By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — This afternoon marks the temporary end of a long run of activity for one University of Washington athlete.
Not that Austin Seferian-Jenkins is looking forward to the time off.
The Huskies’ football-turned-basketball-turned-football player will conclude an 81/2-month run of athletics with today’s 1 p.m. Spring Game at CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle. Come Sunday, Seferian-Jenkins finally gets a day of rest.
But if he’s looking forward to some well-deserved time off, the freshman tight end/power forward isn’t letting on.
“Whatever time I can get,” he said with a shrug earlier this week. “Someone else didn’t get time today, someone else didn’t see today. So I’m just blessed with whatever time I can get on this earth. I can’t complain about anything. Down time, busy time — it’s time. It’s time that someone else doesn’t have, so I’m blessed to have it.”
For most UW football players, it’s simply been a busy month, not eight-plus months. Spring ball comes to an end this afternoon, and the Huskies want to finish by putting on a show in their annual Spring Game.
“Everyone’s looking to having fun on a beautiful field in a good atmosphere,” cornerback Greg Ducre said.
After a month of practices that mostly saw the UW defense surprisingly out-perform the Huskies’ high-octane offense, the D will be looking to light up the scoreboard this afternoon. Because of some nagging injuries that left the UW short-handed throughout the spring, particularly on the offensive line, the Huskies will hold an unconventional scrimmage that awards points for defensive stops and turnovers.
Rather than splitting the team into two full units, head coach Steve Sarkisian will allow the offense to compete against the defense on the scoreboard, with points awarded for defensive stops (three) and turnovers (five) — in addition to the traditional touchdowns and field goals.
“Is that ideal? No,” Sarkisian said this week. “I wish we could be split into two teams, like we have in the past. But just because of injuries and where we’ve gotten to, we’ll play offense-defense. We’ve got a good scoring system in place, and it should be competitive.”
Competition is always the catch word at UW football practices, but things have been surprisingly balanced this spring. A defense that last fall became the first in program history to allow 6,000 yards in a season has more than held its own under new coordinator Justin Wilcox. In fact, the UW defense has probably come out on top more often than not this spring.
“This spring, everyone’s stepped up,” Ducre said. “We’re having fun, a lot of fun, and you can see it on the field.”
Added linebacker Garret Gilliland: “I think the defense has definitely stepped it up. The offense is still doing fine, but I definitely feel that the defense has gotten better collectively.”
Part of the reason might be that the offensive line has been in flux all spring. After losing cornerstone Senio Kelemete to graduation, the Huskies lost starting guard Colin Porter to career-ending shoulder problems. The unit practiced without starting guard Colin Tanigawa (knee surgery) for the entire spring and center Drew Schaefer (sprained knee) for nearly two weeks, while starter Erik Kohler was making the adjustment from tackle to guard.
Sarkisian said the added reps for players such as backup center Mike Criste, guard Ben Atoe, Stanwood High School product Dexter Charles and projected starting tackles Micah Hatchie and Ben Riva will prove valuable, but added th4ere are concerns about the offensive line heading into the fall.
“There are always concerns on the offensive line, even if we were 100 percent healthy,” he said. “You’re one, two, three snaps away from guys going down.”
There will be plenty of familiar faces on offense participating today, starting with quarterback Keith Price. He’s had a solid spring and said his knee problems are in the past. Although Price appeared to be favoring his left knee during a practice at Memorial Stadium last weekend, he said afterward that it was just a byproduct of not being in a real game where defenses can hit him.
“Half the time, I’m not really sprinting,” he said last Saturday. “I’m sure when guys are really chasing me, I’ll be running. So I’ll be full speed.”
Price’s backup, Derrick Brown, has struggled this spring, opening the door for incoming freshmen Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles to battle for the No. 2 job in the fall.
And then there’s Seferian-Jenkins, who is Price’s top returning target in terms of 2011 receptions (36). The 6-foot-6 freshman hasn’t stopped competing since the start of the last football season, and he’s excited to be in action for another day.
“I think, personally, I need to get better at every single thing that I can,” he said of his goals for the spring. “I’m not even close to where I need to be, so I just need to keep working. There’s a lot of work to be done. If I was to say that I didn’t have anything to work on, then I’d be a fool.”