What we have learned from the first nine practices of spring ball:
Josh Shirley, impressive. Coaches thought the redshirt freshman speed rusher was playing an advantage early when the team was not practicing in pads. Wait for full gear, they explained. Pads or not, Shirley has been blowing by linemen, which he showed again Saturday. Hes even shown some feistiness, albeit not in an intelligent way. During a one-on-one drill earlier this spring, Shirley got into a shoving match with one offensive lineman, then another. He removed his helmet, a football players best defense, and swung it. Not a good idea. Outside of that, Shirleys wheels are as expected. Perhaps better.
How important Senio Kelemete is. The starting left tackle popped his aching plantar fascia last week in practice. Steve Sarkisian said this would allow Kelemete to fully heal. Washington better hope so. Left tackle has been a mess since Kelemete was taken out. Erik Kohler has struggled in the time he has received in the spot since Kelemete was shelved and the offensive line as a whole has been controlled by the defensive line. Without Kelemete, the Huskies become extremely young across the offensive line.
There are questions at linebacker. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt said Thursday the team was still searching for answers at linebacker. He was irritated because outside of Cort Dennison, an obvious starter and captain, other linebackers have not distinguished themselves. Garret Gilliland appears the leader at weakside linebacker, but even if he is competent, it will me a massive drop-off from Mason Foster. The third linebacker spot is open. All three will be challenged anytime they have to drop into coverage. That layer of defense has gone from strength to issue.
Answers at cornerback. Quietly, Quinton Richardson and Desmond Trufant have each excelled this spring. Richardson evolved from embarrassment to above-average by the end of last season. He became more physical with his hits, more intelligent with his coverage. Trufant struggled much of last season, too. The big season expected following a high-end freshman effort didnt come. Trufant continues to work technique after practice and has been around the ball a lot in the spring. Allowing the corners to operate alone gives Holt a chance to scheme compensation elsewhere.
Versatility at fullback. For the past two years, fullbacks Paul Homer and Austin Sylvester were silent partners of the Washington offense. They were there to block. Tight end was zero-dimensional, but fullback was little better at one-dimensional. To their credit, each helped Chris Polk rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. This year, Zach Fogerson brings options. Hell be able to carry the ball and run routes. In short-yardage situations, Washington can bulk up in front with two tight ends and make Fogerson the lead back. The Huskies will be able to script plays for the fullback. Thats a significant improvement for the overall offense and Polks longevity.