How much do you see of a football team when it is not wearing protective gear?
I can tell you one thing you could not see at the Washington Huskies’ first day of football practice, which was conducted, per NCAA rules, without pads. What was notably invisible?
Flab. That’s right flab.
Defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu is a 330-pound defensive tackle. True, I haven’t seen the kid in person for more than a year but I can honestly say the biggun’ from Rainier Beach is a, er, svelte 330 pounds. Where did that guy’s gut go?! I’m guessing into some invisible vacuum in Ivan Lewis’ imagination.
Center Ryan Tolar — who I interviewed in Pasco when he was a sophomore — had a baby-fat look about his face. Trust me, I’m not calling this brute “fat,” but that’s how he always looked. Tolar hasn’t just “grown up,” but he — at 296 pounds — has slimmed down in the face, the neck, and about the gut.
I was noticing this “what is missing” phenomenon at Husky Stadium this afternoon when former Huskies coach Dick Baird gasped about the weight Semisi Tokolahi has misplaced. I never got to see Tokolahi in person as the P-I had closed shop before he came to the mainland from Hilo, Hawaii in 2009. But Baird was going nuts over the transformation.
At the beginning of camp every August there is so much enthusiasm and excitement that we all seem to forget just how “big,” “muscular,” “cut,” “in shape” the players are. But with a “been gone for a year” objectivity here is what I know to be true: The Huskies remarkably better looking than they were at the end of 2008.
* * *
Everyone wanted to see Josh Shirley, the freshman phenom fresh off of getting released from his scholarship at UCLA. Shirley immediately endeared himself to me by wearing No. 22, my old softball digits. However, if he really is the 225 pounds at which he is listed, I’ll be surprised.
Shirley is small — as Elise Woodward of KJR-AM said when we spotted him, “His legs are as big as mine!” Yes, his calves and ankles are really tiny; like, wide receiver tiny! But, as Coach Baird quipped, “It doesn’t really matter if he runs a 4.4 or 4.5 from the end.”
I’d just be surprised to see him playing end sooner than later because of that lack of size.
* * *
Don’t count out Will Shamburger.
The redshirt freshman ran with the first-team defense quite a bit today at one of the safety positions with senior Nate Williams.
I don’t think Shamburger is the world’s fastest safety, but his head and hips were on the same swivel. His instincts are really good, his aggression obvious, and I just got a feeling about him.
* * *
Chris Izbicki has to be thrilled to be into the Steve Sarkisian era and out of the Tyrone Willingham days.
Izbicki, who becomes the team’s No. 1 tight end with the dismissal of Kavario Middleton, seems to summoning his inner Jeremy Shockey. (Side note: Coach Baird may be going for the Jimmy Buffet look; he and Izbicki both have flowing locks now.)
Remember, Willingham was a no-hair-near-the-shoulders kind of coach and Izbicki, after a much-publicized incident at the White River Amphitheater, was perennially in the dog house.
Last season, the Lake Washington High product played in all 12 games and started five — all when the team was in a two-tight end set. He has just three receptions, though one was for a touchdown.
While Izbicki doesn’t have the softest hands, his blocking had gotten considerably better. He also looked wildly competitive on the first day of practice on this gloomy Monday.
The Huskies simply need Izbicki to have a solid, serviceable season. If he can ward off the pressure and play intelligently and loosely, he should have that kind of season.
If he overachieves, even better.
If not, the Huskies have redshirt freshman Marlion Bennett and, uh, yeah… Honestly, that’s about it outside of true freshman Michael Hartvigson, who is an absolute physical specimen from Bothell High.
So, this job is truly Izbicki’s to grab and run with. Grab and run? Watch Shockey for examples.
* * *
Speaking of tight ends . . . Gig Harbor High’s senior Austin Seferian-Jenkins was at practice — just days after his official visit to Texas.
I had never seen Seferian-Jenkins in person.
One word: WHOA!
First, if the Huskies land a national recruit away from Texas, AWESOME. Second, if the Huskies keep this mammoth young man at home, EVEN BETTER. Third, if Seferian-Jenkins stays, the Huskies get that much better.
Seferian-Jenkins is set to make his oral commitment at 6:30 p.m. PT, Aug. 16 at the Gig Harbor Yacht Club.
Hey, it’s a good sign for UW fans that he isn’t making the announcement at the Driskell Hotel.
* * *
Today marked the first time I saw the following players in action in person. The partial list and my initial thoughts:
* RB Deontae Cooper: This kid looks as natural running the ball as anyone I’ve seen in purple and gold. He is seamless, fluid, beautiful even. Yes, there were no pads thus no tackling, but Cooper changed directions on a dime and even eluded some touch-tackles. He is fast, but his fluidity and ease were more impressive than his speed. A Chris Polk-Deontae Cooper punch could be painful for opponents.
* QB Keith Price: Price has the uncomfortable position of being sandwiched between “The Savior” and “The Son.” But he seems to have some serious physical gifts and a head on his shoulders. He is ready to compete and showed that today. In his first series of 11-of-11, he did not complete a pass. (It wasn’t all his fault.) But, he clearly was ready for what was thrown at him. He seemed to know the options, anticipate pressure, and stayed cool. He settled in and did a nice job. Price isn’t huge, but he is athletic and looked solid.
* QB Nick Montana: Otherwise known as “The Son.” Yes, Joe Montana’s offspring has an arm on him — he showed it off with about a 50-yard dart to D’Andre Goodwin. Montana clearly has an edge on the mental aspect of the game and a nice natural instinct. But, truth be told, Montana looks like a freshman. I’m shocked if he is really all of 6-foot-3 and 191 pounds (especially the listed height.)
* S Sean Parker: Parker ran with the second-team defense. He is a true freshman and where he fits in is yet to be determined, but he sure looks like a football player. (How’s that for specific and scientific!) I am anxious to see that kid play with his pads on.
* WR Kevin Smith: Nice footwork. Nice size. Crisp routes (especially for a true freshman!) Where did this kid come from? Wow. Really impressive. He is a true freshman that is likely to make an impact on the field.
* * *
Jake Locker plays best with the field before him and opponents coming after him. Locker looked rusty today. But, he usually does in exhibitions like the spring game, practices without pads, etc.
When the curtain is pulled back and the audience roars, there is no one more exciting to watch. Shoot, I can’t wait for Sept. 4.
* * *
Lastly, there were two offensive players that look like different people to me: Johri Fogerson and Demitrius Bronson.
The backfield looks like it will be a crowded place, but I hope these two can find a spot in it. They look like they have worked hard and deserve it.
* * *
Former Bellevue High standout Stephen Schilling was voted by the Michigan Wolverines as one of two team captains today, UM coach Rich Rodriguez tweeted today.
Congrats to the Big Schill.
* * *
Also, Ohio University’s football team got started with its first football practice, as well. Good luck to all the Bobcats, but namely to the tight ends and their fearless leader, coach Brian Haines.