Washington spring practice, Day 1: Offensive fireworks, but a scary scene near the end
Sophomore edge rusher Maurice Heims required medical attention after sustaining an injury late in practice
SEATTLE — Nothing says, “hey, it’s the first day of spring football practice” like scraping ice off the windshield of your Nissan Altima.
The Washington Huskies did not have to battle the elements on Monday morning, though, moving their first spring workout within the climate-controlled confines of the Dempsey Indoor.
It was a spirited practice, but an unfortunate injury near the end left everyone in attendance hoping it wasn’t as serious as it appeared.
Third-year sophomore edge rusher Maurice Heims went down with an injury during a late scrimmage (this was Day 1, meaning no pads and no tackling). When he didn’t get back up, the scrimmage moved downfield as trainers began assessing his condition, Heims laying still on his back.
I did see him move his legs, for whatever that might be worth. Trainers stabilized Heims’ head and neck, and eventually enlisted assistance to lift him onto a backboard. That’s where he remained until medical personnel from the Seattle Fire Department arrived, just as coach Kalen DeBoer had gathered the rest of the team for his post-practice speech. Reporters were ushered out of the Dempsey and back into Husky Stadium for post-practice interviews as Heims continued to receive care.
A UW spokesperson said the school would update Heims’ condition when it was able. I’ll pass any updates along on my Twitter account, and also will update the version of this story that appears on www.onmontlake.com.
UPDATE: It’s an encouraging one. From UW athletics Tuesday morning: “Following a collision during Monday’s practice, Maurice Heims was transported to a local hospital where he underwent several medical tests. He was cleared to return home (Monday) evening where he is recovering.”
Heims seemed to be in good spirits Monday night, per his tweet.
Football is a brutal sport. Reminders can come at any moment. Heims’ teammates stopped by between reps to offer well wishes or prayer. Troy Fautanu took Heims by the hand for a moment. Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze each momentarily took a knee. Others did, too.
Heims moved to the United States from Germany before his junior year of high school to pursue his football career. He was considered a raw prospect but still had a decent list of offers from programs intrigued by his athleticism at 6-5 and 246 pounds. He got on the field some last year, even notching his first sack against Colorado, and figures to compete for a spot on the depth chart in 2023.
We’ll keep an eye on his recovery from Monday’s scary moment.
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I’m not sure that I’ll dedicate too much space in my spring practice updates to telling you that Michael Penix Jr. is still really good at throwing footballs, but man, he was sharp on Day 1. Penix seemed to have Rome Odunze open whenever he wanted him, including a long touchdown against Jaivion Green. The sophomore cornerback often drew the tough assignment of covering Odunze, and it did not often go his way. Odunze leapt to make impressive catches in traffic, got open deep more than once and very much looked the part of a returning all-conference wideout.
Kind of funny: Odunze bobbled the aforementioned touchdown — a la his TD catch against Arizona last season — and that sent receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard jogging down the sideline, back toward the line of scrimmage, exclaiming, “I’m sorry, I’m going home.” Odunze promptly rattled off a handful of up-downs as penance for not securing the touchdown catch cleanly. Shephard has high standards.
Last year at this time, Penix was a new addition and just beginning an open competition against two returning scholarship players. It wasn’t *his* offense yet, and his demeanor seemed to reflect that. He seemed a little looser today, joking, smiling, having fun between reps. You can tell he has a real command of the team and is comfortable being The Guy.
Dylan Morris continues to grind away behind the scenes. He looked really good today, too. Ryan Grubb has mentioned before that Morris often is the first person in the building, and that’s no BS — I was talking to someone today who said Morris arrives in the 5 a.m. hour to start his day. When DeBoer says Austin Mack, UW’s 2023 signee graduating from high school early to reclassify from 2024, will benefit from learning behind guys like Penix and Morris this season, those are the sort of habits they hope he will note.
Morris tossed a long touchdown to redshirt freshman receiver Denzel Boston, who was wide open behind walk-on cornerback Jakson Berman. Morris also completed a hole shot to Giles Jackson between Tristan Dunn and Makell Esteen, and had a couple long throws that were on target but dropped by the receiver. I think the Huskies have a more than capable backup in the QB room.
Keep an eye on Boston. Odunze, McMillan, Polk, Taj Davis and Germie Bernard will provide ample competition, but Boston seems to have that playmaker gene. DeBoer has been high on him for a while.
Silly me for assuming the big competition on the offensive line would be at right guard. At least on Day 1, o-line coach Scott Huff had Nate Kalepo at right guard, with Julius Buelow at left guard with the No. 1 offense. It had been assumed Kalepo would stay on the left side. As expected, Troy Fautanu and Roger Rosengarten were the tackles, and Matteo Mele played center.
The No. 2 o-line went like this: R.J. Wyrsch, Gaard Memmelaar, Parker Brailsford, Myles Murao and, interestingly, Geirean Hatchett at right tackle. His younger brother, Landen, a 2023 signee who likely projects as a center, will enroll for spring quarter and participate in Washington’s final 12 spring practices. He was present Monday, though, hanging out around the o-line drills and even standing in to catch a few snaps.
Zachary Henning, another 2023 signee who already is enrolled, took a few snaps with the No. 3 o-line at left tackle, with Wyrsch moving over to left guard, Brailsford at center, Owen Prentice at right guard and Samuel Peacock at right tackle.
Edefuan Ulofoshio sure looks like he’s bulked up, though he insisted after practice that he’s always been ripped. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 234 pounds, right around his listed weight in 2022. But his arms are hard to miss.
“Weight wise, it’s kind of the same, but I feel like (I’m) more condensed,” Ulofoshio said. “I feel like I can handle the weight more.”
He recently invested in a Brita water filter to cut down on bottled water consumption, and his target is eight glasses per day. Ulofoshio says sleep is important, too. Sixth-year seniors tend to best understand this.
Ulofoshio missed most of last season due to an injury sustained during winter conditioning, though he worked his way back to appear in the final five games, and blocked a punt in the Alamo Bowl. He’s traded in his old No. 48 for No. 5. Why? He came to UW in part because he had watched Myles Bryant, another former walk-on, earn a scholarship and a starting role. Bryant wore No. 5. Ryan Bowman followed a similar path, and wore No. 55. Ulofoshio’s favorite UW linebacker? Michael Jackson, who also wore No. 5.
“So, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5,” Ulofoshio said. “It just felt right.”
It was Ulofoshio and Alphonzo Tuputala at linebacker with the No. 1 defense this morning, with Ralen Goforth and Carson Bruener as the No. 2s. That’s going to be an interesting competition. Tuputala held down his starting spot all of last season, and the coaches love him. Goforth didn’t transfer from USC to Washington for his final year of eligibility just to sit on the bench. Bruener is a fan favorite and a special-teams ace, and was highly productive in limited action last year.
Ulofoshio, though, was considered a potential All-American before his injury-plagued 2021 season. He was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2020. His healthy presence could change the picture for the Huskies’ defense, which must improve in 2023 to hold up against a far more difficult schedule.
“It is just a blessing to be out here,” Ulofoshio said. “Honestly, it’s a blessing to be talking to you guys again. I understand it’s not guaranteed. Things happen. So just taking it one day at a time, man. It’s just fun. I’m just really enjoying it right now.”
Speaking of needing to improve defensively, it’s a new season for Washington’s secondary, besieged by injuries and inexperience a year ago. Expect a bunch of different personnel looks this spring. Generally speaking, the No. 1 safeties at present are Asa Turner and Dom Hampton, though it sounds like Mishael Powell will get some snaps back there, too. He mostly spent Monday with the No. 1 defense at the “husky” position, with Elijah Jackson and Jaivion Green at the cornerback spots. But I expect to see Oklahoma State transfer Jabbar Muhammad work his way in, too.
Had a chance to catch up with Powell after practice. He’s looking forward to showing his versatility this spring. Sounds like his tackling ability at corner stood out to coaches, and that prompted a discussion about how best to leverage those skills.
“Now, I get to be more involved in the run game, as well as still being able to cover guys like J-Mac and Giles, and going against them and getting really good work in the slot, as well as blitzing and being able to recognize plays,” Powell said. “I’m a really smart player, so being in that nickel position, I can kind of see things and communicate that to Asa, and we can kind of be on the same string of what to anticipate and what to expect.”
Hampton said moving from husky to safety was a mutual decision between he and the coaches.
“I think just for my specific skill set,” Hampton said, “safety would suit me a little better overall.”
“Physicality, for sure,” he said. “Just having someone who can come down in run support, and also help out in the pass game, as well.”
One guy who caught my eye: JUCO transfer cornerback Thaddeus Dixon. He’s listed at 6-1 and 190 pounds, and you can tell he’s not a freshman. He appears to be pretty solid, and has the kind of length the Huskies lacked at cornerback last year.
The Huskies practice again Wednesday morning. What do you want to know from that session?
— Christian Caple, On Montlake
Finally got subscribed. Glad to have you back. Hope everyone appreciates what Dylan is doing and has done for the program. Might not be as good as Penix but should be a serviceable QB is he goes down. Also he is true Husky. Could transfer out but elected to stay. Knows he isn't going to be in NFL and just wants to be a Husky.
With increased portal activity quality depth becomes a big challenge especially at QB. UW is VERY fortunate to have a back up like Morris. Manny forget as a first year starter he was solid. Few programs have a back up of Morris's quality.