By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — While most of their college classmates were undoubtedly sleeping or grousing about having to attend a class early Monday morning, the University of Washington football players were just happy to be up and at it.
The 8 a.m. practice didn’t have the Huskies feeling sleep-deprived as they opened four weeks of spring practices.
“I like it, actually,” said Dexter Charles, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman from Stanwood, who was both wide awake and tired after the morning session. “We work out in the morning all year. We don’t have to sit around all day and think about this — we can just get up and go do it.”
The Huskies have typically gone through afternoon practices — both in the spring and fall — but decided to change it up this year because coach Steve Sarkisian believes the schedule will bring out the best of his team. The new arrangement wasn’t much of a stretch for the players, who spent a good part of the offseason waking up early for 6 a.m. workouts.
“We’ve been getting them up at 5:30, 6 o’clock all offseason, so I didn’t think we had any reason to think they wouldn’t come out with energy,” Sarkisian said after a two-hour session under sunny skies while construction on Husky Stadium went on next to the east practice field. “This is late for them.”
As quarterback Keith Price said of Monday’s early start: “We’re kind of used to it, immune to it.”
For the most part, Sarkisian was encouraged by what he saw from the Huskies on Monday morning.
“I thought the energy was really good,” he said. “They practiced efficiently. They were running the ball. The effort was good, the energy was good.
“Obviously, there’s always things — on both sides of the ball — to work on, and this practice was no different. But I thought, for the first day, there were some really good things. … I’ve seen a lot worse first days, that’s for sure.”
Perhaps the most encouraging moment came about 90 minutes into the session, when Price tossed aside the brace he wore on his left knee to start practice and promptly broke off a long run.
“I didn’t need it anymore,” a grinning Price said of the brace after the practice. “I felt good running around, so I was good.”
Price, who struggled through nagging knee problems throughout the 2011 season, added that he feels as healthy as he has since he was a true freshman in 2009. But there were still some obvious signs that it was the first day of spring, with a combined three interceptions from Price and redshirt freshman Derrick Brown as they adjusted to a relatively new receiving corps.
“I wouldn’t say we’re comfortable,” Price said after Monday’s practice. “We’ve still got a long way to go. We were still a little rusty today. We’ve still got a lot of things to clean up.”
Some of the day’s highlights included a diving interception by freshman linebacker Matt Lyons to close out the session and a long run from tailback Jesse Callier on a short-yardage play.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Monday’s practice came on the defensive side of the ball, where the Huskies’ No. 1 unit spent almost the entire practice working with three down linemen and four stand-up linebackers. One of those linebackers was converted defensive end Josh Shirley, a pass-rushing specialist who worked with inside linebackers John Timu and Princeton Fuiamaono as well as safety-turned-outside-linebacker Taz Stevenson on the No. 1 defense. Sarkisian said it wasn’t a true 3-4 but added that Shirley could see extensive time standing up in the fall.
The day also proved to be a new opportunity for several players battling for new roles. Among them were local products Charles and defensive lineman Taniela Tupou, an Archbishop Murphy product who worked with the No. 2 defense Monday.
Charles was one of four new offensive linemen who worked with the No. 1 offense Monday as the team searches for one, possibly two, new starters. The Huskies lost left tackle Senio Kelemete to graduation, Colin Porter (both shoulders) and Colin Tanigawa (knee) are still recovering from surgeries, and Erik Kohler saw limited action with the No. 2 offense Monday as he rests some nagging injuries of his own.
“It’s my chance to prove myself,” Charles said. “(The coaches) saw me, they believe I can do it, and I have to believe in myself that I can do it. So these next four weeks are just proving it for me.”
One player who doesn’t have a lot to prove is tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is coming off a strong freshman season on the gridiron and almost three months of playing with the UW basketball team. He was out on the practice field Monday while showing no signs of fatigue.
“I feel like basketball really, really helped me,” said Seferian-Jenkins, who has added muscle but feels more slim after serving as a reserve with the UW basketball team. “Just running routes, I felt really smooth out there. I just felt a lot quicker, a lot faster than last year. I’m not getting tired as much as I was last year. I appreciate the basketball coach (Lorenzo Romar) for getting me in shape.”
After the session, Seferian-Jenkins worked on pass-rush moves with defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi but wouldn’t say whether he’s considering taking on yet another role as a UW athlete.
“I’m just trying to get better and multiply my talents,” he said.
Seferian-Jenkins was just glad to be back on the football field, which seemed to be the theme of the day — no matter how early the Huskies had to get out of bed.
“It’s a nice feeling,” Callier said of being back at practice. “I personally got tired of just lifting weights every day. It’s good to come out here with the team and enjoy myself again.”