By John Sleeper
SEATTLE – If the idea was to spring Reggie Williams on Michigan on opening day as a surprise, that strategy went out the window Saturday.
In the Washington Huskies’ first scrimmage of fall camp, Williams, a hotly recruited freshman wideout from Lakes High School, was noticeable to the point of being obnoxious with his speed, strength, size, ability to get open and those hellacious hands.
“He’s the real deal,” UW backup quarterback Taylor Barton said.
Williams, a 6-foot-4 human mismatch, was the go-to guy for both Barton and starter Cody Pickett. He caught four passes for 70 yards, including a fine, leaping catch with a cornerback hanging all over him that went for 30 yards.
“To be that athletic and that tall and have those big hands, it’s just like Jerramy (Stevens) at tight end,” Barton said. “You can just drop back and throw the ball up in the air and if anybody comes down with it, it’s going to be your guy.”
Williams wowed a small crowd (which, no doubt, included scouts from more than a few UW opponents this year) at Husky Stadium. Even the threat of Williams out there drew special attention from safeties, who tried in vain to help cornerbacks in coverage.
Even his mental game proved highly developed, rare for a freshman who hasn’t played a down of major-college football. On one play, he read that the defense was going to blitz, so he properly adjusted his route to a shorter slant and caught one from Pickett.
“He’s exceeded expectations in terms of how quickly he’s learned the offense,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “He is a very, very bright young man and obviously very gifted. If he continues to work in the same capacity, he’s going to get to play a lot.”
Indeed, it seems very little will keep Williams off the field this season. No one questioned his physical attributes – at 6-4, 215 pounds, he looks anything but the teen-ager he is – but the mental part of Williams’ game is advanced beyond expectations.
“I don’t think I’m all the way there yet, but I’m finding that I don’t have to think so much when I get to the line,” Williams said. “I already know what I’m doing, so I know I’m learning the offense a whole lot better now. I can just go out there and play.”
Overall, Neuheisel gave the team passing grades, although penalties and an offense that sputtered at times were troublesome.
After Pickett engineered an eight-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ended with a 6-yard TD by tailback Willie Hurst, the offense was inconsistent, although that may have been due to the defense making the necessary adjustments.
“You get up there and everybody’s tight and everybody’s trying to hit somebody,” defensive tackle Larry Tripplett said of the first series. “When you do that, you can’t lose your composure. Everybody’s so eager to make plays that they miss plays. They miss doing their jobs, then you have a big play.”
The first-team offense showed promise, with Hurst and Rich Alexis sharing tailback duties. Alexis ran for 29 yards on eight carries, while Hurst went 25 yards on three carries. Both scored a touchdown.
Pickett was 6-for-12 passing for 62 yards and a touchdown. Barton, playing mainly with reserves, was 9-for-20 for 132 yards and a touchdown. He also had three interceptions.
Defensive standouts included outside linebacker Zach Tuiasosopo (four tackles, a sack), cornerback Sam Cunningham (seven tackles, four unassisted, one for loss), inside linebacker Tim Galloway (six tackles, two for loss) and freshman inside linebacker Joseph Lobendahn (eight tackles, one for loss).
“It was a good scrimmage from the standpoint that we ran a lot of plays and got a lot of things on film,” Neuheisel said. “We competed fairly well and didn’t get anybody hurt. Certainly, there are things on both sides of the ball that are going to get corrected and need to get corrected in a hurry if we want to be where we all want to be.”
Cooper on move: Sophomore inside linebacker Marquis Cooper, who played outside linebacker last year, had a fine day Saturday, continuing what has been a very good camp for him. He is pushing starters Jamaun Willis and Ben Mahdavi for a starting spot because of his speed and nose for the ball.
“I think throughout camp, he’s been a real special player,” defensive coordinator Tim Hundley said. “He’s real active with his feet. He really paces the ball, sorts it out and finds it. He’s seldom behind, chasing the ball. He always seems to be able to sort the ball out. God, that’s a hard thing to teach.”
Cooper had four tackles Saturday, two unassisted, picked off one pass and batted down another.
Ex-Ferndale star shines: Matthias Wilson, a little-used junior from Ferndale, made a strong bid for the starting fullback position, getting the most work of anyone.
Wilson carried twice for 16 yards (his longest run was a 16-yarder), but drew kudos among coaches for his blocking.
“I thought Matthias Wilson did some great things at fullback,” Neuheisel said.
Wilson is competing against Spencer Marona, a converted defensive lineman; Ken Walker, who sat out the scrimmage because of a hamstring pull; and John Hart, a senior who has seen little playing time.
Offensive line struggles: The Huskies’ inexperienced offensive line struggled, but Hundley’s defense threw various stunts, blitz packages and safety crashes at them. In other words, they couldn’t catch a break.
“They threw a lot of stuff at us, but it’s not anything we haven’t seen,” said center Kyle Benn, the only returning starter. “The mistakes we made are disappointing, but they always happen and it’s something we’re going to have to look at on film and learn from.”
Pickett was more kind.
“I feel real confident with our o-line,” he said. “Early on, they’re going to make mistakes. I’m going to make mistakes. That’s just part of being a young team. We just have to be careful about not making mistakes, but I feel very confident in my o-line.”
Short routes: Placekicker John Anderson hit all three of his field-goal attempts, from 36, 38 and 49 yards … Wideout Paul Arnold caught three passes for 49 yards and returned a kickoff 999 yards for a TD … Punter Derek McLaughlin averaged 51.3 yards a punt, including one that went 60 yards on the fly … Receiver Matt DeBord concluded the day with a 58-yard TD catch from Joel Deis … After a day off today, the Huskies resume two-a-days Monday and have another scrimmage Thursday. That scrimmage is closed to the public. Washington starts its preparation for the Michigan game by Tuesday or Wednesday, Neuheisel said.