Dawgbytes - 4/6

A whole lot has changed in the past twelve months, so it seems a little strange to still be talking about the infancy of Keith Gilbertson's tenure as head coach at Washington. While things have certainly settled down to a dull roar in Montlake this April - especially compared to this time a year ago - Gilbertson now has an opportunity to really focus on those players that will be the difference between victory and defeat come fall.

"This team has a little different feel about it, obviously than last fall," Gilbertson said Tuesday afternoon. "Last fall was such a confusing time it's hard to read much into that. No one here had anything to do with what happened, but it happened. I've been on the job 8 months now and by July I'll already be on my third Athletic Director and second Chancellor."

Given a whole winter - and now spring - to work with, Gilbertson and the rest of the Husky coaching staff are now knee-deep in scouting playmakers on both sides of the ball, those players that will take over for the likes of Reggie Williams and Terry Johnson.

"I can sense it, and I think that's a good thing sometimes," the UW head coach said when asked about having a team loaded with talent, but with no marquee name or superstar cache. "But at the same time we've got to go out there and identify who the playmakers are. Somebody's got to jump up and make plays, whether it's a receiver, tailback, safety, corner, or on kick returns. That's what Reggie did so early on.

So far Gilbertson likes what he sees out of some spots that were considered areas of concern going into spring. "The pace that we're able to play now is good, I'm seeing a lot of good energy," he said. "I think we're further ahead in some areas than maybe anticipated. Our receiver corps is going to be better than people thought. I see more people making plays there. I want to get that position 6-7 deep."

Gilbertson singled out Charles Frederick, Anthony Russo, Corey Williams and Jordan Slye as players that have done well so far after four practices. "I'm also anxious to get Sonny Shackelford back," he added.

"The battle at quarterback is good right now and all of them are doing good things. I couldn't be happier with how they are pushing each other. It's a good competition."

The offensive line - even with the inclusion of Graham Lasee at tackle - is not seeing a lot of heated position battles to this point in the spring. "After four guys, there isn't a lot of movement there, not a lot of guys pushing to the front," Gilbertson said.

He talked a little bit about the idea of the interior linemen understanding all three positions (two guard spots and center). "We didn't have a choice last year," he said. "This year it isn't as much of a point of emphasis because we hope to get Tusi (Sa'au) and Rob Meadow back in the fall to have some solid depth there. Right now we just want our guys learning their positions so they don't get bombarded with things. But a guy like Vanneman needs to know center and both the guard spots. A guy like Clay Walker needs to know both the guard spots and center. Juan Garcia needs to know both guard spots and center. Until those guys are back and you know they are one-hundred percent back, that's the situation we are in. We've recruited Ryan Bush, who we think is going to be a really fine center, so maybe he comes in as the understudy for a year and then he's the guy."

And on the other side of the ball? "I like our inside defensive people," said Gilbertson. "I'm still nervous about the outside rush people in terms of defensive ends."

Manase Hopoi and Dan Milsten secure the first-team positions inside, with Casey Tyler and Jordan Reffett backing them up. At the end positions, Ty Eriks and Donny Mateaki are at REB and DE respectively, with Brandon Ala and Mike Mapu handling things from the second-team spots.

Scott White is playing at SAM and Evan Benjamin at WIL, with Durrell Moss and Tahj Bomar backing them up. Tim Galloway is the number-one MIK, followed by Kyle Trew.

One thing Gilbertson isn't concerned about is the bumps and bruises that come with playing a contact sport. He has a plan in mind when it comes to getting scrimmage repetitions during practice time that allow his players to get a feel for solid contact, but without the stress of getting all the hits taken care of at one time.

"We've had our share (of injuries), but that's how you play the game," he said. "You can't play the game in sweats, so I'm all for going at it. But at the same time we're trying to teach some things, so you can't be banging away all the time. And there are rules that don't let you do that either.

"I like to get after it and like to get lots of scrimmage snaps over a period of time. You get 10 one day and then 18 one day and then 20 the next before a couple of days off. That way they get a lot of reps but they aren't getting them all at once. You run the risk of running people down and not being sharp the other way.

"And also, even though you're coming off a winter conditioning program that's very tough, it's still hard to play 8,10,12 plays in a row because you're not quite used to it and you're not in game condition."

The team went through a spirited contact scrimmage session today that would best be characterized by the idea of 'thud tempo'. The hitting and aggressiveness was there, just not the act of taking the ballcarrier down. Expect a full-contact session to happen very soon.

Will QB's go live?: Gilbertson wasn't as sure Tuesday when asked if he still wants his quarterbacks to go live at some point this spring. "I probably won't do it Friday and I may not do it at all," he said. "I'm not sure how much I'll do. We'll see."

More new faces: There were three more new faces on the 2004 UW spring roster. Here they are:
4 Todd Enders LS 6-1, 195 FR Gibsonburg, Ohio
28 Derek Prenner PK 6-0, 185 JR Kent (Wash.) Tahoma
92 Chris Ferguson P 6-3, 200 FR Tacoma (Wash.) Charles Wright

Walking Wounded: Brandon Leyritz, Chris Singleton, Charles Frederick and Ben Bandel were all wearing red Tuesday, although Frederick practiced for nearly all the periods without crimson.

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