Coach's Corner

With only two days left in spring, it appears the Husky offense is shaping up well for the 2003 campaign. With a senior quarterback and All-American receiver both returning, there is no question that this year's offense will be capable of scoring a lot of points.

The questions about the running game remain, as no back has really emerged that will put fear into opponents like Napoleon Kaufman or Corey Dillon did. Junior Chris Singleton began the spring as the starter and will probably remain so at the completion of the annual spring game this coming Saturday (Kickoff is at 12:30 PST).

Both Singleton and redshirt-freshman Shelton Sampson have shown promise but neither has jumped out to take the position from Rich Alexis, who was sidelined with an injury all spring.

Just who will become the Husky feature back probably won't be finalized until the coaching staff takes a look at Louis Rankin and the other freshmen who will report in the fall.

Alexis has had to sit and watch, and you can tell by talking to him that he is eager to get back and compete. Anyone writing him off is making a mistake.

The fullback position is really competitive. Zach Tuiasosopo knows he's in a battle to hold off Ty Eriks, who continues to show progress. Tuesday saw Zach have one of his better practices of the spring and even Adam Seery played well in drills. If Adam were only about 25 lbs. heavier he could contend as well.

Running backs coach Chuck Heater has plenty of good quality competition going on, and that alone should really improve both the back positions.

Obviously, the additions of Kenny James, who missed most of the spring with a tweaked MCL, and Rankin, promise to make the back position better, if not deeper. I, for one, sincerely believe that the tailback position is still wide open and would not be surprised to see Rankin get into the depth next fall. He is big (210 pounds) and fast (4.4 in the 40).

Tuesday's practice also allowed some movement in the offensive line. Coach Dan Cozzetto is certainly making a difference, and one only needs to watch the notorious board drills to see his impact. The boards put an offensive lineman on one side and a defender on the other. Then it becomes a sumo-joust in which each tries to push the other off the end. There were some tremendous collisions and it shows that the offensive line is learning to get their butts up, weight forward, and to come off with a blast. It is a drill for one-on-one run blocking, and much progress is being made on how to battle in the trenches. It has been a featured drill this spring and is spirited and violent.

I love it.

Dan Dicks has moved back into the center position and I think is really establishing himself as a contender to start. Dan is finally growing into his body and he could be the number one guy by the Ohio State game. This would allow for Todd Bachert to move back to the strong tackle position, which would in turn allow Nick Newton, who is a road grader like Benji Olson, to move back inside to strong guard. Both of these guys look like naturals at those positions.

What is exciting is that Coach Cozzetto has mixed and matched all his troops, making them all interchangeable. With the exception of quick tackle Khalif Barnes, there are as many as eight linemen who look capable of helping next fall for the four other spots. I have personally been very impressed with Tusi Sa'au, the quick guard from Rainier Beach. He is really in the hunt for a starting position, and I could see him beating out returner Aaron Butler if he continues to improve.

Freshman Clay Walker likewise shows the grit it takes to make a contribution at guard, where Robin Meadow has been working with the number one unit. Walker worked at center to begin the spring, but with Bachert and Brad Vanneman both playing center position last year, and now Danny Dicks in that mix, it seems like someone will have to now move.

One of the real pleasant surprises of the spring has been the progress of Francisco Tipoti, who is competing for the strong tackle spot currently manned by Newton.

Washington has a lot of depth, and with a new coach, there is renewed competition. This competition will only make everyone that much hungrier. Six weeks of summer lifting and conditioning should result in a much-improved offensive line. That alone will result in an improved running game no matter who carries the ball.

The tight-end position is still a major question mark, because nobody has stepped forward to claim the position. No one has shown that they can beat out Joe Toledo. Toledo has been on the shelf this spring, but he is in a class by himself. The others are competing to be his back up, or the third TE. I believe that Toledo is a creature who will add a unique dimension to the position, as well as being a real positive in the running game. Joe is pushing 300lbs and runs a 4.8 forty. He has shown strong enough blocking skills that many think he is capable of being a great quick tackle prospect. I can't see the coaches switching him because he is just too awesome at tight end. He will be the starter for Ohio State and should be a dominating player by the end of his career.

There are two great receivers out there. No one has to introduce Reggie Williams and "ET" Charles Frederick to Husky fans. Both are showing great confidence and position leadership. They are big time playmakers who will make Washington an offensive threat to score from anywhere on the field. A strong running game will only make them better and help them to avoid double teams. Regardless, both are the class of the team and their work ethics are now matching their talent levels. They both still need to work on their releases from bump and run coverage but both should make lots of exciting plays. It is because of Reggie and ET's outright talent that I predict Toledo will have a break out year. You can't cover everyone.

The receiver depth was really hurt by the departure of Eddie Jackson. Jackson, a JC transfer last year, left the program out of selfishness. He couldn't wait and pay his dues, and wants to go somewhere where he will get more passes thrown his way. This kind of attitude makes me sick, and I, for one, am glad he took his junior college act out of town.

Walk-on receiver Matt Griffith, who was Reggie's high school quarterback, will battle Jordan Slye for the third receiver role, but maybe only be until the six signed rookies report in the fall. All six will come in knowing that there are probably three spots open in the depth that will travel to Columbus. What a thrill that will be for those kids.

Speaking of the newcomers, I don't see the Dawgs only playing one rookie next fall. Last year, Nate Robinson was the only one who did it. I really believe you will find five to six freshmen play roles next year. Hopefully a linebacker or two will step up and be ready along with the receivers. Probably one or two defensive backs will be needed, too. Ideally it would be great to see a 4.5 speed pass rusher coming off the edge but that is a little unrealistic to expect from a first-year player.

At quarterback, Cody is the man. He will be the man all year and we need to hope that he stays healthy. Right now the back up quarterback race is too close to call and could stay that way until next fall, or at least until Isaiah Stanback learns to settle down and take what comes to him. No question he has lots of talent but right now Casey Paus has more poise and is more predictable as to what he will do.

The last and real positive thing of spring has been the emergence of Evan Knudson as the place kicker. He has shown great consistency and good range and will be the starter come fall practice when he will have to hold off signee Michael Braunstein. Right now it looks like they can win with Evan and he has certainly taken advantage of the opportunity.

The spring game will give the coaches one more film to evaluate, but at this point they have to be pleased with the progress they have made so far. 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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