UW receiving corps has overcome injuries
SEATTLE – One of the offensive stars of Saturday’s win over Arizona got hurt at a University of Washington football practice earlier this week, and the Huskies didn’t even blink.
When wide receiver Devin Aguilar walked off the practice field with an apparent concussion, there was no need for panic. The Huskies’ receiving corps had been dealing with injuries all season, and has risen to the challenge time and time again.
At a position that seems to have a new star every week, the Huskies have the kind of depth to weather just about any storm.
“All of us could be that No. 1 guy,” said junior D’Andre Goodwin, who led the team with 60 receptions in 2008 but is part of a more balanced corps this season. “You’ve seen that. Every week, it’s been a different guy.”
UW hasn’t had its full complement of wide receivers since the Sept. 19 USC game. When Aguilar went down with a knee injury three weeks ago, Jermaine Kearse emerged as the big-play target. When Goodwin missed Saturday’s game because of a concussion, Aguilar caught two touchdown passes.
“You don’t know who’s going to be the man of the night,” Kearse said. “Any man can step up and make the play.”
While Goodwin’s 2008 production made him the odds-on favorite to be the top target this season, that role fell to true freshman James Johnson early on.
The San Diego product caught 16 passes in his first three college games, and yet his loud breakout has quieted in recent weeks. In games against Stanford, Notre Dame and Arizona, Johnson has just six receptions and three dropped passes.
“It’s going to be a challenge for me: how do I respond? That’s a question that a lot of people have for me,” said Johnson, adding that he hasn’t noticed a change in how opposing defenses are covering him. “Am I just going to be a freshman and keep that in the back of my mind? Or am I going to let it go?
“I just need to let it go and keep making plays, get back on the grind this week and run those routes more that I had drops on.”
Johnson’s drop in production has been less alarming because of the players that surround him. Kearse has caught 12 passes in the past three games, while Aguilar and tight end Kavario Middleton have also emerged as bigger parts of the offense.
“That’s the best thing about it: it keeps defenses off balance because they don’t know who’s going to have that (big) night,” said Goodwin, who missed the Arizona game with a concussion but is expected to be back on the field against Arizona State on Saturday.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said that competition has fueled the receivers to push each other this season, helping build a deeper corps.
“We talk to our guys about opportunity and competition,” he said. “That’s probably the best example we have for our guys of competition. We have a lot of guys doing a lot of good things there (at the receiver position). The challenge is: how are we going to get each guy in a position to make a play?”
This week looks like another one where the Huskies will be down a man at the position. While head coach Steve Sarkisian said that he expects to have Aguilar available – the sophomore took a blow to the head on Tuesday and returned on a limited basis Thursday – speedster Jordan Polk is out for at least a week or two after tearing some cartilage in his right knee sometime Wednesday night. Sarkisian said that Polk will undergo minor surgery and won’t be available Saturday.