By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
@Normal:SEATTLE — While the jury is still out on where Jake Locker might rank on the list of University of Washington quarterbacks, the Huskies made certain to have an all-time great on the practice field this camp.
Marques Tuiasosopo, whose eight-year NFL career might be over after he was not invited to a training camp, has joined the UW football team as an assistant in the weight room. While Tuiasosopo cannot coach the Husky quarterbacks because he’s not part of the official coaching staff, he is able to attend practices and shout words of encouragement.
“He’s got a presence,” UW head coach Steve Sarkisian said after the Huskies opened their fall training camp Monday. “He can be a great motivator because he’s been a championship player in this program. To be around a guy like that, it’s exciting.”
Locker, a junior who has not lived up to his pre-college hype thus far, said that he welcomes Tuiasosopo’s presence on the practice field.
“Obviously, he’s one of the best players to ever play here,” Locker said. “So to have him around … He understands the game and relates to us well.” Tuiasosopo spent the 2008 season as a backup with the Oakland Raiders, his second stint with that team after one season with the New York Jets in 2007. He went unsigned in the spring and summer, and so the 30-year-old took Sarkisian up on an offer to work in the UW weight room.
“If I’m not going to be able to play right now, at least I’m around football,” Tuiasosopo said. “I can lift, stay in shape and work out any way I can.”
The Woodinville native said that he is looking at coaching as a future option, but returning to the NFL is his priority. Until then, Tuiasosopo is happy to be back where he made a name for himself.
“It feels great to be here,” said Tuiasosopo, who led the Huskies to the Rose Bowl after the 2000 season. “I love this place. I had a great time and played with a lot of great guys here. To be back here is like a dream come true.”
So why did he decide to come back?
“You can only sit on the couch for so long,” he said. “You’ve got to have something to do.”
As a true freshman, wide receiver James Johnson was unable to take part in spring practices. So Monday marked his first day in a UW uniform, and he made the most of it.
The freshman from Valley Center, Calif., opened some eyes with several nice catches.
“He worked hard in the summer, got familiar enough with the offense to be able to work himself in, and he was productive today,” Locker said after Monday’s practice. “Hopefully he can keep it up.”
Johnson is currently buried on the depth chart behind young returning players like D’Andre Goodwin, Jordan Polk, Jermaine Kearse and Anthony Boyles, but he could make a push for playing time if his practices continue at the same pace.
A small fight broke out midway through practice, involving several players.
But Sarkisian and his staff were quick to break it up. Shortly thereafter, the Huskies’ new head coach grabbed defensive lineman Nick Wood by the jersey and verbally reprimanded the sophomore for his role in the fracas.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant is not practicing this week because he’s trying to make up a high school class that was not accepted by the NCAA clearinghouse. Sarkisian said that Trufant is a “smart kid” who got caught up in a technicality, adding that the freshman cornerback could be eligible as soon as next week. … Also missing practice were defensive lineman Chris Robinson, safety Will Shamburger and running back Brandon Yakaboski. All three players are nursing knee injuries. Sarkisian said that Robinson is the only player from that group expected back at some point this camp. … The Huskies will continue to practice in shorts throughout the week, then don the pads for Saturday’s two practice sessions.