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 one.
“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 last 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, the starting left tackle the last 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 taking a shot 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.
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..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.”