As spring practices start to wind down, the Husky offense is heating up. Practice number 12 saw the passing game look more efficient then it has all spring. Jake Locker and Ronnie Fouch took the reins of the offense, appearing comfortable as they marched them up and down the field.
The day was capped off by Erik Folk's 31-yard 'winning' field goal, but it was the consistent play by the quarterbacks and recievers that had head coach Steve Sarkisian talking.
"Our kids played well," he explained. "The quarterbacks continue to get better. Their rhythm in the passing game and the system keeps coming. The timing with the quarterbacks has gotten so much better with the wide outs. And our receivers made some tough catches. They used good body control and they went up and got some of the tough catches that created some of the big plays."
In the seven-on-seven drill, Fouch hooked up with Jermaine Kearse for 15 yards, then hit tight end Ben Hayes for a 65-yard touchdown. He continued his hot hand during the 11-on-11 drills, connecting with Cody Bruns for a 50-yard gain, then found Jordan Polk in the corner of the endzone for a 37-yard touchdown. He also showed off his running ability, rushing for over 20 yards on a broken down play.
However, this was Locker's day to shine. He found Tony Chidiac during seven-on-seven drills for a 30-yard reception to the one-yard line. Then he hit Devin Aguilar for nearly 20 yards, and later Kearse for a 25-yard touchdown. He didn't slow down in the live scrimmage, as he found Chris Izbicki for multiple positive gains. Locker again connected with Chidiac for a first down, Aguilar on a crossing route for nearly 20 yards, and Kearse for 40 yards on a comeback route. But it was J. Polk who made the catch of the day. Polk beat Mason Foster on seam route, but the pass from Locker was a bit under-thrown. No problem; as Polk just leaped and adjusted in mid air, pulling down the 35-yard pass.
Locker looked more comfortable then he has all spring, and appears to be making great strides in his short time under Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
"He's playing at a really high level right now and I just expect him to continue and grow," Sarkisian said of Locker. "From the mid point of spring until now I know he has grown quite a bit. His comfort level with the terminology, his comfort level with his progressions, his comfort level when things aren't there to pull the ball down and run. His accuracy has gotten better and I just think his overall game has increased."
"He's trying really hard," he continued. "He's trying to adjust to the things coach Nussmeier has asked him to from his footwork and release standpoint, and I think it's starting to make sense as to why now, and you are seeing his accuracy being elevated."
The defense did have some moments, and linebacker Mason Foster continues to show why he was one of the best linebackers in the Pac-10 last season. He was disrupting force all practice, and even got his hands on a pass while blitzing Locker.
"He's been a factor, Sark said of Foster. "Mason has really found a comfort level, especially coming off the edge when he's pass rushing. He's also done a nice job in the run game, and he's playing faster. He's a talented kid with a great physique, and he can really run around. Now he's starting to play like the guy he looks like. It's a tribute to coach Cox and his coaching. He's been hard on Mason because he know his potential and I think it's really starting to show up for him."
Only two more practices remain before Saturday's spring practice, and the offense seems to be really hitting their stride.
Despite starting all of last season at wide receiver, the big bodied athlete has made the switch to defense and was running with the second unit today.
"We have four practices left, and he's been limited coming off of knee injury, and we just wanted to get some film of him on that side of the ball," said Sarkisian of the move. "Instead of waiting until fall camp, lets get it on film now in spring so we can get a better evaluation of him. There is a little more opportunity at the safety spot then there is at the wide receiver spot right now. He wants to play, and he wants to do what ever he can to get on the field and we will give him that opportunity."
"We would love to have him on defense, and it's unfortunate we only have three more days with him, but I'm glad we got him moved now so he can get a couple more practices before summer," defensive coordinator Nick Holt added. "But you just look at him and he's a big kid, he runs pretty good, and I think in time he will develop into a good football player. I'm glad we have him."
"He's a good athlete, he wants to play, he cares about football, and we don't want him to get lost in the depth chart at receiver," Holt continued. "It's not that he couldn't be a good receiver, but there are some other guys, and he's been out. So lets move him to defense and try to get some more athlete on the back end."
Everrette Thompson was wearing a cast on his left foot and will be out the rest of spring.
"He's just a cracked bone in there [foot]," said Sarkisian. "He probably could have fought through it and waited until after spring, but we are ok there, so lets just get him fixed and ready for fall camp."
"EJ is such a playmaker and it's not that he does everything pin-point right every time, he's just a playmaker. He gets to the ball, gets his hands on the ball, creates havoc in the backfield, he's a tremendous blitzer, so that part you notice isn't there. It's not that the other guys don't play sound football, but you lose a little bit of that playmaking ability."
"We are just rolling guys through, and giving them shots to play against certain guys," Sark said of the offensive line. Seeing Ryan Tolar at guard when he has to play against Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. We will roll them and they will rotate and it will probably be something different on Wednesday. We are just trying to get as much information as we can."
Running away from the pack:
No one has seperated themselves at running back this spring, and Sark expects the battle to wage on until fall.
"Things are slowly starting to sort themselves out," Sarkisian said. "We're not trying to rush to any decisions. We don't need to. That thing is going to carry on into fall camp."
Former Trojan in town:
Former Trojan Mark Sanchez has been rumored as a possible option for the Seattle Seahawks with the fourth pick of the NFL Draft. Sarkisian admitted he's been contacted by most of the NFL to enquire about Sanchez.
"Mark will be a fantastic pro," he said. "Mark will be a fantastic pro. He's extremely bright. He's a tremendous leader. He brings a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy to the football team. Nobody works harder on and off the field from a preparation standpoint. The greatest thing he brings is the person that he is. If Seattle is lucky enough to get him, from a community standpoint I know they'll really embrace him."
Richardson went down:
Starting cornerback Quinton Richardson was injured during the scrimmage and stayed down for a long time. He finally sat up, but was in visible pain and grabbing his neck. Sark said he doesn't know what was wrong yet.