Personnel upgrade re-opens crucial portion of Huskies playbook
Months had passed, yet Steve Sarkisian was still full of disdain.
He must have blasted through a mental montage of bad routes, bad blocking and pervasive ineffectiveness from the tight end position last year when asked about the dramatic changes in spring football at the position.
This would almost appear at times as a different offense, Sarkisian said. The reality is weve had these plays, (but) theres no point in putting them in and wasting everybodys time if we couldnt execute them.
The ineptness from the position last season resulted in just six catches from tight ends. In between the hashes was an offensive wasteland for Washington. Simple routes that would have been like bail money for Jake Locker were not available.
Results from the lack of a pass-catching tight end were most evident against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers used their effective nickel defense to squelch any though of a passing game from Washington in the first game by ignoring the middle.
Nebraska defensive backs jammed lilliputian Washington receivers at the line prior to bodying them again just downfield. The Huskers doubled the outside, like so many Washington opponents, leaving the middle to the defensive line and a single linebacker.
Washington made Nebraska pay for this in one series during the first game then again in the Holiday Bowl by running up the wide open middle. Sarkisian also learned his lesson from the first game and stuck with the centered running throughout the night in San Diego.
The anticipation is tight end will go from pitiful to productive this year, ending defenses ability to hang on the edges.
Washington has two large, skilled bodies to spur the turnaround. Redshirt freshman Michael Hartvigson, 6 foot 6, 246 pounds, and true freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 6 foot 6, 250 pounds, each have exploited their size during spring ball. As has Sarkisian.
The tight ends are being used in multiple ways, not the least of which is the throw-it-high-and-hope approach in the red zone or when in trouble. Hartvigson, who lost last season after shoulder surgery, has made tumbling catches during drills. Seferian-Jenkins has risen above defenders multiple times to snatch passes.
Seferian-Jenkins bailed out Nick Montana during one practice, turning a bad decision into a 25-yard gain. Montanas heave was drifting toward the right hash. Seferian-Jenkins boxed out one Washington defender then reached over two others for the completion.
Hes ridiculous, Montana concluded.
Sarkisian expressed the same sentiment in a different way when talking about what benefit both Hartvigson and Seferian-Jenkins bring while making the position functional.
Theyre massive targets, Sarkisian said. Those are the completions you like to get. The get-easy completions, especially on 1st and 10, 2nd and short. Take care of the middle of the field so you cant just focus on the perimeter.
But Hartvigson and Seferian-Jenkins should provide more than ham and eggs. Superlatives are likely.
Washington will be able to pin mismatched defensive personnel because of the multiple abilities of Seferian-Jenkins and Hartvigson, especially when running the no-huddle offense against nickel defense.
If you run a play on third down and you convert and its 1st and 10 again and they were in nickel on the snap before, you can stay in it and you get your big tight end blocking that nickel DB, Sarkisian said.
Teams can also split out each tight end to create another matchup problem, often sending one down the seam. No one did this better in recent memory than Jermaine Gresham at Oklahoma.
Gresham was 6 foot 5, 261 pounds and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash. A basic freak.
Neither Hartvigson or Seferian-Jenkins is on that level, though Seferian-Jenkins is not too far behind, but they still create options similar to Gresham.
In 2008 Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford used the rollout to get Gresham targeted downfield in the Sooners’ blowout of Washington in Husky Stadium.
This was a rollout designed to get the strong-side linebacker to bite on the quarterback run, which is exactly what happened.
Gresham was in the flex position (No. 18 in illustration), with the outside receiver taking up the cornerback. Because the linebacker bit on the run possibility, all Gresham had to do was beat the safety outside to the end zone. Twenty-two yards later, Gresham had his first of two touchdowns on the day.
With Hartvigson and Seferian-Jenkins, Washington can send one down the seam and the second underneath. Dual gifts for a new starting quarterback.
Especially in this stadium on days when it can be windy and rainy and you have those throws right over the middle, it can be a quarterbacks best friend, Sarkisian said.
Each tight end has technical and blocking work to improve, especially in the run game. Footwork and hand placement are evolving nuances for both.
That will come over spring and through fall camp. The presence of Hartvigson and Seferian-Jenkins will at least allow Sarkisian not to skip a chapter in the playbook this year.
Week three at Nebraska will be the first test of that.
Sportspress Northwest’s Doug Farrar contributed to this report.