Freshmen making noise during camp
Besides RB Deontae Cooper, most contributions from the first-year players will likely come on the defensive side of the ball.
While UW veterans have been talking openly about competing for a Rose Bowl bid this season, the team's freshman class is just trying to find roles amid all the experienced upperclassmen.
Freshmen like quarterback Nick Montana, running back Deontae Cooper, tight end Michael Hartvigson and wide receivers Kevin Smith and DiAndre Campbell have had their moments, but the Huskies might prefer that Cooper is the only freshman to see time on offense this season.
It's another story on the other side of the football. Safety Sean Parker, cornerback Gregory Ducre and defensive linemen Josh Shirley, Sione Potoa'e and Hau'oli Jamora have already made a push for playing time in the opening days of their first camp.
"We had high expectations for them," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said of this year's freshman class. "I don't know if there are any surprises because we knew they were all good players.
"How much they play just depends on how much they learn and process within the next couple weeks. But I think a handful of them will play and help us out this year."
On a defense that returns 17 players with experience as starters, the freshman class might be almost as important to this unit's success as the deep pool of veterans are. UW's defense has struggled mightily at times in recent years, so an infusion of size (Potoa'e), speed (Ducre) and pass-rush ability (Shirley) could give the Huskies a big boost.
Shirley, whom the team signed after he was kicked out of UCLA for an off-the-field incident, has the potential to fill some of the pass-rush void that was left with the graduation of Daniel Te'o-Nesheim after last season. But he is struggling to learn the system after signing with the team late in the summer, and bigger teammates have generally had their way with Shirley in pass-rush drills thus far.
Potoa'e and Jamora have worked with UW's No. 1 defense at times this camp, but mostly the freshmen are running with the second team. Parker (behind senior Nate Williams), Potoa'e, Jamora, Ducre and 344-pound defensive tackle Lawrence Lagafuaina lined up with the No. 2 unit at Wednesday's practice. Shirley ran with the third team.
"They're all going to help us," Holt said of the freshman class. "I don't know when, but they will."
By all accounts, Wednesday's practice was the roughest outing for most of UW's freshmen. Sarkisian, who does not allow true freshmen to speak to the media unless they were with the team in the spring, said after the Day 3 practice that mental errors were beginning to set in.
But there were a few highlights. Hartvigson, who played at Bothell High School, made a diving catch of a Jake Locker pass. Smith caught a nice ball in the red zone, and Cooper and fellow freshman Jess Callier both broke off nice runs.
Cooper is the odds-on favorite to be the most immediate contributor among this year's freshmen. He was one of four freshmen to join the team in the spring, and he continues to make enough plays to warrant playing time behind starter Chris Polk and as a kickoff return man.
Cooper broke off a 60-yard touchdown run in Wednesday's session.
"When I got recruited, I knew there was a possibility to come in and play" as a freshman, Cooper said after Wednesday's practice. "I knew I would come in and compete; that was Coach Sark's background. So I came in and tried to compete every day."
With 16 of the 22 regular starters back this season, the Huskies aren't desperate for immediate contributors. But some of the freshmen, particularly on defense, have already made an impression.
"I've been impressed with a lot of our young defensive players," Sarkisian said this week. "Credit to Nick (Holt) and to (linebackers coach) Mike Cox for playing those kids with the (first team) to get a feel for how they're doing. And there are some guys who are doing some pretty good stuff."
The Huskies donned shoulder pads for the first time Wednesday. They will begin full-contact drills on Friday. ... Cornerback Quinton Richardson returned after sitting out Tuesday's practice with back spasms. ... Wednesday was not among quarterback Jake Locker's best practices. He misfired on several throws, including one that resulted in an Adam Long interception in the end zone. ... Sophomore Justin Glenn, a safety from Kamiak High School, saw extended reps Wednesday while he continues to come back from leg surgery. "He came in and talked to me right before fall camp started, and said he felt great," safeties coach Jeff Mills said Wednesday. "To me, he looks good." After Wednesday's practice, Glenn told reporters: "It's a very pleasant surprise to be back out here and not really thinking about my ankle. It's actually feeling really well."
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