Gilbertson sees 'New Beginning'

Despite the fact that Keith Gilbertson was the 2003 Washington head football coach, it's hard not to think of this coming Thursday as Gilby's first day on the job. He has his first full recruiting class under his belt and he has his coaches in place. On Tuesday, he spoke like a man excited to see how his first season develops, not his second.

"The transition really never stopped," Keith said at his Tuesday press conference with a little bit of a chuckle. "We have a new Athletic Director to be hired, a new President ... it's just great to be coaching again and when there's a conclusion to some of the things that still linger, it will be nice to just go out and coach again.

"This feels more like a beginning for me. This is going to be a fun team to coach."

With the pending NCAA announcement on sanctions and the state's own investigation into the activities of former UW team physician William Scheyer, nearly all of the dark clouds billowing above the heads of those still left in the Washington Athletic Department have disappeared. The light at the end of the proverbial tunnel seems nearer and nearer with every passing day.

The only tunnel Gilbertson is worried about is the one that connects the lockerrooms with the field at Husky Stadium. His football team has taken on the characteristics of Gilbertson himself; a no-nonsense, blue-collar, strap-it-on and get down to work unit that doesn't have a lot of star-power now that Reggie Williams, Cody Pickett and Terry Johnson are gone.

"If you look at the roster, this is not going to be a 'big-name' Husky football team," he said. "There aren't going to be any pre-season All-Americans, but that doesn't matter. This is a very close-knit team that is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

"And it's really on the players. When you have a good recruiting class, it's because the current players did a great job of selling the program. They believe in what's going on."

Gilbertson laid down the basics for what he wants to accomplish this spring. "Offensively, we had a lot of issues with penalties," he said. "We had too many penalties for illegal procedure, false starts, illegal formations, offsides and holding. We led the league in holding.

"When you combine that with the fact that we were a poor kickoff return team, you have long fields and the offense has to overcome a lot of things in order to score points. We found a lot of ways to stop ourselves."

The Huskies had 24 holding penalties in 2003.

"We have to have better kickoff returns so that we don't have as many 'first down and 86' to go's. We have to clean all that up. If we can do that we will be able to give our offense shorter fields.

"Defensively, we need to tackle better and get faster. We need to find more outside pressure at the line of scrimmage because people in the league throw the ball so well. But the first thing is that we have to be a better tackling defense."

Now that Gilbertson has his own coaches on staff and ready to go, he'd like to create continuity and stability. It's another one of his 'basics'.

"If you are a senior receiver here, you are going on your fourth or fifth coach, if you are an offensive lineman you are going on your third or fourth coach," he said. "There's been an awful lot of that. I really hope that we can get together and stay together. Some change is good, but a lot of change is not. And we've had a lot of change.

"I've got my guys now and I want to keep them around for a few years. They are and awfully good bunch of teachers and coaches."

The biggest concern for Washington going into the spring is depth on the offensive line. Only eight scholarshipped players return, plus Brandon Leyritz and Jens Jellen. Khalif Barnes and Ryan Brooks are expected to start at the tackle positions, Clay Walker and Stanley Daniels will be the guards, and Brad Vanneman will be at center.

Chad Macklin, Erik Berglund and Juan Garcia, along with Leyritz and Jellen, will make up the second team while Rob Meadow and Tusi Sa'au rehab ACL and back injuries, respectively.

"Good luck, go play, let's have a good time. Let's coach 'em up," Gilbertson said, smiling.

Defensively, the numbers are there, but positions and depth charts have yet to be sorted out. Senior Manase Hopoi will move inside, but also be available at the defensive end spot as well, depending on the situation. Brandon Ala and Ty Eriks will battle at the REB position this spring, and that battle will no doubt continue well into the fall, especially with Rashaad Goodrum's participation now in flux.

"One day I'm really excited and then the next day I'm not," Gilbertson said about the chances the JC defensive end coming this fall. "I hear a good report one day and something not so good the next, so it fluctuates. We're just trying to get him here."

Gilbertson is very happy about the progress of Mike Mapu. He projects the JC transfer from Mesa, Arizona to play defensive end. "He was impressive last year on our scout team and he can also be a long snapper for us," Gilbertson said.

Dan Milsten, Wilson Afoa and Casey Tyler were three names mentioned by Gilbertson as having the best shot at playing time inside, along with Hopoi.

The quarterback position will clearly be the highlighted position battle of spring, with three distinct styles competing against each other. "We have three athletes, and Casey (Paus) will start at the one, Isaiah Stanback will be the two and Carl Bonnell will be the three," Gilbertson said. "They will all get equal opportunities with the ones and we'll see who moves the best."

Gilbertson did not rule out using a two-quarterback system, as he did with Billy Joe Hobert and Mark Brunell. "I like doing that," he said. "I could see that very much being the case."

At the running back position, Gilbertson loves the depth he has to work with, as well as the move to put Cornell Jackson back there coaching the running game. "We've got four quality backs," he said. "We've got Chris Singleton back and healthy. And a guy I'm excited to see get some reps is Louis Rankin.

"Zach (Tuiasosopo) is a very good fullback, and James Sims behind him will give us some good depth. He's obviously fast. As far as our running game, we'll be OK."

Gilbertson mentioned that Shelton Sampson is currently weighing in at over 200 pounds. "He's at five or six percent body fat, so it's good weight," he said. Sampson, Charles Frederick and Corey Williams all appear to have game-breaking abilities.

Another player, former CB Nate Robinson, was thought to be toying with the idea of coming back to football after a successful stint playing guard for Lorenzo Romar and the mens basketball team. But it's news to Gilbertson, who hasn't heard from the diminutive Robinson, a two-sport crowd-pleaser.

"I haven't talked to Nate about it," Gilbertson said. "I have not seen Nate, so to my knowledge, no. I've known Nate a long time, and I think if he wanted to play he would have come to me to talk about it."

Gilbertson did leave the door open for Robinson to come and talk to him about the possibility of playing. Nate has reportedly been interested in coming back, but only in an offensive capacity, as well as being a return specialist.

"If he has an interest, I'd be happy to talk to him about it," Gilbertson added.

Losing Reggie Williams is a hole Gilbertson won't be able to replace overnight. Add to that the fact that senior Frederick will be used sparingly during the spring and that spells a lot of work for the redshirt frosh and sophomore receivers on the team.

"Corey Williams, Q (Quintin) Daniels and Sonny (Shackelford) are going to have an edge because they played last year," Gilbertson said. "Bobby Whithorne has jumped out because of his speed and Craig Chambers has really matured a lot. The redshirt year was big for him. He had to learn about bringing it every day.

"And for a lot of those guys, they just have to get used to going to college too, going to class and everything else."

The other pass-catching position - tight end - appears to be in a bit of disarray because of the injury bug. Graham Lasee - recently converted from defensive end - will crack the two-deeps right away due to Joe Toledo and Ben Bandel being unavailable for spring.

"I recruited him, and when I saw him I saw him as a tight end," Gilbertson said of the 6-5, 265-pounder from Bellingham. "I don't know how the progress on (Joe) Toledo is, and (Ben) Bandel has knee and shoulder problems.

"So right now Jon Lyon is our healthy tight end, and with Jason Benn out too with a bad shoulder, I felt like this was the right position for him to be at. I had him at tight end when he first came on campus, and he can't get to 290 pounds so this is the place he should be playing at.

"He reminds me a lot of Joe Collier, a player that bounced around to different positions, but made great contributions his last year when he was at tight end."

The linebacking corps still has a lot of sorting out to do, as Chris Tormey isn't at a loss for man-power. All he needs to do is figure out where everybody's best position is at. "I felt really good about bringing Chris back because he really understands how things are at Washington, how the culture is," Gilbertson said. "He also brings a lot to the table in terms of bringing ideas. He's an experienced guy, a guy that's been a head coach for years and years."

Tahj Bomar, Scott White, Evan Benjamin, Tim Galloway and Kyle Trew are all linebackers that are going to get ample time to show their new coach what they are made of. "We also need to find a place for a guy like Robert Lewis," Gilbertson said of the RS frosh from Van Nuys, California. "Because of his fractured wrist, he hasn't been able to lift and make the weight gains that other guys have."

Benjamin's move from strong safety to outside linebacker is going to help Gilbertson's concerns about speed on defense. "If you pay attention to what goes on, you'll see that there's a lot of one-back offense in our league," he said. "To really go out there and effectively cover an inside receiver that way, you have to substitute.

"This way, we don't have to do that. You've got a natural cover safety with linebacker size that can walk out of the box and cover down on a guy and it's not a big thing because he's used to covering guys like that. And if you watched Evan play last year and watched the games where he was closer to the line of scrimmage by design, he was very active and looked comfortable playing up there."

C.J. Wallace and Chris Hemphill are the two names to watch out for in the secondary this spring. With Sims moving to fullback and Dashon Goldson out until the fall, those two are going to be counted on for large chunks of minutes at safety with seniors Jimmy Newell and B.J. Newberry.

"He'll wear a redshirt and do individual drills, but no contact," said Gilbertson of Goldson, the JC transfer from Harbor City, California by way of Coffeyville, Kansas. "He'll be fine for August."

Another JC transfer, Josh Okoebor, arrived on campus Monday and is available for spring football. The corners are one area where Gilbertson feels the two-deeps are nice and solid. New corners coach Jimmy Lake will get a stern test improving a UW secondary that only allowed an average of 233 yards a game through the air.

"People kept talking about him," Gilbertson said. "I kept interviewing other people, but I heard from college people and NFL people about Jimmy, so we brought him in to interview and he just jumped out at us. And Phil (Snow) wanted to coach the safeties, so it worked out really well for us."

The kicking game? "The kicker spot is up for grabs," Gilbertson said, referring to the off-again, on-again battle between walk-on Evan Knudson and Michael Braunstein. Knudson won the war of attrition in 2003, kicking in all 12 games, going 10-17 in field goal attempts and 34-37 in PATs.

Sean Douglas is expected to remain as Washington's kickoff specialist and will take over for the departed Garth Erickson as the Huskies' number-one punter. "I'm excited to see Sean punt," Gilbertson said. "He has a big leg and did a really good job on kickoffs last year."

Nothing new on Hopoi: Gilbertson has not heard anything in the past two weeks about a follow-up to Manase Hopoi's arrest recently at a Seattle nightclub. "When we hear something we'll do something," he said. "We have a policy on felonies in the department, so we'll handle it when we know more about what's going on." Gilbertson also updated Juan Garcia's situation. "He's been on 'restricted duty', for lack of a better term," Gilbertson said. "It's been that way since September and it will still be that way until June. He's in his dorm all the time when he's not at practice or going to class or getting tutored."

Leaders, anyone?: When asked who the leaders of the 2004 team were, Gilbertson mentioned three players - Khalif Barnes, Zach Tuiasosopo and Jimmy Newell.

Young guns: When asked which incoming true frosh have a chance to play, Gilbertson reiterated his preference to ideally redshirt all incoming freshmen, but picked out Greyson Gunheim, one of the safeties (Bankhead, Sanders) and maybe one of the offensive linemen because of numbers. "We played around with the idea of getting one JC offensive lineman, but we didn't just want to take someone to take someone," Gilbertson said. "We're going to stick with the guys we have."

New GAs: Washington has two new graduate assistant coaches, and they should be familiar names to Husky fans. Kyle Benn will coach the offense, while Patrick Reddick will coach the defense. "It's important that if they have aspirations to coach or go to grad school that you have Washington guys do it," Gilbertson said. "Both has expressed an interest in coming back and coaching and getting into the business, so I just feel like it's my obligation to make sure that Washington guys get that opportunity."

So long J-Rob: Justin Robbins career as a wide receiver at Washington is over. Because of chronic knee problems, the senior from Lacey, Washington will no longer be available. UW head coach Keith Gilbertson did say that Justin would be around in some capacity for the Huskies, perhaps as a student-coach. Top Stories