O is for Optimism

THANKFULLY, A QUICK check on the wives and girlfriends revealed no end in sight to the discussion on daytime talk shows. Free to continue the more important conversation on Cougar football, my fellow Cougs and I turned to the Offense. The Husky fans joining us again expressed doubt. I found myself laughing because they so reminded me of the two leads from the movie <I>Dumb and Dumber</I>.

Those two Husky fans in our roundtable were ready to pounce now: You lost Jason Gesser!  He's why you were successful on offense.  You're done!


Rather than rain blows down upon them, I thought it best to talk some common sense.  Note: I know many Huskies who are solid, very knowledgeable, good guys. Sadly, these two sweater-vested, dirt-munching Druids didn't fit into that category.


Oh, we'll get to Matt Kegel, monkey boy.  But the key to any offense is the line.  We have tons of talent ready to knock helmets this year.  Calvin Armstrong leads the way.  Devastating run blocking coupled with exceptional pass protection garnered Armstrong First Team All Pac-10 honors in '02 - as a sophomore. 


Joining Armstrong in anchoring the line are Riley Fitt-Chappell, Billy Knotts, Sam Lightbody and Josh Parrish.  Consider this - when injuries struck last year, Lightbody and Fitt-Chapel stepped in and the offensive line didn't miss a beat. 


Are you kidding me?  When a good team loses their O-Line starters, it's usually a death knell.  But the Cougs continued the march to the Rose Bowl because of exceptional talent and depth.  We might actually have more skill and depth across the board this season.  Nick Mihlhauser, Norvell Holmes and Mike Shelford stand ready to contribute early and often.  Where everybody lines up will in part be sorted out during Spring Drills in April.


At the end of this talented line is an area neglected far too long - - tight end.  Troy Bienemann's emergence last season was one of the best stories of the year.  An end isn't supposed to make grabs like that, certainly not a true freshman. 


And the position has amazing depth - Jesse Taylor, injured most of last season, is a man among boys.  Adam West saw significant playing time last year.  Look for TE to once again become a huge weapon in the Cougs arsenal.


But my fellow Cougs were ready to talk about other skill positions.  And they were starting to come around.  Well, Jermaine Green certainly looked good last year, they said. Ya think?  Game tape revealed amazing YAC (yards after contact) numbers for this game-breaker.  With our line, that only stands to improve this year.  Green played in all 13 games, but was dinged up early and had only 5 starts.  After a year of Pac-10 play, he better knows how to stay healthy and durable.  If he can avoid the injury bug - - watch out.  He's simply going take over games on his own this season. 


Just consider the possibilities for our new sets.  I don't know about you but I'm also looking forward to watching Bienemann, Taylor and West pancaking a few linebackers.  Toss in Jonathan Smith or Allen Thompson in split formation for a change of pace and you have a ground attack that'll keep opposing coaches buying antacid tablets in bulk.


Smith might also see time at receiver.  Here, the Husky fans correctly pointed out we lost Mike Bush, Jerome Riley and Collin Henderson.  But look who's coming back.


Will Devard Darling eclipse the single-season reception record for 11 touchdowns he currently shares?  There wasn't a more durable wide-out last year.  I still can't get over the UCLA game where he absorbed a vicious hit, simply bounced off and raced downfield for 7 more yards.  The DB remained on the ground, eventually staggering to the sideline to go look for his pride.  Darling is some kind of strong. 

The bevy of talent joining Darling includes Sammy Moore who can take it to the house every down.  Scott Lunde, the kind of receiver that will cross the middle on 3rd and 7 and move the chains.  Thomas Ostrander, Trandon Harvey, Marty Martin and Jevon Miller all gained experience at receiver last year.  But it doesn't end there.

The depth at wide receiver includes three freshmen who redshirted in '02.  Flamingo Malone and Robert Franklin are big targets with sub 4.5 speed.  And Chris Jordan dazzled coaches with his play on the scout team. 

But who will throw to these guys, they asked?  Guess who graduated?

Okay, lets get down here.  Matt Kegel.  He has the size, the arm, the confidence, the athleticism.  But he's looked nervous at times.  Experienced yet unproven, working with the first-stringers in the offseason and practices could make a world of difference.

Kegel may be one of those guys where the light bulb suddenly turns on.  He's too talented and too smart a quarterback for that not to happen.  I'm not saying the fifth year senior pulls off a final campaign like Carson Palmer did after his mediocre early career.  But look for flashes of brilliance.  Should Kegel go down, Chris Hurd and Josh Swogger have convinced me we're solid at QB for this year and beyond.  One vital point - The line and running game should hugely benefit whomever is under center.  Which leads me to coaching.

Mike Levenseller will be the OC for the first time since being named to the post two seasons ago.  Back then, Levy said "This will not be Mike Levenseller's offense."  Well, this year it will be.  Levy indicated he's looking to run more - in other words he's designing the offense to match the strengths of the personnel.   Look at the people surrounding him - Robin Pflugrad, Timm Rosenbach, Kelly Skipper, George Yarno.  Is there anyone not completely enthralled with this coaching staff? 

Don't discount Coach Bill Doba's influence on the offense just because he's been a defensive guy.  Doba will be deeply involved on that side of the ball.

Again, I never mentioned the recruits.  Its too early to see whom might redshirt.  Instead, focus on how good we are offensively without them - add them into the mix and we're just that much better.

I'll say it again.  We're going to be good.  We're going to be very good.  Buy In.

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