SEATTLE — Eric Kiesau didn’t realize just how much the University of Washington football team would miss Kasen Williams until they practiced without him.
Kiesau, UW’s receivers coach, had grown accustomed to focusing his attention on one half of the field. Williams did his thing on the other side, often not requiring as much on-field instruction as some of the Huskies’ other receivers.
“It was just kind of that security blanket of always having that guy there every day at practice, making plays, working hard, never had to worry about him,” Kiesau said Wednesday. “And then he’s not there.”
He won’t be for a while. Williams, a junior from Sammamish, had surgery Tuesday to repair a broken fibula in his left leg, as well as an injury to his left foot. He suffered the injuries during the second quarter of Saturday’s 41-17 victory over California.
The procedure was successful, head coach Steve Sarkisian said. He estimated Williams’ recovery time to be 2-to-4 months. If accurate, that would give Williams a chance to return in time for spring practices in March.
“We won’t rush it,” Sarkisian said. “We’ll get him completely healthy and get him back going for us.”
Until then, the Huskies will rely on others to fill the void left by the talented receiver’s absence. It’s a sizeable one, even if not quite the production Williams hoped for: 29 catches, 421 yards in seven games and one quarter.
It sounds as if sophomore Marvin Hall will get first crack at replacing him, though touted freshman Demore’ea Stringfellow — an imposing dude at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds — should also have a chance to earn more snaps.
Hall replaced Williams in the lineup on Saturday, but Kiesau said the 5-foot-10, 180-pound sophomore from Los Angeles was already in line for more action.
“That’s the cool thing about Marvin,” Kiesau said. “He’s been practicing well for the last three or four weeks. In fact, in the game when Kasen got hurt, we were planning on playing him anyway, without even knowing what happened to Kasen, because he earned it. He was at that point where he was making plays in practice, he knew his assignments, he was playing hard, he was kind of in that rotation of kind of being the fourth guy for us.”
Now he’ll battle with Stringfellow to be the third guy. Sarkisian said the roles of starters Jaydon Mickens and Kevin Smith will have to expand. Same with freshman John Ross.
“Having to step up is always a great thing,” said Hall, who has four catches for 49 yard this season and will likely return more punts in Williams’ absence, too. “We’d love to have him back, but we’re doing what we have to do to keep the team going.”
That might involve getting Mickens the ball even more. The shifty sophomore caught six passes for a career-best 180 yards in UW’s victory over Cal, including touchdown catches of 47 and 68 yards.
His speed makes him a tough cover when he motions out of the backfield, as he often does before catching bubble screen passes on the outside. But he torched Cal by burning safeties in 1-on-1 coverage, then hauling in accurate throws from quarterback Keith Price.
Mickens leads the Huskies with 45 catches for 542 yards, partially because of a stronger dedication to practicing harder, Kiesau said.
“When you’ve got guys in the room that are really good, if you don’t practice well, then the other guy’s going to get your reps and he’s going to play on Saturday,” Kiesau said. “Competition’s obviously the best way to coach, and I think we have that in our room right now, and I think that’s made Jaydon a better player.”
“To be the best, we have to have guys willing to lead this program in the right direction,” Mickens said. “So we’re going to have somebody fill in. It might not be Kasen Williams, but it’s going to be the best receiver that we have so far on this field.”