Spring game: D-line puts up good front
Seattle Times staff reporter
From now until who knows how long into the fall, fans and journalists are going to target the Washington defensive line as a possible reason the Huskies will stop short of their 2002 goals. At least the line gave them a positive impression yesterday in its last appearance until August.
In a spring football game that was disjointed almost by definition, the defensive line showed considerable promise as the Purple team downed the White, 27-17, in front of about 3,000 people. The outcome itself is something of a mirage, in that some players, like No. 2 quarterback Taylor Barton, competed for both teams.
On the field close to the action was UW Coach Rick Neuheisel, who was eyeballing closely the defensive line, considered perhaps the most vulnerable position on the team with the departure of Larry Tripplett and Marcus Roberson.
"Manase Hopoi, Josh Miller, Terry Johnson and Jerome Stevens all made plays today," Neuheisel said. "They made enough plays to make me feel very optimistic."
Many of them were against No. 2 offensive linemen. But the offensive line has been regarded as deep, so it was at least a start for the young defensive guys.
Referring to Tripplett and Roberson, Johnson said, "Those guys handed down a lot of wisdom. We're just trying to carry it on.
"It's coming along well. We've put a lot of pressure on ourselves, knowing those guys left."
Johnson, who has been playing at tackle, was credited with a sack and a half. Hopoi, a partial academic qualifier in 2001, at times dominated from his defensive end position in the first half and had two tackles for loss, one a sack.
"He's a natural football player," Johnson said of the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Hopoi, a product of Sacramento, Calif.
"I think I'm pretty good with my hands," Hopoi said. "I think I can find a weakness of a lineman."
The White team scored first on a blocked punt for a touchdown, a play familiar to Huskies fans who saw Washington get five blocked last year. Neuheisel attributed this one to a breakdown in coaching.
"It should have been communicated to the punt-return team that since we're going against the scout punt team, let's not try to block it," Neuheisel said.
Punter Derek McLaughlin suffered a foot bruise on the block, but it wasn't serious.
Quarterback Cody Pickett was 9 of 16 for 176 yards, throwing to Paul Arnold for a 41-yard touchdown play. But it was largely a day of fits and starts for the offense, partly because it didn't wish to declare itself for the benefit of Michigan, which hosts the Huskies on Aug. 31.
"I thought we were just so-so," offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson said. "I was a little disappointed in the way our No. 1s moved it early. We didn't look as crisp and efficient as we have been."
Pickett now will devote himself to the weight room after an offseason surgical procedure on his separated shoulder. He hasn't been able to lift weights and says he "isn't even close" to his peak in strength or throwing readiness.
"I haven't bench-pressed since USC week (in early October)," Pickett said. "I haven't thrown for four months (when spring drills began), and I don't care if you're healthy or not, you're not going to throw very well."
Williams back in Seattle
Curtis Williams, the UW safety left paralyzed by a hit during the Stanford game in 2000, made his first return to Husky Stadium since the injury. Williams, who turns 24 in six days, now lives in Fresno, Calif., with his older brother David.
"It's just the spring game," he said with a smile. "I'll come back for a real game. Then it will probably be emotional."
His assessment of the Huskies yesterday: "I'm not sure yet. They've got a lot of talent."
Williams was in Seattle for a benefit dinner Thursday night that raised $30,000 for the Curtis Williams Fund.
Robbins to return?
Neuheisel said Justin Robbins, thought lost for possibly the entire 2002 season, could be cleared to play by fall camp.
Robbins, who had four touchdown catches as a true freshman in 2000, sat out last season with a variety of ailments, the last one the most serious. He tore a knee ligament in December during bowl practices.
"There's a reasonable hope he could make it by the start of camp," Neuheisel said, "which would be huge for us."
• Standout wide receiver Reggie Williams likely will see some action on the punt-block team. Neuheisel noted that Michigan receiver Marquise Walker, who hurt the Huskies badly in the season opener, blocked a punt for the Wolverines in that game.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bud Withers can be reached at 206-464-8281 or email@example.com.