Are Huskies going to the pups?
A number of upperclassmen, including Jake Locker, have their workloads lightened during Monday’s practice.
It might officially begin soon.
When the UW football team returned to the practice field for the first session of its bye week Monday, quarterback Jake Locker was among several upperclassmen who saw their workloads lessened. A bruised quadriceps kept Locker out of practice, although it does not appear as if the injury will put him in danger of missing the Nov. 5 game at UCLA.
The coaching staff is using this week to give some of the older players time to rest their bodies while auditioning some untested backups for more playing time.
“(The bye week) gives us a chance to coach these guys again and really get back into them and see where they’re at and their understanding of our schemes on both sides of the ball,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said of some younger players who haven’t had much playing time this season. “And to see if there are some opportunities for them here with four games left. ... We’ve got guys who can’t redshirt but aren’t playing that much football for us right now.”
Sarkisian would not go as far to say that the team was ready to start looking toward the future, even though the Huskies (3-5 overall, 2-3 in the Pac-10) have seen their chances of a bowl game wither after four losses in five weeks. He said he’s simply trying to see which backups are ready to play more on a hobbled team.
“Who can we interject back into these last four games that can play a substantial role in what we’re doing and give us an opportunity to play better?” Sarkisian said. “So that’s what we have to do here in three days. These practices are really important to us.”
Locker, defensive end Daniel T’eo-Nesheim, safety Nate Williams, running back Chris Polk and all three starting linebackers are among the players who might watch younger players get most of the snaps this week. All of those starters are supposed to play in the Huskies’ next game, but it’s almost as likely that little-used players like defensive lineman Andru Pulu, tight end Dorson Boyce and tailback Demetrius Bronson will see extended action in the UCLA game.
The Huskies still have a shot at bowl eligibility, provided they win three of their final four games, and so Sarkisian has not given up on this season. But he’s also trying to build depth on a team that’s not necessarily deep — both for now and the future.
With a starting lineup that includes only five seniors — T’eo-Nesheim, tackle Ben Ossai, defensive end Darrion Jones and linebackers Donald Butler and E.J. Savannah — the Huskies might be wise to look ahead. The possibility of a bowl game might still be mathematically alive, but the team’s 1-4 record since a Week 3 upset of USC has left the Huskies on a downward spiral of sorts.
Even the ever-optimistic Sarkisian admitted Monday that his team is “somewhat fragile” — both mentally and physically. The mounting injuries to players like Locker, Savannah, Polk and Williams have tested the team’s depth, while in-game adversity has — at times — also broken this team’s will.
“We’ve been faced with a boatload of adversity this year,” Sarkisian said Monday. “Sometimes we’ve responded well, and other times we haven’t.”
From the outset, Sarkisian has been careful about setting goals in terms of wins and conference placement and bowl bids. He said before the 2009 opener that his UW teams will be judged on how much a given opponent respects each Saturday’s performance — regardless of the result.
That decree has come in handy as of late. While the Huskies have certainly earned respect in three of their past five games, they have only won one of those: the miraculous comeback victory over Arizona at Husky Stadium 16 days ago.
“Sure, we’d love to go to a bowl game,” Sarkisian said Monday. “Sure, we’d love to be Pac-10 champs. Sure, we’d love to have a better record, week in and week out, year in and year out as we move forward.
“But ultimately it’s the respect factor. Because when your opponent respects you, that means you’re probably doing things right.”
This year’s Huskies certainly appear to be on the right track, but they’ve done enough wrong to derail the dreams of postseason play in Sarkisian’s first year.
There are still four games left to try to achieve that goal, and to try and earn respect, but the physically- and mentally-drained Huskies are just happy to get some time off this week.
“We’re a football team that’s been in some really gut-wrenching ball games,” Sarkisian said, “some have turned out for the positive and some have turned out for the negative. For eight straight weeks, we’ve been at it. Then you throw in training camp, and this has been a long haul of really intense, locked-in, emotional football games that our kids are learning from.
“They’re gaining value in playing in these types of games. But somewhere in there, it’s great to have a little break.”
Locker has been named as one of 15 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, which is annually given to the nation’s best quarterback. Locker is the only quarterback on the list who plays for a team with a sub-.500 record. ... With Locker sidelined Monday, sophomore Ronnie Fouch ran the No. 1 offense at practice. Sarkisian said that he also hopes to see true freshman Keith Price in that role during this week’s practices. ... The Huskies’ abbreviated practice week included Monday’s session as well as practices today and Wednesday. The team will have Thursday, Friday and Saturday off. ... Sarkisian said that Savannah has now broken three different bones in his hand. The latest one will keep the senior linebacker off the practice field this week, but Sarkisian has not ruled him out of a return for the UCLA game on Nov. 5. ... Sarkisian said that Locker suffered the quad injury in the early stages of Saturday’s loss to Oregon, but that the junior quarterback elected to play through the injury. Sarkisian added that Locker’s health affected the coach’s play-calling in the game. ... The game time for the game at UCLA was announced Monday. The Huskies and Bruins will kick off the Nov. 5 game at 12:30 p.m.
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