It was somewhere on the Puget Sound during a team-bonding outing on an Argosy Cruise ship in late August when Washington coach Steve Sarkisian noticed something different about John Ross.
Sarkisian was pleasantly surprised to find his touted freshman wide receiver sitting away from the rest of his teammates, studying UW’s playbook on his iPad.
It was also around that time when defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox first floated the idea about Ross helping out on defense. Last week, with the Huskies preparing to face the nation’s top passing quarterback, Wilcox got his way.
Ross, wearing a new jersey number (11), appeared for the first time as a defensive back for the Huskies in their 69-27 rout of Oregon State late Saturday, only a few days after he first practiced on defense. In just two days, Wilcox said, Ross picked up the defensive concepts.
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“I had a great time,” Ross said.
Ross also returned the opening kickoff 62 yards and had one reception as a slot receiver. He is believed to be the first three-way player for UW since Charles Frederick a decade ago, and Sarkisian said Ross will see more time on defense in Friday’s Apple Cup against Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” attack that leads the nation with 58.1 pass attempts per game.
“We’re just trying to maximize a guy who has a great deal of talent and a very high football IQ,” Sarkisian said.
Ross entered the game as a nickel back on UW’s first defensive series and he didn’t allow a reception all game, Wilcox said. Washington’s starting defense had perhaps its best performance of the season, holding Oregon State’s Sean Mannion to a season-low 229 yards passing.
“He’s got elite quickness and agility,” Wilcox said of Ross. “We were able to borrow him and he did a really good job. He played a lot of reps.”
Sophomore cornerback Marcus Peters had two of UW’s three interceptions off Mannion, and the Huskies (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) figure to be tested even more by Washington State’s Connor Halliday.
Last year, Peters was flagged for two of UW’s four pass-interference penalties in the fourth quarter of UW’s stunning loss in Pullman. The Cougars’ rally from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit was the biggest comeback in Apple Cup history.
Eight of UW’s school-record 18 penalties that day came in the fourth quarter. The penalties, Peters said Tuesday, “cost us the game.”
Huskies senior quarterback Keith Price, still recovering from what he described as a “serious” injury to his throwing shoulder, would be disappointed if he’s not able to start the Apple Cup in his final game at Husky Stadium.
“I’m preparing to start,” he said Tuesday. “Everything I do is to start. Anything less than that will be extremely disappointing.”
Price estimated that he took half the snaps in practice Tuesday morning. His streak of 25 consecutive starts was broken in UW’s victory over Oregon State. Redshirt freshman Cyler Miles made his first start in Price’s place.
Sarkisian said he will give Price the chance to prove he’s healthy enough to play Friday. If not, Miles will start again.
“I still have a long way to go in the next couple days,” Price said.
Washington defensive linemen Danny Shelton and Hau’oli Kikaha were named Tuesday to the all-Pac-12 academic team.
It’s the second such honor for Shelton, who has a 3.46 grade-point average in anthropology. Kikaha has a 3.49 GPA in American Ethnic Studies.
Washington running back Bishop Sankey (3.18 GPA, communications) was named to the all-Pac-12 second team for academics.
UW’s DiAndre Campbell, Joshua Shirley, John Timu, Siosifa Tufunga and Psalm Wooching were honorable-mention selections. To be eligible for the academic team, players must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and be either a starter or significant contributor.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @a_jude