At least spring football offers hope. It is a rite of passage of the game. It is critical in the development of any football team. I admit it, I'm a football guy. It's my sport and I'm sticking to it, and spring football is fun for me.
Particularly now that I no longer have to play or coach it anymore.
I'm still having trouble believing there are only 11 scholarship seniors on the Husky squad for 2004. What happened? And how can there be such a shortage for linemen that you can't even have full scrimmages?
Forget about the Spring Game for 2004. They will be lucky if there are enough bodies left to field two teams by the end of next week. One sprained ankle by an offensive linemen and there won't even be two full lines. But you have to play the hand you're dealt (or that you recruit for that matter). And besides, there are some older kids like Robin Meadow at guard and Joe Lobendahn at linebacker and hopefully Joe Toledo at tight end and maybe Tusi Sa'au at guard that could really change the look of this team come fall.
Hopefully the JC defensive end, Rashaad Goodrum, who stumbled academically, can still get here by fall. That's a kid that could definitely help, his film was outstanding. I suspect shenanigans there, however, so don't be surprised if he ends up at USC or Kansas State.
Looking again at the offensive line, not only is it thin, it is once again very green. Clayton Walker will only be a sophomore next fall and is currently starting next to Khalif Barnes on the quick side of the line while Ryan Brooks, a seldom used senior, and redshirt frosh Stanley Daniels are working together on the strong side. Brad Vanneman, yet another sophomore, is starting at the center spot where he is backed up by true freshman Juan Garcia out of Yakima. There are also two other redshirt freshman-to-be in the mix with Chad Macklin and Eric Berglund working side by side with the two's.
That means the Husky offensive line has really only one returning starting player, that being Barnes.
When you look at that, it isn't hard to figure out why some people are picking the Huskies to be a second tier team. You win with the men up front, it's a pretty basic principle in football. The team that is best in the lines usually wins the games, and the linemen are usually your older kids because most linemen benefit greatly from a redshirt season. However, if you don't recruit 4-5 each year, eventually you will run out of depth, kind of like they have this year. Then you have no choice but to go with youth, even though they lack experience and physical strength.
I can tell you that the whole group looks pretty good so far though, and are certainly working hard. Fingers crossed that they stay healthy.
Going over to the other side of the ball, things are not a whole lot different. Only Manase Hopi returns as a starter on the line, and all the other kids are first or second year players. Sophomores Donny Mateaki and Brandon Ala are working at defensive end along with Ty Eriks, who has moved three or four times in his short career. Junior JC transfer, Mike Mapu is also in the hunt at defensive end and Dan Milsten, another sophomore, may start at the other inside position. When Milsten sprained an ankle in the scrimmage, the shortage of depth became noticeable on the defensive line as well.
With all of that inexperience up front and a first year starter at quarterback, the prospects of unseating USC as the conference champions seems a bit of a stretch.
This team can be good, however, and it does appear gifted at the skill positions. The passers and receivers are making great progress and the pass defenders are battling them daily. That part of practice stands out. But, it's still what happens up front that will determine the fate of this team.
Nevertheless, there are some real positives coming out of the spring practices I have seen. Watching practice is like going back in time about at least a decade. Coach Gilbertson has things working on a Don James type schedule. The tackling is getting better if only by the emphasis that is being put on it.
This Husky team is working real hard. For me, that is enough. That feeds my dreams and gives me those rays of hope. This team will win games. They will make it happen. Sometimes it's actually better to be young and not know the difference. Remember, the Huskies won a national championship with a sophomore at quarterback. Sophomores can win because they have really been there for three years. It's when you ask freshmen to start, particularly on the lines, is when you get yourself in trouble.
Sometimes, though, you just have to play what you've got.
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