Two key cogs on offense

Washington will rely heavily on two key players in their offense in 2001. It all begins with the man that has to get the ball to the quarterback to start every play, and that would be senior Kyle Benn. Benn is the undisputed leader up front and is the anchor of a young offensive line.

Benn has started 24 consecutive games for the Huskies, including a Holiday Bowl and a Rose Bowl. That is exactly 24 more starts than any of his line mates have made in their careers as Huskies.

Still, Benn likes what the young line is doing this fall.

"I think we're shaping up pretty good," said Benn after this morning's workout, the 13th of the fall. "We're picking up all of the nuances of the offense pretty well. I don't think we've had a single practice where everyone was just trying to survive. I think we've gotten better every practice and we've worked our tails off. It's encouraging to see."

At 6-3 300 pounds, Benn is the strongest player on the team, hoisting 500 pounds on the bench press. He uses that upper body strength to keep defensive tackles and linebackers away from his quarterback. One of the better contact drills came when he faced freshman behemoth Tui Alailefaleula, who is just as big as Benn.

Benn dropped the freshman swiftly, and then helped him to his feet after the play was long over. Cody Pickett and Taylor Barton will both depend on the former O'Dea graduate to keep the trenches in front of them from caving.

Two of the new starters, sophomore Todd Bachert and redshirt freshman Khalif Barnes have leaned on Benn for help and the senior mentor believes they have made great strides.

"Khalif is just a natural athlete. When he came in as a freshman defensive lineman, we all joked to him that one day he'd be on offense. Boom. Now he's a starter for us. Todd is one of those guys that can play any position at any time. It's not a surprise that he's gone out there and done well this fall," said Benn.

Also having good camps on the line are Elliott Zajac, Nick Newton, and Aaron Butler. None have started a game for the Huskies. Butler has yet to take a snap as he redshirted last season, but all three of those should figure in the rotation with Benn up front.

This offensive line may be young but the talent and athleticism isn't in question. They won't be battle tested until after the Michigan game but Benn believes that his guys have done yeoman's work to prepare for that day to arrive. "We really started to gel a long time ago. We are the tightest group on the team. It's us against everyone else," he said with a smile.

"I think we're really starting to sense the season coming up fast. There's no time to be young or screw around anymore. We're using every play of every practice and I think it's beginning to show."
TE Jerramy Stevens
 TE Jerramy Stevens


Another key piece of Gilbertson's offensive puzzle will be the big guy with the downy soft hands. Tight End Jerramy Stevens set a school record last season when he made 43 receptions, breaking the single season school record. He hopes to be a big part of the offense this season and shares Benn's thoughts about their progress this fall.

"I think that we're way ahead of where we thought we'd be, and even where we were last year," he said. "We're excited about getting it going and getting ready to play Michigan."

"I feel like both Cody and Taylor are really comfortable with me. Both of them know that I'm going to go out and try to make plays for them."

Stevens is a clutch performer. 28 of his 43 receptions went for first downs and he has already amassed more yards, receptions, and touchdowns than former Husky and current NFL tight ends Mark Bruener, Ernie Conwell, Aaron Pierce, and Cameron Cleeland had combined. Stevens has done that in just 22 games.

The area of his game that has improved the most is his blocking. Stevens has bulked up to 264 pounds and has increased every personal weight room mark. "Jerramy is just an awesome specimen," said Strength and Conditioning Coach Bill Gillespie. "He's a guy that you never have to worry about doing his work."

"I do feel a lot stronger this year," said Stevens. "I have managed to keep my speed so I feel very comfortable at this weight. I think I can be a lot more aggressive on my blocks now. My legs feel strong enough to carry all of his weight this year, it feels really good."

Stevens will be a secret to no one as he has received all-American attention in the pre-season. Defenses will be stocked to keep him from beating them but it doesn't seem to phase the junior from Olympia. "I faced doubles and scrapes last year. I think what's going to help this year is that we have more speed at receiver. We can really stretch the field now because of the speed and the great backs we have in the backfield," said Stevens.

"And if they do focus on me, that will just leave other guys open. Either way they're going to get hurt."

Despite having new quarterbacks throwing him the ball, Stevens doesn't feel that Keith Gilbertson's offense will change very much from last year. "Maybe just a little more emphasis on stretching the field but I don't think there's much change to it."

"Stretching the field definitely will play to my strength."

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