position coach – Tosh Lupoi – has no complaints about his effort.
“Josh Shirley has really proven to be a coachable player so far,” Lupoi said “You can address something and by the next day he’s got it down – stuff where I wouldn’t even expect him to. And he’s the type of guy that’s in your office every day, he’s the type of guy deep in his playbook and that’s been impressive.”
Where it shows up is in Shirley’s uses of multiple pass rush techniques. First, his speed around the end gives him a major advantage. But instead of relying on one move, he has worked to incorporate other moves and pass rush techniques to diversify his attack.
“Coach emphasized to me that I have to work my moves,” he said. “It’s not just what you can do, it’s what you can get good at, and you have to master your trade.”
And there is more to his trade than speed.
“I think he’s really taken to Coach Lupoi and learning some new moves, the array of pass rushes that he has, so that when he is getting those different looks he has some different alternatives to what he wants to do,” Sarkisian said. “But also, he’s using his power. Josh is a strong guy, and sometimes you don’t know it because he’s not the biggest guy, but he’s one of the strongest guys on our football team right now and he’s using that strength in his pass rushing as well.”
KOHLER PLAYS CENTER
Erik Kohler joked early last week that the only position he hadn’t played on the offensive line was center. Well that changed on Wednesday, when Kohler delivered snaps as the second-team center, while working as a guard with the first team.
So what prompted this slight position adjustment?
“We are always trying just to develop guys,” Sarkisian said. “You never know. The worst case scenario is we get into a ballgame and two centers go down and we have to have a contingency plan if that did occur. And if that did, we are just trying to get a third center prepared so that if – knock on wood it doesn’t happen – we have a third guy that has snapped before and understands what needs to be done at the center position.”
Kohler started a few games at guard as a freshman and was the starting right tackle last season. But Sarkisian thinks Kohler’s best position might be in the middle.
“I think guard would be the best thing for him,” Sarkisian said. “He’s been exposed to quite a bit, obviously playing some guard his first year and getting out to tackle last year. So the experience of being a guard and being able to communicate really well and utilize his strengths – he’s a big guy, a physical guy – I just think that fits him better as well.”
Senior safety Nate Fellner was lined up at outside linebacker for several snaps during 11-on-11 drills. It mostly came when the Huskies had their nickel-and-dime personnel packages on the field. Sarkisian said it was a way to play to Fellner’s strength of defending the run. Cornerback Greg Ducre, who had missed a few practices with a concussion and was limited in the last practice, was back practicing full time. He even made two nice pass break-ups. H-back Cooper Pelluer, who had been in a red, no-contact jersey for most of spring, wore his normal jersey and participated fully. Center Drew Schaefer (knee), outside linebacker Scott Lawyer (groin) and defensive end Talia Crichton (knee) did not practice.