Do Huskies have best receiving corps in the nation?
Washington has deep, talented group of wideouts
The University of Washington's top cover cornerback has had just about enough of what may be the deepest receiving corps on the West Coast. Trufant has been facing it every day at practice for more than a month.
"We're ready to see some new faces," he said of the task that stands in front of the Huskies' cornerbacks this week.
After facing UW's deep group of receivers, the Husky cover men have a renewed sense of respect. And things probably won't get a whole lot more difficult for the UW cornerbacks this season.
"I think we'll have the best receiving corps in the nation," said Quinton Richardson, UW's other starting cornerback when the Huskies face BYU on Saturday. "Going against this receiving corps makes us that much better, knowing that we've got the best receivers in the nation. We have the best here, so you can't say we're unprepared."
While the argument for the best receiving corps in the nation won't start until the games actually begin, UW's group certainly has some past statistics to give it a good break off the line. The Huskies are one of just two teams in the six so-called power conferences to have four returning receivers who each have at least one 35-catch season on their resume. The other, Texas Tech, features a pass-happy system that seemingly includes 35 throws on any given drive.
UW is also one of just 14 of the 57 power conference teams to return its four top wide receivers from last season, and the Huskies' corps was near the top in terms of production. Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar, James Johnson and D'Andre Goodwin accounted for 62.8 percent of UW's receptions last season -- the third-highest percentage among teams returning all four wideouts.
In Goodwin, Kearse, Aguilar and Johnson, the Huskies have a foursome that brings 251 career receptions into the 2010 season -- including 145 from last season alone.
Kearse, a junior this fall, was the go-to guy in 2009, with a team-high 50 receptions. Classmate Aguilar caught 42 passes and emerged as the team's big-play threat, while Johnson made an immediate contribution in catching 39 passes as a true freshman.
Then there's Goodwin, who was the feature receiver while catching 60 passes in 2008 but had a reduced role as a junior last fall.
Add in emerging veterans like Jordan Polk and Cody Bruns, as well as promising freshman Kevin Smith, and the UW receiving corps has an assembly line of capable hands.
"We have a lot of great guys and good depth," Kearse said. "They can all come in and play."
While the wealth of experience makes things easier for senior quarterback Jake Locker and head coach Steve Sarkisian, it could create problems on a team with less cohesion. But on this UW team, there doesn't seem to be any grumbling about who catches the most passes.
"Everyone wants to make catches," Aguilar said. "But everyone gets just as excited when someone else makes the catches."
Said receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty: "I think they're all genuinely happy for each other's success. It's kind of a weird group that way. It's an atmosphere you, as coaches, try to create. But the reality is that they're all just good guys."
Unless, that is, somebody gets caught dogging it in practice. The receivers have an "effort chart" in their meeting room, upon which point totals are kept for how hard guys are working in practice and in games. Whether it's running a route, battling a defender for a ball or blocking downfield, the UW wideouts are accountable for their effort on every play.
"We just criticize and critique," Aguilar said of what makes this receiving corps so productive. "Whether we're watching film or out here (on the practice field), we're on each other's tail."
Based on the past two seasons, it's nearly impossible to predict how the pecking order will shake out this season. Kearse is the returning leader in terms of receptions, but Aguilar has made just as many big plays at practice. And while Johnson has worked his way back from an ankle injury, Goodwin had such a strong camp that he'll return to the starting lineup after spending 2009 as a backup.
"I'm very proud of him for how far he's come," Dougherty said of Goodwin, the lone senior wide receiver on the team. "And it doesn't end here. That story's still being written.
"He thought he was doing enough last year, but he found out that this coaching staff was looking for more. To his credit, he didn't pout, and he didn't go in the tank. He just battled. I'm really, really proud of him, and I hope he gets rewarded with a great senior year."
When it came to training camp battles, one of the most fierce ones came when Kearse and Trufant lined up for a one-on-one passing drill. Whether it resulted in a catch or a Trufant deflection, the play was likely to end in some good-natured trash talk as both players went back to their respective huddle.
Facing UW's receiving corps could be frustrating at times, but the Husky cornerbacks knew the battles were worth it in the end.
"I think that's going to make us better," Richardson said, "and make us ready when we face other teams."
Freshman cornerback Gregory Ducre strained his shoulder early in Wednesday's practice and was unable to continue. His status for Saturday's game at BYU was unknown as of Wednesday afternoon but could be more clear today. ... Defensive end Kalani Aldrich (knee) and wide receiver James Johnson (ankle) continued to practice but haven't gotten a clean bill of health yet.
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