By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The University of Washington football team got a dose of good news Tuesday afternoon, when senior De’Shon Matthews, a defensive tackle who moved to end because the Huskies are desperate for bodies there, returned from a minor groin injury.
By Tuesday night, senior Cameron Elisara, another defensive tackle who had been moved to end was unable to finish the session due to a sore knee.
Such has been the tale of UW’s defensive end position this spring.
Whether due to injury (juniors Kalani Aldrich and Everette Thompson), suspension (sophomore Andru Pulu, who has a pending assault case hovering over his head) or attrition (basketball player Clarence Trent quit the team after less than two weeks), the Huskies are really struggling to find someone — anyone — who can play defensive end.
“I don’t know why it’s happening,” said Talia Crichton, the only experienced defensive end who’s practicing right now. “But we’re getting healthier.”
While Aldrich and Thompson are expected back in the fall, and Pulu’s indefinite suspension has not yet ruled him out of the picture, the Huskies are currently in a state of desperation at the end position.
By the end of Tuesday’s practice, the No. 2 defense had walk-ons Peter Follmer and Conrad Remington working at end. When it came to the No. 3 defense, Follmer and Remington were getting reps there, too — along with Crichton and Matthews. Only four ends were left.
“That happens a little bit when you’re thin,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said of the state of the end position after Elisara went down. “Guys are having to take maybe a few more reps than they’d usually take if you had that depth. Fortunately, De’Shon was able to go some today to lighten the load. So we’ll be OK.”
The big winner amid all the injuries is Crichton, who has gotten the bulk of the work at end and might have an inside track on a starting job.
“I’m the only d-end left,” he said, “so I’ve got to hold it down.”
Crichton started four games as a freshman last season but didn’t exactly make the most of his opportunity. He got overpowered at times and lost his starting job by midseason.
“I got pushed around a lot last year,” he said Tuesday. “That’s what motivated me to work harder.”
Without seniors Darrion Jones and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim — the school’s all-time sack leader and a probable pick in the upcoming NFL draft — the 2010 Huskies will look to Crichton to bring experience to the end position. He’s certainly getting a shot to get a step on the starting job this spring.
“The challenge is not having a guy right behind him to push him, competing like there is at every other spot,” Sarkisian said. “(The ends are) doing fine, but in a perfect world I’d like to have more competition.”
Elisara, who played primarily defensive end in high school, said last week that he was open to the idea of moving outside. He also said that the lack of healthy bodies at the position will give players like Crichton, Matthews and incoming freshmen Andrew Hudson, Hau’oli Jamora and Brent Williams a good shot at earning some serious playing time in the fall.
“The way we are with the depth right now, this is an opportunity for anybody, really — for walk-ons, guys who were freshmen last year, and freshmen who are coming in,” he said. “We just don’t have that many guys, so they’re going to get the opportunity to get some reps and show what they have.”
That was before Elisara succumbed to a sore knee. As of now, the Huskies’ defensive line is about as deep as a puddle.
But come this fall, Sarkisian said, that should change.
“I think our depth is a lot better,” he said. “We get Kalani back, we get Everette back, we bring in three new freshmen. I think our depth will be fine.”
While wide receivers Jordan Polk (ankle) and Cody Bruns (concussion) are back practicing, D’Andre Goodwin continues to rest a sore hamstring. … Freshman Deontae Cooper made the longest run of Tuesday’s practice, but he got caught from behind by cornerback Quinton Richardson at the 15-yard line. Sarkisian said Cooper’s lack of finishing speed was because he had run six consecutive plays. … Linebacker Brandon Huppert, a senior from Edmonds, was wearing pads Tuesday but has still yet to participate in a practice. He is recovering from knee surgery and could be ready by the fall.