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Monday, September 24, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UW Football

Stevens expected to miss eight weeks

Seattle Times staff reporter

When Jerramy Stevens departed the Washington-Idaho football game Saturday with a broken left foot, it not only stripped the Huskies of their most distinctive offensive weapon, but also presented the program with a challenge the program has rarely faced in the last decade.

UW Coach Rick Neuheisel said yesterday the 6-foot-7 Stevens broke the fifth metatarsal bone when he rolled his foot on the second play of a 53-3 victory. He put the recovery period at eight weeks.

"He's a great player," Washington quarterback Cody Pickett said. "He's a big target with great hands. A lot of our offense revolves around our tight end. It's a loss that really hurts."

On only a handful of occasions in recent times have the Huskies lost a player seemingly so indispensable. While there is depth behind Stevens in Joe Collier, Jon Westra and Kevin Ware, there is no replacing a potential NFL first-round draft choice.

Washington (2-0) traditionally has avoided losing its best players for extended periods, unlike, for instance, UCLA last season.

In 1998, cornerback Jermaine Smith had a knee injury that kept him out of five midseason games. It wasn't that he was a dominant player, but the Huskies were forced to replace him with freshman cornerbacks who weren't ready, resulting in a 6-6 season that ended with Coach Jim Lambright losing his job.

In 1997, the Huskies, with a 7-1 record, lost running back Rashaan Shehee to a knee injury for the final three games. Shehee's absence was clearly felt, but it was the defense that contributed more to a three-game losing streak, allowing 121 points.

Before that, you probably have to go back to Mark Brunell's spring knee injury in 1991 for an injury of major consequence. And that was mitigated by Billy Joe Hobert's emergence and Brunell's fast recovery in the national-title season.

Stevens caught a UW tight-end record 43 passes last year in a second-team All-Pac-10 season. He needs 23 catches to eclipse Mark Bruener's career mark of 90.

He might not get that if he follows through on a preseason statement that he likely will enter the NFL draft next spring.

"I think it's too early to tell," Neuheisel said. "This may cause a change in plans, and for certain, will cause a re-evaluation. We'll just have to wait and see."

These are Stevens' replacements:

• Collier (6-7, 260) is a fifth-year senior from Spokane who has swung between defensive line, offensive tackle and tight end. He has four catches this year for 27 yards after entering the season with three.

• Westra (6-5, 250), from Mesa, Ariz., has two career receptions, both in 1998. A year later, he suffered an early-season knee injury.

• Ware (6-3, 275), a third-year sophomore from suburban Houston, was one of the marquee recruits of Neuheisel's first class at Washington, but has frequently been hurt and last spring declined a chance to move to offensive guard.

Said Collier, "When they call my name, I want to get in there and play and do my best. It sounds like it might be getting called a little more.

"We'll have guys step up, not only me, but the rest of the tight ends and other guys — stepping up and taking more leadership on. I think we'll be fine."

They probably will this week, because they're playing Cal. The Huskies have won 18 in a row in the series dating to 1976, and the Bears (0-3) have started miserably, allowing 44 points or more in each game for the first time in their history.

"They play us extremely tough," said Neuheisel, whose first two Washington teams had to battle from double-digit, second-half deficits to beat Cal. "They've got good players who are going to be back at home. I'm sure the guys who played us the last two years are saying, 'We've let them off the hook. Let's find a way to win this game.' "

The Huskies also lost reserve back Braxton Cleman to a broken clavicle, and Neuheisel said starter Willie Hurst is questionable with a hamstring pull.

Rich Alexis, who added 12-15 pounds and reported to camp near 230 this year, thus may start.

"I'm not sure he's in the best shape he's ever been in," Neuheisel said. "He went 14 straight plays yesterday, had six carries in seven plays, and it really winded him."

Freshman Chris Singleton will get increased work this week because the Huskies pulled him out of a redshirt year Saturday. Fullback Matthias Wilson also may be available at tailback.

Sophomore Justin Robbins, who led UW receivers in touchdown catches last year with four, should return after missing the first two games with a pulled hamstring.

Bud Withers can be reached at 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com.

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