By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Up-tempo and enthusiastic.
Those were the words most players used to describe the first day of spring practice for Washington football.
An entirely new coaching staff took the field with its team for the first time Tuesday afternoon, kicking off a stretch of 15 practices that will conclude with the April 25 spring game, and the reviews were all positive after Day 1.
“It was fun to get back out and be a part of it again rather than just standing being a spectator,” said quarterback Jake Locker, who missed the final eight games of last season with a thumb injury. “I enjoyed it. It was up-tempo, it was fun; everybody was moving and always doing something, always being coached.”
New UW coach Steve Sarkisian is opening practices this spring, and a few hundred fans braved an un-spring-like afternoon to watch the practice.
“I love this atmosphere, I want people to come out here and check us out,” said linebacker E.J. Savannah. “If you mess up, you’re going to mess up in front of people and they’re going to tell you. I like the honesty.”
Savannah is one of two players back after missing last season. He was suspended indefinitely by Tyrone Willingham last season, and eventually asked for his release, though he never ended up transferring. Savannah asked the new coaching staff if he could return, and they let him. Tailback/receiver Curtis Shaw is also back after leaving last year to return home to California for personal reasons.
Other than Savannah and Shaw, there weren’t any new players on the field Tuesday, but plenty of new looks. On defense, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim spent a lot of time playing defensive tackle as well as defensive end, his position for the past three seasons.
“We’ve got to move him around,” Sarkisian said. “We’re starting him inside right now. He creates a lot of havoc when he’s internal, because he is so quick and because our defense likes to move and slant so much … We’ll see where he goes from here, but I like what he did today when he was inside.”
Across the line of scrimmage, the offensive-line was also a bit different looking than expected. Ben Ossai, who started at left tackle the past three seasons, lined up at left guard with the first-team offense, while Cody Habben, previously the right tackle, moved to left tackle. Ryan Tolar, a guard last season, was the first-team center, with former defensive tackle Senio Kelemete lined up next to him at right guard and redshirt freshman Drew Schaefer at right tackle.
“We’re just trying to be as athletic as we can be, and Ben is obviously a pretty athletic guy, he’s dropped quite a bit of weight,” Sarkisian said. “To bring him inside allows us to stay athletic on the edge and stay athletic on the inside.”
One of that unit’s biggest tasks this season will be keeping Locker healthy for his junior campaign. Locker said his surgically repaired thumb is close to 100 percent, and isn’t affecting his ability to throw.
“It felt pretty good today, felt pretty normal,” Locker said. “I was able to throw the ball down field as much as I could in the past, and I didn’t feel any different today.”
Locker and several of his teammates noted that Tuesday’s practice was more up-tempo than last year. Players also frequently ran from the Husky Stadium field to the near-by practice field for different drills.
“I think we ran 500 yards just running from field to field,” Savannah said. “It’s all good though, we’re in great shape and we’re ready to get after it.”
An energetic coaching staff, especially in-your-face defensive coordinator Nick Holt, seemed to make a good first impression on the players.
“He’s a nut, but I love it,” linebacker Mason Foster said of Holt. “You’ve got to have a guy like that on the team. He’s a great coach, and that’s a coach that everybody wants to play for. He’ll keep you hyped. I love playing for a guy like that.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more on UW sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com/huskiesblog