Dawgbytes - 4/8

There was little going on at Montlake today, as the football team prepares for a scrimmage Friday that will go roughly 75-80 plays. The scrimmage - which is closed to the public - will be the first one of the spring for the Huskies. As such, Thursday's no-pads practice focused more on special teams.

The placekicking battle is still ongoing, with Evan Knudson having a slight edge over Michael Braunstein. Sean Douglas has a solid handle on the punting, as well as kickoff, duties. Mike Mapu and Tim Galloway are the main short snappers, while Galloway and Rob Lewis are the two players in charge of the long snapping chores.

Derrick Johnson, Anthony Russo, Sonny Shackelford and Louis Rankin are the players vying for the second kickoff return spot alongside Charles Frederick, while Frederick, Russo and Shackelford are handling the punt returns so far this spring.

Frederick is not expected to play in Friday's scrimmage, which will focus more on 1st and 2nd down, as opposed to other phases of the game. "We won't worry as much with 3rd down and conversions, goal-line, short-yardage," Keith Gilbertson said Thursday afternoon. "I just want us to go out there and see if we can function with the offense and defense and special teams that we've worked on so far in the first six practices."

Besides Frederick, Manase Hopoi (knee), Chris Singleton (foot) and Sonny Shackelford (hamstring) will be out for Friday's scrimmage. Hopoi's injury will keep him out until Monday, but it's not considered significant.

Gilbertson mentioned a few players that have stepped up and moved into prominent spring roles. "I think Chris Hemphill, in the 36-to-38-play scrimmage that we had in practice the other day ran around and made a lot of plays, tackled well in the open field. That was good to see. C.J. Wallace too.

"James Sims looked good at fullback. James did some nice things with the ball and without the ball, so I was very pleased with him. He's going to earn some playing time. He looks more comfortable at fullback than he did at safety. I like what I've seen so far. He can run fast and has nice size. He's caught the ball well and has also done a nice job of picking up protections.

"The quarterbacks all did some good things in their turn. That competition is going just how we've left it. Casey and Isaiah, they've been in competition basically all the time they've been here, so they aren't strangers to that.

Gilbertson noted that while he's pleased with the team's overall progress, he knows that there will be a point where that learning curve takes a big dip downward. "There will be a point with the guys where they keep adding things and adding things and then around practice 10 they hit a wall and they feel like they can't do anything. But then when they review things, it comes back."

And that doesn't necessarily apply to just the players. The coaches also need time to acclimate themselves in a new environment and new circumstances, but Gilbertson feels like the history between everyone on the staff gives them a head-start over other staffs that might have also faced significant off-season movement.

"Really, the only guy that's new here is Jimmy (Lake)," said Gilbertson. "Charlie (Dickey) has worked with (Scott) Pelluer and with (Steve) Axman. And (Chris) Tormey has obviously worked with Randy Hart and myself. And both coordinators were here a year ago, so we had a lot better carryover than last fall."

Gilbertson also talked about two veteran players, Tui Alailefaleula and Ryan Brooks, two offensive linemen that will be counted on this spring to shore things up on a depleted line.

"He has a lot of learning to do," Gilbertson said of Alailefaleula, a recently converted defensive tackle. "With his body and feet and power that he has the potential to be a good blocker. But there was no hesitation this winter and not much discussion (about the move). He has a redshirt year if we need to us it. It was the right move for him and I think down the road it will help the team.

"I'm pleased with Ryan, but he's a veteran. He's going on his fifth year. And I think that even Ryan would admit that he should have done more earlier in his career than to wait this long. There are so many new faces on the offensive line this spring that breaking the huddle has been a new adventure."

Gilbertson is also pleased with the three healthy running backs, but is still looking for improvement. "Kenny James is a good back and Louis (Rankin) has had his moments. Shelton is a bigger back, but he's not playing like it. He's playing like he's still a smaller back. He's at 200 pounds now and still has his speed, so he needs to take it at the offense a little more."

Gilby on Nate: Did Gilbertson have a comment on Nate Robinson's decision to enter his name in the 2004 NBA draft? "Well, he's late for practice," Gilbertson quipped. "Whatever is best for Nate is what I want. I'm not an expert in basketball or the NBA, but as a guy that recruited Nate he's a remarkable athlete and he can do pretty much anything he sets his mind to."

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