By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Andrew Hudson isn’t shying away from a lofty pursuit.
He was Washington’s co-leader in sacks last year with 6.5 — Josh Shirley matched him — and Hudson has his eye on a much bigger number this year.
“I set a goal for myself this year to practically double what I did last year,” Hudson said.
A season like that would elevate Hudson, a redshirt junior, toward the top of Washington’s single-season sack list. Jason Chorak was credited with 14.5 sacks in 1996. Ron Holmes is second with 13 in 1983. Sacks have been kept since 1982.
Hudson’s ambitions are admirable and likely unachievable. Less so because of him and more so because of systems.
The get-it-and-go Pac-12, which is filled with up-tempo, quick-passing teams, had just five players with 10-plus sacks last year. Time to rush the quarterback within the conference is reduced in two ways: first, bubble screens and quick-hit completions are the staples of most offenses. Second, the brisk snapping of the ball forces defenses to rotate more personnel. There is simply less opportunity for the sack.
That process leaves the chance for gaudy individual sack numbers low. Though, it doesn’t explain Washington’s inability to take down the quarterback last season when it was 10th in the Pac-12 in sacks.
The Huskies finished with 27 sacks. Nine of those came against Colorado (5) and Washington State (4), two of the bottom three in the conference in sacks allowed. Colorado was 10th and Washington State, which threw a staggering 71.2 percent of the time, was last.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is looking for solutions for the Huskies.
“Whether we need to pressure more at certain times; whether we need to give them a better front to rush out of, a better understanding blocking schemes by the offense, how to play a quick set or deep set by a tackle …” Wilcox said.
Wilcox employs a mixed approach at defensive end. He uses stand-up rush ends, like Shirley, and, this year, Cory Littleton, who was moved from linebacker. In addition, he uses more traditional ends like Hudson and Hau’oli Kikaha (formerly Jamora).
Kikaha, whom changed his name for personal reasons, missed last season after injuring his knee in fall camp. He said Monday he “feels great” and the knee is strong. It was his second knee injury in as many seasons. In 2011, he played just four games before a knee injury muted his year.
He’s an intriguing add to this year’s mix at defensive end. Kikaha is tight with Washington’s all-time sack leader, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, and it may have rubbed off in 2010. Kikaha had three sacks as a true freshman who started just half the season. He was named the team’s Most Outstanding Freshman at the postseason banquet.
Now, he’s just trying to get in the mix with the other ends.
“Just doing my job and trying to gain a role on the defense as hopefully one of the guys that can pass rush,” Kikaha said. “That’s my favorite thing to do.”
He understands that facing nine up-tempo teams this season will force him to rotate no matter how well he does. In fall camp, the ends have been swapping out after taking five consecutive snaps.
“I’m competitive, so I want to get as many reps as I can over whoever I am competing with,” Kikaha said. “Us having to share reps makes each rep that much more important.”
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was dressed for practice with a white sheath on his right hand to protect his surgically repaired right pinkie.
Defensive end Connor Cree was once again in a yellow jersey indicating he was not allowed to participate in drills with contact.
We’re talking about practice
Monday was the first day Washington imposed its new closed practice policy. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week, reporters will be allowed to see the first 20 minutes of practice, then are asked to leave. Interviews occur after practice ends on those days.
This is a change under Steve Sarkisian, who, when hired in 2009, explained his preference for practice to be open to the public and reporters. The public was not able to watch practice last season or this fall because of construction at Husky Stadium. Reporters were allowed to watch the first two weeks of fall camp, but will be restricted from here on.