Early in the Steve Sarkisian era, it’s already clear you don’t need a familiar name to get your chance to impress the coaching staff.
Just look at last season’s leaders on the University of Washington football team.
Leading passer Ronnie Fouch has dropped back into the No. 2 spot behind Jake Locker, and could be pressed by true freshman Keith Price.
Leading rusher Terrance Dailey left the team late in spring camp. Converted linebacker Johri Fogerson and freshman Demitrius Bronson are pushing for serious playing time.
Only leading receiver D’Andre Goodwin has locked down a starting spot. But one of the group of contenders to become part of a rather large rotation is true freshman James Johnson – one of Sarkisian’s marquee recruits in what was graded as a so-so recruiting class.
So far, Johnson has been a surprise – not just for spectators clamoring to inquire who the purple-colored flash in the No. 3 jersey is, but for returners in his position group, and the men who coach him.
“It does surprise me, as a true freshman, how well he’s caught on and how well he’s adjusted to college play at practice,” sophomore Jermaine Kearse said.
Jimmie Dougherty – the Huskies’ receivers coach and the former offensive coordinator at the University of San Diego, who has seen Johnson compete since he was a high school sophomore – was prepared.
“I knew the type of talent he was, and also beyond that, the competitor he was,” Dougherty said. “It’s showing up here, too.”
For all of its lapses of focus at key junctures last season, the core of returning receivers is young, promising and deep. Kearse and Devin Aguilar, both sophomores, each had 20 receptions last season, ranking No. 2 on the squad. Jordan Polk is shifty and a threat in short and intermediate routes. And at 6-foot-3, Anthony Boyles could be a home-run threat, both long and in the red zone.
Johnson seems to combine all the different strengths of his counterparts.
“No. 1, he has the ability to catch it. With his strong hands, he makes the normal and contested catches,” Dougherty said. “He’s a very good route-runner, shows very good patience and he has the strength of get off the press (coverage). He’s also got the speed and quickness to be great.”
Anything else? Oh yeah, the part that has quickly ingratiated him to his new coach.
“He competes on every play,” Dougherty said.
If Johnson stays healthy – he’s dinged up with a shoulder issue suffered in practice Saturday night – surely he will not only be on the field Sept. 5 against Louisiana State, he’ll be taking snaps away from the other guys.
And that’s OK.
“We’re all fighting for positions right now,” Goodwin said, “but it’s family.”
“As long as we’re winning, I’m happy. I’m fine with it. I don’t care about all that (talk),” Kearse said. “If he makes plays, he makes plays. I want him out there on the field as much as any receiver.”
What does Johnson think about all of the early buzz?
Who knows. One of Sarkisian’s rules is that newcomers are not allowed to speak to reporters, at least for the first few weeks while they acclimate to a new culture.
“All the receivers worked hard and put in time to come out and play well this fall. Did James raise that? I don’t know. I know he didn’t drop it,” Dougherty said.
“Coach Sark has made it perfectly clear, it doesn’t matter what you did in the past – if you caught 60 balls or didn’t play at all last year, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to come out and earn it, day by day. And (if I were a teammate), if I’m watching this kid make plays ... I know I’d have to step up my game.”
Linebacker E.J. Savannah showed up Monday with a cast fitted from his left elbow down to his hand. Sarkisian said he broke a small bone at the top of his hand. He’s continued to be a regular in workouts, however. ... Wilson High’s Desmond Trufant, a cornerback, is close to making his fall-camp debut after having to take another core course to be cleared by the NCAA. “Hopefully sooner rather than later,” Sarkisian said. “We’d love to have him out here.” ... Goodwin knows he’s had a slow start this fall, mainly because of a hamstring injury from spring ball. And on Saturday, his coach said he’d like to see more from the junior. “The first few practices, it was more mental. ... You fear hurting (the hamstring) again. Now I’m done with the mental thing. ... Today’s 3 p.m. practice will feature the first scrimmage of camp.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442