Huskies learn how much they miss linebacker Foster
SEATTLE – After losing the most important player on the field to the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft, the University of Washington football team looked like its most pressing issue coming into the 2011 season would be how to replace quarterback Jake Locker.
That, it turns out, has been the easy part.
What the Huskies did not necessarily foresee was just how hard it would be to find the next Mason Foster. The playmaking outside linebacker was never underappreciated while at UW, but his worth has become more apparent now that he’s gone.
“I appreciated him Sunday when I looked at the stats and he had however-many tackles and a sack in the NFL,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said this week. “He’s a great player. We knew that here, and we knew the impact of what he had on our football team, without a doubt.”
Foster, who is starting for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, averaged 12.6 tackles per game while ranking second in the nation with 151 total tackles as a senior. Through the first three games of the post-Foster era, starting outside linebackers Princeton Fuimaono and Johnny Timu have 14 total tackles between them.
The duo combined for one solo tackle and four assists against run-happy Nebraska last Saturday, while free safety Justin Glenn had 15 tackles in the loss. That’s not a recipe for success in the How-To-Stop-the-Run cookbook.
“As linebackers, we’ll take it upon us because we have to stop the run first,” said Timu, a true freshman who has been at UW since January and has started all three games in which he’s played. “Being young is not an excuse. We’ve just got to practice hard throughout the week to get better. … We’re thinking too much, but we’ve got to get rid of that habit. We have to trust in our coaches and just go.”
Youth is the most obvious excuse, as the pair had a combined one collegiate start between them heading into this season. Sarkisian said that he didn’t know what to expect from the former high school teammates this season, but it’s apparent he wasn’t expecting either of them to immediately become the next Foster.
“There was so much unknown with those kids,” he said this week. “You don’t know. It’s the same as all of our young players. Some of them can adapt and play to the level of the game that’s necessary to really be effective and productive, and other guys it just takes a little time.
“I think Johnny and Princeton have had some moments when they’ve really done some nice things, and other moments when they haven’t been as good. But that’s part of being a young player.”
Defensive coordinator Nick Holt was more succinct about his new outside linebackers.
“Getting better,” he said when asked about Timu and Fuimaono this week. “They are just young, but getting better.”
As the weakside linebacker, Fuimaono is the one who stepped into Foster’s position. While Foster never had fewer than nine tackles in a game last season, Fuimaono had a career-best six in the opener and has had just two since then.
“That’s some big shoes to fill,” Fuimaono said of Foster, who mentored him during Fuimaono’s freshman year last fall. “What Mason did last year was big, and I’ve got to improve. Mason was a very experienced guy who knows this defense well. I’ve just got to go in, know my keys and just play fast.”
Foster was at times a one-man wrecking crew on the UW defense last fall. He had a nose for the football the Huskies hadn’t seen in years – maybe decades.
Quarterback Keith Price (knee) took almost all the snaps with the No. 1 offense during Thursday’s practice, and all indications are that he’ll start Saturday against Cal. … Sarkisian said safety Nate Fellner (hamstring) is likely to return to action Saturday, although Justin Glenn will start at free safety. … Cornerback Quinton Richardson suffered a minor injury at Thursday’s practice and watched most of the session from the sidelines, but Sarkisian said he’ll be available Saturday. The injury was not related to the ankle problem that sidelined Richardson for the season opener.