BY Todd Dybas 08:31PM 03/29/2011

Huskies’ Shirley gets chance in the end

Huskies’ speed rusher comes into spring ball fighting for playing time after landing at Washington following his dismissal from UCLA last summer.

Washington defensive end Josh Shirley will get his chance on the field this year. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Even with Daniel Te’o-Nesheim plowing his way into the Washington record books as the all-time sacks leader, the Huskies have been in dire need of a pass rush.

Two years ago? Beyond Te’o-Nesheim, nothing. It’s actually stunning he made it to the record considering opposing offenses treated his fellow linemen like lepers, choosing to swarm the charging and spinning Te’o-Nesheim.

Last year? Better. But better like a four is better than a two on a 1-10 scale.

In two chances to talk the past two days, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian explained the necessity of a better pass rush. Enter Josh Shirley.

Despite desperate times for a thin defensive line by the end of last season, the Huskies were able to keep Shirley off the field and redshirt him. It also kept him from having to answer questions about his dismissal from UCLA last summer after being arrested on suspicion of stealing a purse.

Shirley and two other Bruins teammates faced felony charges for allegedly stealing a female student’s backpack that contained about $1,200 worth of contents, according to the Los Angeles Times.

After Shirley was dismissed from UCLA, he was not allowed an opportunity to return to the school until January had he chosen to do so. He arrived at Washington. The Huskies had been after him out of high school, but lost out to old friend Rick Neuheisel.

Shirley last fall was lost in his first days at practice. This year, he’s more situated. He says school is going well, he knows the plays, and feels more comfortable. He also politely declines to say anything about his UCLA situation.

“I’m just happy that I’m here now,” Shirley said. “I just want to leave all that back in L.A. where it was.”

Shirley is lanky, fit, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds. There is moderate concern whether the redshirt freshman is built for the long haul.

“He’s really strong for his weight,” defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “He can hold up, you just have to make sure you do things where he can get on the edge a little bit more and cover him up.”

There is no concern about him being built for speed. With the advantage of no pads Tuesday, he zipped around Washington offensive linemen throughout various drills.

“He’s playing fast, he knows his assignments,” Holt said. “Hopefully if you ask me the same question in two weeks, I’ll have a good answer for you that he’s really come around.“

Holt and Sarkisian have tempered their assessments of Shirley a bit. Holt now labels Shirley as someone who can be a “real solid player.”

Sarkisian was a little more enthused.

“I think he’s got some special qualities rushing the passer, which is much needed for us,” Sarkisian said.

Shirley’s past actually helped him have a future with Washington. Sarkisian’s crew had been after him so hard, they already delved into his family history and vetted him. That, Sarkisian says, was assurance enough to him that the UCLA incident was not the norm for Shirley.

“Sometimes we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and with the wrong people,” Sarkisian said, “and that’s not necessarily indicative of who we are as people.”

Shirley is expected to play with at least the second-teamers. It will be up to him to hold up, on the field and off.


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