University of Washington

Huskies get physical - with 'Big Bertha'

Players were ready to issue some pain Wednesday as University of Washington training camp shifted to a more physical nature.

They got to put on shoulder pads for the first time.

And running backs coach Joel Thomas got to unveil a couple of his training toys.

Thomas set them up on the east end of Husky Stadium. First, it was a few trips through a pair of chutes, designed to aid running backs in keeping the proper pad level.

Then, it was on to “Big Bertha.”

This was certainly where the loudest-cracking drill of any position group took place. “Big Bertha” is a 300-pound bag that hangs from a chain – much the same way a heavy bag does for a boxer.

Except with the bag being pushed back and forth by Thomas or fullback Austin Sylvester, it gained plenty of momentum and the line of running backs had to take it head-on.

“I want to wake them up, first thing,” Thomas said. “You get pads on, you’re in such a rush to get the first day out of the way. I wanted us to get loose and used to them wearing (shoulder) pads, and go from there.”

Freshman Demitrius Bronson, a Kentwood High graduate, produced the biggest, “Pop!” as he shoved his way past the bag. Others weren’t so lucky as some were knocked off balance.

“You want to visualize it coming at you, and hope (defenders) are not going to be that big,” said Bronson, smiling. “You have to hit it. You can’t be afraid of it. Just like in a real game, somebody is going to come at you.”

Thomas said he prefers this exercise at the start of camp rather than the guys banging their bodies against one another. He also noted he has other toys on the way to Seattle for the running backs to encounter.

“We’re going to use (Big Bertha) as camp goes,” Thomas said. “Hopefully we play behind our pads, use them as a weapon and not something that necessarily protect us.”

Extra points

Receiver James Johnson, a true freshman from Valley Center, Calif., continues to be the talk of the camp. He made his best catch so far Wednesday – a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone with Adam Long tugging at his other arm. “He continues to impress us. ... He was obviously a highly recruited kid coming out, and we had to hold off a lot of the other schools in our conference to keep him,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, adding if Saturday were a game, he’d be “playing, that’s for sure.” ... Sarkisian has an interesting daily habit – carrying around a pedometer. It is a device that measures steps and converts them to mileage. Sarkisian said he generally takes 30,000 steps a day, which is almost 10 miles of walking. ... Tight end Kavario Middleton, a Lakes High product, was excused from practice for personal reasons. Safety Nate Williams (knee) and defensive tackle Cameron Elisara (bruised quadriceps) saw little or no practice time Wednesday.

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442