The first kickoff was short. John Ross, Washington’s freshman receiver and return specialist, sprinted 10 yards from the goal line and tried to cradle the ball to his chest.
Instead, it hit off his pads, bounced forward and was recovered by a member of the kickoff-coverage unit for a turnover. On the next kick early in Wednesday’s UW practice, Ross fielded the ball cleanly, followed several blocks to the right and raced into the open — with only a 195-pound kicker and 65 yards of FieldTurf standing between him and the end zone — before the drill was whistled dead.
Such is the make-or-break nature of entrusting a special role with a freshman. Teaching the fundamental duties of a return specialist is akin to taming a wild horse, but UW coach Steve Sarkisian doesn’t have any intentions of caging Ross and his spectacular playmaking potential.
“It’s a fine line with him, because he is a dynamic player,” Sarkisian said Thursday.
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Sarkisian pointed to Ross’ two notable plays from Saturday’s 56-0 victory over Idaho State. Early in the first quarter, Ross fielded a bouncing punt and ran toward the UW sideline for about 40 yards before fumbling.
Then, in the third quarter, he took a short pass from backup quarterback Cyler Miles, scooted toward the sideline, wove around three defenders and raced 57 yards to the end zone.
It was the first of what Sarkisian believes will be many touchdowns in Ross’ career for the Huskies, but he doesn’t want Ross to try to “manufacture” those big plays. He wants the freshman to let them come naturally.
“This guy did so much in training camp and wowed everybody,” Sarkisian said, adding: “We’re trying to tone him down a little bit, but not take away his stinger. Those big plays are going to come.”
Washington hasn’t scored a touchdown on a special-teams return since Louis Rankin’s 89-yard kickoff return against Washington State in 2007. Washington’s last punt return for a touchdown was by Charles Frederick in 2003.
To prepare for the anticipated crowd noise at Husky Stadium for Saturday’s Pac-12 opener against the Huskies, Arizona has been pumping in crowd noise over the loudspeakers during practice this week.
That’s nothing new.
But crying babies?
Indeed, Arizona has played recordings of the UW fight song, barking dogs and, yes, crying babies during practices this week in an attempt to acclimate its players to the noise.
“I anticipate it being nuts,” Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker told the Arizona Daily Star. “We expect that. We’ve been working on silent counts and playing with our speakers and putting in noise. I’ve heard a lot of stories about it. We were talking about it with the teammates that have played in that stadium, and they told me it was probably the loudest place they’ve ever played at.”
Saturday’s forecast calls for a 90 percent chance of rain, so the Wildcats have also been practicing with footballs soaked in water.
Huskies offensive lineman Erik Kohler, out of action since breaking a bone in his foot over the summer, has returned to practice.
“He’s coming along,” Sarkisian said. “Erik’s been on the field practicing and working, which is a positive thing. I don’t think by any means he’s game-shape ready, but he is back on the field practicing.”
Kohler started all 13 games at right tackle in 2011. He started the first two games in 2012 before missing the rest of the season with a knee injury.
• FOX will televise Saturday’s game for a national broadcast and the station will also have its “College Saturday Tour” show broadcasting periodic live shots from the E1 parking lot near Husky Stadium. Fans are encouraged to attend the “tour” with sideline reporter Kristina Pink, starting at 10:30 a.m. and leading up to kickoff at 4 p.m.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @a_jude