SEATTLE — This is the football player Talia Crichton was supposed to become — a strong, fast, physical defensive end that can play both the run and the pass.
Unfortunately for Crichton, many people only seem to remember him as the skinny, overwhelmed, true freshman, who played like one back in 2009.
It’s an unfair measure of the player that Crichton is today.
After all, it was four years ago.
He’s overcome a knee injury, added about 30 pounds of muscle — much of it to his upper body — and played in enough games to understand what it takes to be successful.
Now in his last season of college football, he’s hoping to leave a lasting impression that will make people forget about a first impression that was way too premature.
“I just want to go out and play with fanatical effort and do whatever I can to help my team,” he said.
Right now, Crichton is better suited to help his team than at any point in his career.
As a true freshman out of Lakewood, Calif., he was forced into the lineup because of an injury to Darrion Jones and lack of depth at defensive end.
“I was pretty light and fast,” he said. “I got pushed around quite a bit.”
It showed against Stanford in his first start when he was manhandled by the Cardinal’s massive offensive line.
“In a perfect world, he probably should have redshirted,” said UW head coach Steve Sarkisian. “But in the situation we were in when we got going, he had to play.”
Crichton’s sophomore season was cut short after he sustained a knee injury on a sack of Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz. He tried to come back after a few weeks, but was never quite the same and sat out the rest of the year.
Last season, he started the first three games and played in eight others. But he never really found his niche. The knee was still an issue. It had drained him of his speed and first step off the line of scrimmage. He was reduced to having to use upper body strength.
“I had to bulk up,” he said. “I got bigger.”
He put in a ton of time in the weight room with strength coach Ivan Lewis.
“It’s really paid off,” Sarkisian said.
This past spring, Crichton looked liked a different player. Sure the hybrid 3-4 defense brought in by new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox made a difference. But it helped that Crichton was healthy for the first time.
“My knee got stronger and I got my speed back,” he said. “I feel like I’m a balanced player.”
It’s shown in fall camp, where he’s been a consistent force up front.
“I think this is the best he’s looked playing since he’s been here,” Sarkisian said. “He’s been battling that knee injury for what felt like a couple years. But he’s playing explosive, playing confidently.
He chased down scrambling quarterback Keith Price from behind, and he’s just blown through blockers to get to ball carriers.
“He had a great rush here today in team pass period, he about knocked our left guard over backwards, he does possess quite a bit of power,” Sarkisian said.
He shrugs off question about the new scheme. Sure, he’s playing a different technique instead of playing on the edge. But technique is just a part of it.
“It’s about the person,” he said. “People make too big of a deal about the scheme, it’s about the person playing the scheme.”
And maybe that’s the biggest difference in Crichton is the person he’s grown into.
“I really like Talia’s desire to get better,” said defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi. “He’s doing a great job of taking corrections. He cares about getting better and that’s all I can ask is that he’s striving to get better on a daily basis. I think he’s made up his mind. I think he’s on a path to get better on a daily basis and I think he wants to be a starter for us and rise to a leader and be a production leader for us up front.”
The Huskies are starting to fight back from the injury bug that has hit them the last few weeks. Offensive linemen Erik Kohler (knee), linebacker Thomas Tutogi (knee) and safety Justin Glenn (concussion) all suited up and practiced. It’s a big step for Kohler, who had been out since the first day of fall camp. … Kicker Travis Coons dressed out, but did not kick as he is battling a sore leg. … Walk-on Central Washington transfer Tre Watson was a full go at practice and took reps as the first-team cornerback opposite Desmond Trufant. .. Back-up quarterback Derrick Brown had the play of the day, hitting Cody Bruns on a long pass that Bruns turned into a 75-yard touchdown.