By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Austin Seferian-Jenkins will continue this week to refine moves in order to free himself of two opposition players at once. He’ll just be doing it out of a three-point stance.
During last week’s 34-15 win over Utah, Seferian-Jenkins, already the best tight end in Huskies history as a sophomore, was inserted on third down to rush the passer as a defensive end.
It was a surprise move from head coach Steve Sarkisian, largely necessitated by injuries and a general lack of a pass rush. Washington is tied with Colorado for 10th in the conference in sacks with a paltry 17. That’s just two ahead of last-place Arizona.
Defensive end Talia Crichton missed the game because of an injury as did defensive tackle Josh Banks.
So, as a part-time solution, Sarkisian dispatched Seferian-Jenkins to the right side of the defensive line Saturday, but only on third down. That moved end Andrew Hudson inside and put Josh Shirley on the opposite side.
“I thought he was relatively successful at doing that in the game,” Sarkisian said. “Obviously he didn’t just beat the tackle and sack the quarterback, but he allowed us to move Hudson down inside to do some things from getting more speed on the field and utilizing that … I think that helped Andrew and he got a sack later in the ball game because of that.”
All year, Sarkisian has refrained from using linebacker Shaq Thompson on offense despite feeling Thompson’s athletic gifts would make him a good running back. Even earlier in the season when it was not clear that Bishop Sankey would rumble to the quality year he is having, Sarkisian resisted, saying he would not jeopardize the success of the defense by making the move.
But, he’s chosen to take the risk with Seferian-Jenkins, who is the school’s all-time leader in receptions by a tight end and was named one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s best tight end, on Monday.
“We know this is a violent sport,” Sarkisian said. “But guys can get injured doing stuff that there is nobody around them and we saw that early in the season, so I am not as concerned. It’s not as if he’s in there taking on run blocks and different things and he’s not in on goal line. He’s in there on obvious passing downs where he’s rushing the passer, so if we are coaching afraid to get hurt then we are afraid to lose, too.”
Seferian-Jenkins said Saturday he has no problem with the move and his focus now is to get better at the position. He’s improved all other aspects of his game already this season.
His 55 catches and 731 yards in 10 games are already ahead of last year’s totals of 41 and 538. Seferian-Jenkins struggled with his blocking earlier in the season, but Sarkisian says that has been much improved the past two weeks.
“I don’t know who is playing better right now than him at that position around the country,” Sarkisian said. “I just know what he is doing and he is playing at a high level.”
In fall camp, Seferian-Jenkins said he needed to be better this season at discarding negative plays, whether it’s a drop, a missed block or just not getting the ball often early in the game. That’s an ongoing battle, but one Sarkisian says Seferian-Jenkins has begun to win.
So, don’t be surprised to see No. 88 on a three-point stance with a white towel dangling from his hip Saturday in Boulder, Colo. Arguably the country’s best tight end will be hunting for his first sack to add to his list of accomplishments this year.
“I don’t think it’s ever just going to go away,” Sarkisian said. “It’s got to fit the game plan and who we’re playing and what we’re doing.”
Sarkisian said defensive lineman Pio Vatuvei is probably done for the season. He did not specify Vatuvei’s injury. … Sarkisian also said that they will have to re-evaluate cornerback Desmond Trufant as the week goes along. He left Saturday’s game early after re-aggrivating a hamstring injury. “We’ll see. Anytime you’re dealing with a hamstring … It’s not the severity where I can come out and say he’s out for the next two weeks. But it’s enough that it bothers him. Hopefully we can get him more healthy this week than he was going into the game last week.” … LB Princeton Fuimaono will also be out a couple weeks, according to Sarkisian. … The University of Washington reprimanded the News Tribune for excessive tweeting and game-thread blog coverage of a live event following Sunday night’s Huskies men’s basketball game. The university introduced a new policy prior to this football season which put in place a recommended cap on the number of updates (20 for basketball, 45 for football) that can be made during live events. The policy states: “If UW deems that a Credential Holder is producing a real-time description of the contest, UW reserves all actions against Credential Holder, including but not limited to the revocation of the credential.”