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No More Free Looks as Huskies Begin Preparation for Opener

Media members get last glimpse during Wednesday's workout.
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Six practices into fall camp, Kalen DeBoer will take his University of Washington football team behind closed doors. 

The new coach let media members watch a week of workouts, but now they'll be limited to post-practice questions as specific systems are installed for the opener.

On Wednesday, the UW team started out in Husky Stadium but halfway through practice was taken to Dempsey Indoor  because of lightning fears all around the area.

In their first day of full contact, the Huskies lost defensive tackle Ulumoo Ale to a leg injury for an undetermined amount of time. The 6-foot-6, 333-pound junior had to be taken away by trainers on a cart. 

With that said, much of DeBoer's starting lineup appears fairly set as the Huskies go underground. Competitive battles remain at running back, linebacker and edge rusher, but there's not much mystery elsewhere.

Barring any unfortunate circumstances, of which he knows all too well, Michael Penix Jr. likely will be the starting quarterback against Kent State. He appears much more comfortable and versatile than the others with a newly installed offense that he's run before at Indiana. 

Overall, the Huskies have impressed their new leader with their football smarts 

"I just feel the football IQ coming in is some of the best I've ever been around," DeBoer said. "That helps us out a lot."

Taj Davis makes a catch with receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard in his orbit.

Taj Davis makes the catch in spite of the distraction presented by receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard. 

DeBoer's best players on each side of the ball will be offensive tackle Jaxson Kirkland and edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui, both hobbled by injuries last season and not anywhere near their best during a lost season in Montlake. If healthy, they would have been selected in the higher rounds of the NFL draft this past April and be in pro training camps.

At 340 pounds, the 6-foot-7 Kirkland is packing 30 more than he played at last season, choosing to carry NFL weight. At 255, the 6-foot-4 ZTF is 23 pounds lighter than he was two seasons ago and 14 pounds heavier than he was in the spring, and seems pleased with the happy medium. 

However, Kirkland has struggled with his health since fall camp began. He was in shorts and a shirt and didn't participate in Wednesday's practice.

"We're just being careful with him," offensive-line coach Scott Huff said of Kirkland. 

The sixth-year senior tackle missed the first real pad-popping for the Huskies, with safety Alex Cook delivering the initial memorable fall camp hit, dumping Jalen McMillan trying to skirt the right end after taking a handoff.

Moments later, the Huskies came up with their most explosive play of the workout — without contact. Rome Odunze took a Dylan Morris pass over the middle and went 86 yards to score as defensive backs Elijah Jackson and Cam Williams inexplicably broke off their coverage and left him wide open. 

Sam Huard came up with a 14-yard TD pass to Westover, who got behind linebacker Carson Bruener and Penix served up a 17-yard scoring toss to Taj Davis, beat safety Vince Nunley to the corner. 

Once the offense is fully ready to unleash itself, the UW, of course, primarily will throw the ball downfield. Yet the Huskies also will use all sorts of gimmicks, such as frequent end-arounds or fly sweeps, specifically with Rome Odunze and Giles Jackson, and direct snaps to the running back, in particular Nebraska transfer Will Nixon if he's deemed ready to play.

Giles Jackson and Lonyatta Alexander Jr. confer at practice.

Giles Jackson and Lonyatta Alexander Jr. confer during practice.

The Huskies have redone their low-performance offensive line of last year with three new starters. This comes after just one previous first-teamer, center Luke Wattenberg, used up his eligibility. So there's been some shuffling among the available bodies.  

Three and a half weeks until the opener, the biggest question mark surrounding this team might be its secondary: will it hold up against a pass-happy team?

No slight to the talent, but the cornerbacks are relatively new to this level. Mishael Powell and Jordan Perryman have replaced Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon, now well-paid NFL rookies, and they need to show they can withstand an offense picking on them. 

Perryman might be the best of the Husky transfer portal pick-ups. Likewise, he looks like an NFL prospect. The UC Davis newcomer runs well, plays physical and exhibits plenty of swagger.

"He's exceeded our expectations," UW defensive-backs coach Juice Brown said.

Other observations from the movie-trailer look that DeBoer presented to the attendant press corps over the past week are as follows.

This wasn't talked about a lot last season, but the Huskies apparently weren't a very good tackling team. The new staff has used every imaginable drill, creatively with an assortment of pads, to make these guys wrap up, to the point of practice exhaustion.

Davon Banks fights off a pad-wielding coach.

Davon Banks fights off a pad-wielding coach. 

Another unusual drill has UW players practicing punt-blocking by rushing supplemental coaches kicking soccer balls at them.

Whether they like it or not, these Huskies are going to like each other. The coach has ended every practice with members of the offense and defense meeting at midfield and shaking hands while complimenting each other. That's called bonding.

While considered players' coaches, DeBoer and his staff haven't hesitated to get after guys making mental mistakes with an urgent, impatient tone. In the middle of practice, the head coach yelled at a veteran safety the other day and it reverberated around Husky Stadium. Always animated receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard didn't spare one of his top pass-catchers from a biting critique. 

It's will be interesting to see if previous UW starters in offensive tackles Victor Curne and Julius Buelow (at guard), safety Cam Williams and running back Richard Newton, all running with the twos or sparingly because of injury, can become steady contributors in the new system. They're older players at a point in their careers where there aren't too many opportunities to become first-teamers again.

Outside of Ale, the Huskies had been remarkably healthy during practice reps. The injured roll call includes starting linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio is still in recovery from a winter-workout knee injury and isn't expected back until well in the season. Newton has been in uniform, but he's been limited in his practice activity. 

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Also, freshman tight end Ryan Otton and redshirt freshman edge rusher Jake Jennings incurred injuries during the first practice and have watched ever since. Freshman defensive tackle Armon Parker and JC linebacker Demario King are hobbled with unknown ailments prior to camp and haven't practiced. 

While a lot can change leading up to the Kent State opener, the lineups most frequently used so far look like this: 

HUSKY TWO-DEEPS

Offense

WR — Rome Odunze, Giles Jackson

WR — Jalen McMillan, Taj Davis

WR — Ja'Lynn Polk, Lonyatta Alexander Jr. 

TE — Devin Culp, Jack Westover

LT — Jaxson Kirkland, Julius Buelow

LG — Troy Fautanu, Nate Kalepo

C — Corey Luciano, Matteo Mele

RG — Henry Bainivalu, Geirean Hatchett

RT — Roger Rosengarten, Victor Curne

QB — Michael Penix Jr., Dylan Morris

RB — Wayne Taulapapa, Cam Davis 

Defense

ER — Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Jeremiah Martin

DT — Tuli Letuligasenoa, Kuao Peihopa

DT — Ulumoo Ale, Voi Tunuufi

ER — Bralen Trice, Sav'ell Smalls

LB — Cam Bright, Carson Bruener

LB — Alphonzo Tuputala, Kris Moll

CB — Jordan Perryman, Davon Banks

CB — Mishael Powell, Elijah Jackson

S — Alex Cook, Cam Williams

S — Asa Turner, Julius Irvin

H — Dom Hampton, Kam Fabiculanan

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