Coach's Corner

With two potential starters on the shelf for spring and the graduations of Ben Mahdavi and Jafar Williams, it appeared that the Husky linebacker corps would be thin and depleted. However, after watching and talking with the top five varsity players, I'm convinced that they are more than capable of carrying on the great tradition that comes with the position.

For over 30 years the Huskies have been known for their great linebackers. It probably goes all the way back to the sixties with Roy McKasson and Rick Redman. Coach Jim Lambright for years turned out quality backers when he coached the position. He was the UW linebackers coach for the majority of his career here. I had the difficult task of following in his footsteps when he became head coach, but I take great pride in having taught his techniques to a number of players who went on to the NFL after being quality players at Washington.

Michael Jackson and Mark Jurue were two late 70's players who enjoyed long pro careers following their Husky days. Dan Lloyd preceded them in the early 70's when he totaled over 200 tackles in one season. Now, it's John Fiala and Lester Towns who carry the torch at the professional level after being great players for the Dawgs. Jerry Jensen, who also played with Ink Aleaga and Fiala, also made it in the pro's before a knee injury cut short his career. Before them came such memorable backers as "Hoff and Cloff" and Chico of the 1991 National Champs. Dave Hoffmann, James Clifford, and Chico Fraley all were tremendous college players who never really made it as pro's mostly due to size.

Regardless, they maintained the toughness and tradition of being a Husky linebacker. Two of the very best preceded them by almost a decade and that was Tim Meamber and Joe Kelly of the Orange Bowl team of 1984. Meamber played briefly with the Vikings with Kelly playing at least ten years in the NFL. Kelly was probably best running athlete ever at the position, but other Huskies such as Joe Krack (Krakoski), who once had 27 tackles against the Cougars, and Kenny Driscoll, who led the Dogs in tackling twice, were quality backers and extremely tough.

One of the finest persons to ever play the position was David Rill of the mid 80's. David might have been the smartest backer ever and was credited with over 500 tackles in his Husky career. Outside linebackers like Mark Stewart, Jaime Fields (RIP) and Bret Collins played professionally after being Dawg linebackers.

One of my favorites, besides Redman, was George Jugum, who played in the late 60's. George was my vintage and was simply the toughest kid in the city of Seattle. He once made 28 tackles in a game.

Ben Mahdavi, who led the Huskies defense the past two years, could possibly keep the proud Dawg NFL tradition going. Ben has an incredible work ethic and great dedication. He recently posted some impressive statistics at the pro-day work out. He ran the 40 in 4.55 and 4.56 as well as vertical jumping over 37 inches. These explosive numbers combined with his ability to long snap, as well as a great showing at the East-West Shrine game, will certainly get him the opportunity to either get drafted or at least signed to a contract this month.

Personally, I am very proud of Ben and hope that he gets the chance. He and Jafar Williams both were real team leaders for the Dawg defense last year. It was a defense that was strong against the run but weak against the pass.

So, now it's time for Joseph Lobendahn, Marquis Cooper, Tim Galloway, Tyler Krambrink, and Greg Carothers to carry on this great tradition. I believe they are really up to the task and I have already noticed their commitment. After talking with all of them, it is apparent that they realize how much the Husky fans really appreciate good defense. This is really a unique thing in a conference where everyone is so offensively oriented.

But there is no question when you talk with these kids, they already know that Husky Stadium expects, demands, and appreciates good defensive play.

This is a seasoned group and all are responding well to Coach Tim Hundley, who is now coaching all three linebacker spots. For some of these kids, this represents their third coach in three years and that in itself makes it difficult to develop a solid continuity and learn the position.

Coach Hundley really has them working hard and I know some have already taken a peek at Ohio State. There is no question that if the Huskies are to win their opener, the linebackers are going to be key in stopping the run.

You can bet that they will be up to the task. Lobendahn is currently all over the field making tackles and reminds me a lot of Clifford in both size and toughness. He is simply a "baller." He loves to tackle and has great snap from his hips and has vice-like hands. At 5-10, he would be considered too short by some standards, but it actually works to his advantage in that he has low leverage on offensive linemen and can snap and press them off to get to the ball carrier. He is certainly taking the opportunity to grab the MIKE (strongside middle linebacker) position from Galloway, who can only sit and watch while he rehabs a shoulder.

Cooper is very much like Fraley and Joe Kelly in that he is so fast. A little light in the pencil, Marquis is working hard to add weight to his tall (6-4) frame. If he can get to 220 and maintain his 4.4 speed, then he should also get to play on Sundays. He is excellent in coverage and has the burst to be real effective when rushing the QB.

Galloway grew up in Auburn and has wanted to be a Husky linebacker his whole life. He is tough and big, and like Lobendahn, will be strong against the run. Both will benefit by the simplifying of their pass responsibilities and coverage changes.

You really only need three inside backers to rotate but the development of Scott White this spring looks to be adding depth to the position.

The outside "SAM" or "Stud linebacker" who plays against the tight end will be Krambrink and/or Carothers. Both are heady and good quality leaders. They represent the best tandem at that position since Brett Collins and Fields played the "Whip" linebacker position in the early 90's.

Husky fans, the linebackers are going to be up to the task. They are responding well to Coach Hundley. Obviously, injury can always play a factor in that it is a high contact area. But, these kids look great and are determined to improve over the rest of spring and during the summer months. They know they will be playing possibly the best tailback in the country in game one, and that has their attention.

The tradition at linebacker at Washington has been tremendous. Look for these guys to make it an even longer one. columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.

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