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‘A little bit of give-and-take, every single day’: UW’s running game starts to come together

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Pleasant

Kamari Pleasant sheds a tackle during last season's Spring Preview. Pleasant and redshirt freshman Richard Newton present interesting options at tailback this season after the departure of Myles Gaskin. 

With the Spring Preview due up this coming Saturday — marking the end of the official spring season — Washington had one last practice open to the media Wednesday morning.

And while the defense, as always, is the side of the ball making the most headlines and projections, the offense — particularly the running game — continued to come together in team periods.

“I think it’s a little bit of give-and-take, every single day,” tight ends coach Jordan Paopao said. “Even the days we didn’t do things well, you try to take a couple learning lessons and apply them to the next day’s practice. Ultimately, that’s what you hope to see: gradual improvement over the course of time.”

Beyond the team-wide 11-on-11 competition, the Huskies spent plenty of time in 9-on-7 drills, matching the defense’s front seven up against the offensive line, tight ends, a quarterback, and a running back.

Backed up in the shadow of their own end zone and with special teams players pretending to be wide receivers, there wasn’t any subtlety about what the offense was doing. But more times than not, the tailbacks took the handoff and found a hole, leaving the offensive side in purple the ones cheering.

“I think we’ve got some tight ends that are able to move and operate with our offensive linemen,” Paopao said. “We’ve got some good defensive looks too. So to be able to get a little bit of movement, especially in our 9-on-7 drill, is always encouraging. We just have running backs who are running the ball pretty tough, and getting those tough yards as well.”

Even leaving out the pre-snap reads the quarterbacks have to make, the run game requires three different offensive rooms to come together, and this year, those three rooms are in different places.

The offensive line is perhaps more experienced than it has been in recent springs. With a starting line today from left to right of Trey Adams, Luke Wattenberg, Nick Harris, Jaxson Kirkland, and Jared Hilbers, the Huskies put a combined 106 starts on their line.

“They’ve been doing a good job,” offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said. “It’s a group that’s played a lot of snaps. They certainly start our offense with their physicality.”

Meanwhile, the tight end room has added some new faces to its corp. Most notably is redshirt freshman Jackson Sirmon, recruited as a middle linebacker, who has switched to the offense regularly this spring, donning a purple pullover over his white practice jersey and taken snaps at fullback.

“He’s the kind of kid we just want on the field,” Paopao said. “For him to get a couple reps in the spring, try and see what he can do a little bit, it’s been good for him to show a little position versatility.”

Running behind the blockers is a group of tailbacks, who despite having plenty of experience among them, have to deal with the obvious lack of Myles Gaskin this season. Junior Kamari Pleasant took the first reps in the short-yardage 9-on-7 drill, but the rest of group, including redshirt freshman Richard Newton is getting back into the swing of live plays.

“With some of the young guys… we might miss a hole here and there,” running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said. “But I do think these guys are getting a good feel for patience, what it means to change direction, what it means to press the line of scrimmage. I think it is coming together.”

Other notes

- The UW defense came away with five total takeaways on the morning, beginning with one fumble in the 9-on-7 portion of practice, recovered by Kyler Manu. Three came on Jake Haener interceptions. Elijah Molden and Myles Bryant picked off the junior quarterback in 7-on-7 drills, and Kyler Gordon dove to haul in a deflected throw in 11-on-11s. The most controversial play of the day came during the final session of 11-on-11 drills, when redshirt freshman Jacob Sirmon found Chico McClatcher on a curl route just outside of the end zone. McClatcher turned to dive across the goalline, and had the ball stripped away as he went to ground. The offense wanted a touchdown, the defense had the ball, and the referee ruled McClatcher down, but the airhorn sounded, giving the play to the defense.

- Jacob Eason had maybe the prettiest throw of the spring thus far, hitting Andre Baccellia on a 60-yard bomb down the right sideline for a touchdown.

Reach Sports Editor Josh Kirshenbaum at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @J_Kirshenbaum

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