Coach's Corner

With conference play to begin soon, Coach Gilbertson and his staff are still busy trying fix problems both from the personnel and strategy standpoints. The games against Stanford at home and UCLA on the road represent the most important games on this year's schedule. A good start in the Pac-10 is crucial for a successful run to the Roses.

This week, no finger pointing is going on in the Husky camp. Just problem solving. I love this, as it defines what coaching is. Teaching and learning from mistakes.

Gilbs realizes that he has to get the best players on the field in order to make plays. This is why we will see more and more of Isaiah Stanback, not just as a slot back but also as a kick blocker, runner, and potential return guy. He is a play-maker and it doesn't make sense for him to be standing next to Keith while the game is going on.

The move of Ty Eriks reflects the exact same thinking. Eriks is just too big, fast and strong to be sitting when he can help the team someplace. He can always go back to fullback but, if Zach Tuiasosopo continues to play the way he did against Indiana, and in practices, then he might end up being the best we've seen since Pat Conniff's performance in the Holiday Bowl. Zach certainly ran, blocked, and caught the ball like the fullback we were all hoping for. He is only going to get better and appears to be on focus and could be as devastating as any fullback in a long time. That allows for the move of Eriks, a 6-2 235-pounder with tailback speed, coming off the edge. It remains to be seen how this experiment will go, but it shows commitment to fixing a major problem.

Personnel wise, it's also necessary to regroup due to the early season injuries that have already robbed the team of a couple of starters. The Idaho game should give the coaches a chance to finalize their rotations in preparation for league. Offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto has not had a good look at a number of offensive linemen and I really believe that tackle Ryan Brooks, center Brad Vanneman, guard Clayton Walker, and possibly tackle Francisco Tipoti will all be ready and raring to go come league play.

Face it, the offensive line is the key to the running game, and I expect to see the Huskies run the ball another 50 times vs. the Vandals this Saturday.

The Idaho game will also allow the coaches to keep rolling through the running backs. This is good news because remember, it usually takes 3-4 backs to make it thru a season. Both Kenny James and Shelton Sampson have now showed that they are capable of contributing. Sampson's speed is a great change of pace for attacking defenses. I anticipate more option and counter as the season progresses, such as the toss to Sampson, in order to keep the defenses honestly playing sideline to sideline and not just packing it in to stop the inside runs. The Huskies are working more and more on balance, and not just between pass and run. The concept of balance also applies to where you attack the field, like outside, inside, and misdirection.

Speaking of the pass, isn't it a good thing they had the bye scheduled where they did in order to let Cody heal from his torn pectoral muscle? Of course he would have played anyway, but the added snaps for the backup quarterbacks will only play dividends down the road. The depth is built thru reps and experience, and the coaches have been addressing both ever since the colossal match up with Ohio State. What some felt were questionable substitutions in such a big game, were really big chances to prepare players for what really counts - league games.

Another important benefit from the bye was the added work to an already improved kicking game. The walk on's continue to challenge, and it appears that all four players will continue to be used until there is clear separation. Sean Douglas obviously has the strongest leg of all four and his future will only get better with age and experience. Evan Knudson and Michael Braunstein will continue to battle, with Braunstein showing some impressive onsides ability that could be critical in games to come. Punter Garth Erickson has waited a long time for his opportunity and thus far has done a commendable job. Look for the kicking game to start to explode with big plays. They have a full-time coach for the first time in five years in Scott Pelluer, and it shows. It's been a long time since blocked kicks were made by the Huskies, instead of against them. Its time has come.

So has everyone figured out yet that the kicking game was the first and most important emphasis by Gilbs when he took the job? I doubt it came as a surprise to all of you that read this site. But it has shown up well to this point and will be critical if the Huskies are going to contend for the league championship.

In regards to the passing game, my only comment is that if they start catching every ball then they will literally be unstoppable. Against Ohio State, there were no less than nine drops, six on third down. Cody could have incredible stats after two games if receivers had simply hung on to even half of those balls that have been dropped. Out of necessity, the short passing game has developed well this season. Gilbs and Offensive Coordinator John Pettas are building quite an array of throws to again keep the defenses off balance. Face it, we have a great quarterback and receiver, and between the two of them they should be able to dictate games. If Cody gets time to throw the ball.

This is still the pre-season and it will be interesting to see how this team comes out of the bye. The hope is that they finally start early, NOT FLAT, and the way you do that is by being aggressive on defense and setting the tempo right from the start.

That would go a long way in making this team confident in what they are doing as they head into league play. And that is what Gilby and his staff is all about, focusing on correcting the problems, not fixing the blame. 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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