Zion Tupuola-Fetui jogged.
You read that right. Midway through UW’s fifth practice of fall camp, the Huskies’ All-American outside linebacker — who was wearing a white jersey and cleats and cradling a football under his left arm — scurried nonchalantly off the practice field, joking with a teammate while a drill got underway. His movements seemed routine, painless, like any other player.
And really, that’s the point.
Less than four months ago, “ZTF” tore his left Achilles tendon during an April practice. His return timeline was listed as 6-10 months. And last week, Husky head coach Jimmy Lake confirmed that his prized pass-rusher will return in the 2021 regular season.
Tuesday’s jog — as well as the flexibility drills and bear crawls he completed on the side — seem to support that assertion. But with Achilles injuries especially, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
UW co-defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe, for one, is understandably preparing his outside linebackers as if “ZTF” won’t be readily available. The longtime Husky assistant said Tuesday that six players could realistically earn the two starting outside linebacker spots — sixth-year senior (and assumed starter) Ryan Bowman, second-year freshmen Sav’ell Smalls, Cooper McDonald and Jordan Lolohea, redshirt freshman Bralen Trice and Texas A&M junior transfer Jeremiah Martin.
Malloe specifically praised Smalls’ “huge” beginning to fall camp, and singled out the growth of Lolohea — who received first-team reps for the first time on Tuesday. But for a defense that tied for second in the Pac-12 with 2.50 sacks per game last season, it’ll take a rotation to effectively rush the passer this fall.
At least, until Tupuola-Fetui — the superb pass-rusher from Pearl City, Hawaii — actually returns.
Here are a few other observations from Tuesday’s practice.
Seeing red (zone drills)
UW’s scrimmage drills were focused on the red zone Tuesday, with the offense and defense scoring individual wins. Starting quarterback Dylan Morris tossed a pair of touchdowns — scrambling to his right before locating wide receiver Sawyer Racanelli for a short score, then bailing out of heavy pressure to hurl a pass along the sideline to lunging tight end Jack Westover.
(By the way, before we go further, let’s put this in print: Westover will catch some passes for Washington this season. Despite his duties primarily being blocking, the 250-pounder from Bellevue has soft hands and he has earned Morris’ trust.)
Morris served up an end-zone interception as well, on a ball whipped into traffic that was tipped into the waiting arms of safety Makell Esteen in a 7-on-7 drill.
Sixth-year quarterback Patrick O’Brien, who earned occasional snaps with the starters on Tuesday, also threw short touchdowns to wide receivers Terrell Bynum and Rome Odunze in 7-on-7 work.
The defensive play of the day goes to safety Julius Irvin, who out-leaped wide receiver Taj Davis to snatch an interception from Sam Huard in the corner of the end zone. Nickelback Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles picked Huard as well — jumping a short out-route before tipping the ball to himself and diving to secure it.
Radley-Hiles and Kamren Fabiculanan continue to split starting nickelback reps, while Irvin, Dominique Hampton, Asa Turner and Alex Cook all rotated with the first team at safety on Tuesday. Cameron Williams has been in that mix as well but was not present at Tuesday’s practice.
- First-team All-Pac-12 left tackle Jaxson Kirkland was a full participant on Tuesday after missing Monday’s practice for an unspecified reason.
- For the second consecutive day, Lake pitted a pass-catcher against a defensive player in a 1-on-1 duel — with 10 pushups on the line for the losing unit. This time, O’Brien lofted a deep pass that tight end Devin Culp pulled in over linebacker Daniel Heimuli, forcing the UW defense to hit the deck.
- Tuesday’s practice was by far the feistiest thus far, with the biggest flare-up being a small fracas between wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk and cornerback Jacobe Covington (fellow No. 12s). Despite having a cast on his left hand, the 6-2 Covington has certainly not shied away from physicality in UW’s first five practices.
- Despite losing that one-on-one rep against Culp, Heimuli continues to flash — particularly as a blitzer. It’ll be interesting to see if the third-year inside linebacker can consistently crack the rotation this fall.
- Defensive lineman Tuli Letuligasenoa, who has had some epic battles with center Luke Wattenberg already in fall camp, picked up a sack of Morris.
- The aforementioned Sav’ell Smalls blew up a play to swallow running back Sean McGrew for a tackle for loss.
- Running back Richard Newton, who just continues to find the end zone, busted up the middle for an eight-yard score in a red zone drill. He and Cameron Davis took many of the first-team reps on Tuesday.
- UW’s punt returners on Tuesday were wide receivers Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Giles Jackson, and corners Kyler Gordon and Trent McDuffie.
- Cornerbacks Dyson McCutcheon, Davon Banks and Elijah Jackson, defensive lineman Draco Bynum and linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala all sat out Tuesday’s practice with apparent injuries, while tight end Quentin Moore continues to be limited as well.
- Kicker Peyton Henry converted on 2 of 4 field goal attempts from 45 yards out.