Long before coach Steve Sarkisian came in for his inaugural regular-season press conference as the Washington Huskies’ football coach on Monday afternoon at the Founders’ Club, he’d already made waves.
Sarkisian firmed up his ever-changing depth charge heading into the opener Saturday against No. 11 Louisiana State.
The biggest shocker came with the reshuffling of the Huskies offensive line:
&bull Ben Ossai has been a left tackle. That is where he spent his first three seasons before Sarkisian and the staff moved him inside last spring to left guard. That is where he spent most of the preseason camp as well.
And as of Monday, that is where he’ll return.
“Part of that (move to left guard) was the idea to get him a little more mentally tough, a little more physically tough. When you go inside and get a view of the 3-technique and the noseguard and the A-gap lifters and run-throughs and different things, it allows you to develop some of that mental and physical toughness,” Sarkisian said.
“It gave him a view of the bigger picture of this thing, that the offensive line isn’t just about one guy. It’s five guys working together and communicating really well together.”
&bull The surprise starter – and it surprised even some members of the offensive line – is junior Gregory Christine, who moves to Ossai’s vacated position.
And very little about fall camp workouts would have revealed such a move since Christine, from Camarillo, Calif., had played with the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 offensive lines as a guard and center.
“I think he’s taken to the coaching of Dan Cozzetto (his position coach),” Sarkisian said. “(Christine) communicates well up front. He’s physical. He’s tough. He’s got a blue-collar attitude, which you love to have from an offensive lineman. And I think he brings a lot of energy up front to our group that our guys feed off of.”
&bull Ryan Tolar, who spent seven games at right tackle last season, and have been moved to center to replace Juan Garcia, is staying there.
&bull Senio Kelemete played on the defensive line last season, and was moved to right guard. He will open there.
&bull Cody Habben made 11 of his 12 starts at right tackle last season. Cozzetto moved him to left tackle in the offseason, but on Monday, he returned to the right side, taking Drew Schaefer’s spot.
“I was sort of shocked. I just found out this morning, too. I don’t know what they were thinking … but I guess whatever they want me to play,” Habben said. “I know Drew will definitely get in … and play a lot.”
Sarkisian shed light on the whole evaluation process, and how the Huskies ended up with the lineup they did.
“We really tried to just go back and evaluate all of fall camp, and not get stuck on the 1s and the 2s and that’s why there was lot of shake-up throughout fall camp. We just wanted to put a lot of different scenarios out there,” Sarkisian said.
“For us, the best opportunity is to get Ossai back at left tackle. Greg Christine has had a tremendous fall camp, and he deserves the opportunity to start at left guard. Tolar has been great at center, Senio has been great at right guard and Cody Habben has had a really good camp, so to be able to push him back over at right tackle is good. Now we get Drew Schaefer, as a redshirt freshman, the opportunity where he doesn’t have to start, but we are going to count on him. He is going to play in this first ballgame.”
The cornerback position opposite Quinton Richardson might be a revolving door. After battling a hip point injury earlier in the fall, Justin Glenn is now dealing with a knee ding, opening the door for others.
As of now, Vonzell McDowell Jr. and Wilson High product Desmond Trufant are listed as the co-starters. Trufant has only practiced with the squad since Aug. 20.
“He’s a natural football player. He’s a guy with great ball skills, he’s got good savvy, he understands the techniques of bump-and-run and (dropback coverage),” Sarkisian said of Trufant. “He’s got a quiet confidence about himself. He’s got the right mentality to be a defensive back, that’s for sure.”
Of the true freshmen, Sarkisian noted that Trufant; receiver James Johnson; defensive ends Talia Crichton and Federal Way High product Andru Pulu; and running back Demitrius Bronson all should see playing time early in the season.
“I’m accustomed to doing that,” the first-year coach said. “From where I was raised (at USC) for the last 7-8 years, that’s what we did. The best players played – if he was a true freshman, he was a true freshman.
“You put him in situations leading up to that point to get him prepared for that moment. A lot of these guys, they’re not going to play every snap, but when they’re out there, we’re going to put them out there to do things they do well so they can get some success, and build more confidence.”
Some other stuff:
&bull Competition will be ongoing. And the position groups that will be targeted are mainly on the defensive side of the ball.
Sarkisian said De’Shon Matthews could make a serious push at time, possibly at Alameda Ta’amu’s expense.
Crichton is already listed as sharing the backup defensive end spot with Kalani Aldrich, and will have an opportunity to seize it.
Reserve middle linebacker Cort Dennison will certainly be in some sort of rotation, and has experience at all the spots. Right now, he’s sharing the No. 2 spot with Trenton Tuiasosopo, a sixth-year senior.
As expected, junior Victor Aiyewa will be in the mix at strong safety. If something happens to free safety Greg Walker, Nate Williams can move there, and Aiyewa would inherit Williams’ position closer to the line of scrimmage.
&bull One of the amusing moments of the afternoon was Sarkisian explaining how easy or difficult he is to live with during a game week?
“I enjoy it. I really do. I want to know what we’re going to do on short yardage on offense and on defense and how we’re going to attack in the red zone or how we’re going to pressure them on third down,” he said. “I love all that stuff – the chess game within the game of football. I love it. I think on game day, I get pretty excited, but we’ve hired a certain type of coach that understands me and can deal with me the way I think they appreciate my intensity and enthusiasm and don’t take it the wrong way.”
Coach, meant your REAL family – wife and three children?
They love it,” Sarkisain said. “They’re all fired up.”
&bull And, lo and behold, Sarkisian has been working on his first pre-game speech to the players and staff for a while.
“Just as you are a kid and you dream of things, as a coach you dream of the first time you’re in the locker room with your team and you dream about that first pregame speech – your best Jim Owens- or Don James- or Knute Rockne-impression you can make,” Sarkisian said “We’ll go in there and do it the right way. Hopefully it will be one that is inspiring to our kids but also real to them.”
Sarkisian would not get specific about the content. Linebacker Donald Butler said knowing his coach, the message will not get lost with the players.
“Actually it’s (going to have) a little bit of everything,” Butler said. “He’s the type of guy who wants to have fun, but come game time, it’s time to get serious. We’ll see, we’ll see.”
&bull Quick-hit tidbits: Huskies linebacker Tim Tucker, a true freshman, is still in NCAA Eligibility Clearinghouse limbo. His return to the team in uncertain. … ESPN college-football analyst Kirk Herbstreit has LSU atop his “Movin’ On Up” list in 2009. … Sarkisian said the UW administration is now working on schedules for 2017 and 2018. … Something out of the wacky and weird – LSU coach Les Miles has hired a sleep expert for the team to deal with the two-hour time change flying to the West Coast.
To see Miles’ transcript from his press conference today, click here.