Coach's Corner

Fifteen days of spring football and the Washington Huskies have definitely gotten better. It is probably a stretch to think that all the questions about this team's future have been answered but there have been noticeable changes and that old "Husky Toughness" is creeping back into the system.

Gone is the music, sitting on benches, not wearing your helmet at all times, and not hustling on or off the field. It is not the country club atmosphere it has been the last few years and the most noticeable change has been the intensity of the coaching. There is a lot more emphasis on doing the little things correctly. There is more yelling and more hitting and more hustling.

Most important is there are a lot more repetitions.

I'm not saying those things alone are going to produce a championship but it is refreshing to see if you're a product of "old-school" football. I happen to be an old-timer who was used to the Don James business like approach to football. It was a system based on time, seriousness of purpose, and serious intensity. Jim Lambright perpetuated the system and won because of it in spite of ridiculous sanctions that cost the team not only scholarships but its legendary coach as well.

Coach Gilbertson is not trying to copy either of the old timers but certainly has returned the work ethic and seriousness of purpose to everything the Huskies are doing.

That is the most significant observation I have made while watching the Huskies practice this spring. There is a "return" taking place and it reflects the old school mentality that emphasizes that the answers to winning are found in hard work.

Practice is only one area where this is reflected. The weight room, the classroom, the meeting rooms, the training room, the locker room, and the time on campus are all just as important and all reflective of this cultural change. It is HOW things are done that is being drilled home.

So if the HOW is getting corrected, I'll now focus on the WHAT.

I am a believer that three things determine winning football. First is to play good defense, second is to be able to effectively run the ball when you need to, and third is to be solid in the kicking game. So, let's look at how these three areas were emphasized during the most recent 15 practices.

1) Defensively, this team is going to be better tacklers. The reason is because there is simply more emphasis being put on it. All four position areas are emphasizing footwork, balance, striking position, and wrap up. The fundamentals are getting better because of it. The defense is also attacking more and they are very enthusiastic about swarming to the ball. There is also a lot more emphasis on hustling to the ball and getting in on the tackle. It is really obvious with the linebackers and secondary where those positions are much more aggressive. Up front defensively there is still no "War Daddy" (IE: no absolute NFL prospect who is going to demand double teams and make offensive line worry how to block). Still, those kids in the "Hart Foundation" are not being outworked by any defensive line in this conference so what they lack in talent might be made up with work ethic. The answer there again is probably not on the practice field but off the field with Pete Kaligis and Steve Emtman. Still, the progress of the defense has been encouraging and there is still a chance that an in-coming freshman can step in and give some depth support come fall. I could see Keauntea Bankhead or Trenton Tuiasosopo, two local kids, getting serious looks come fall. Whereas, it is highly unusual to play freshmen up front, don't be surprised to see a rookie contributing there as well.

2) The kicking game continues to get Gilbertson's undivided attention, and there is a great emphasis being put on kick-off returns and the punt team. The basic noticeable difference is the speeding up of the snaps and holds. Kicks are getting off much quicker and maybe the Huskies can avoid all the costly blocks that marred the last few years. Remember, the Michigan loss was just as much due to a blocked field goal by Michigan in the first half as it was by their made one at the end. The "blocked kick ratio" has been negative for Washington over the past five years. That could change. The Huskies will block some kicks this year but most important will be that they have none of their own blocked. Those who follow the Huskies realize this has been a great equalizer whenever they played teams with better talent. That will be the case again this coming season, so the field goal/extra point team and the punt team need to really be sound. The last bowl game the Huskies played in swung completely when Purdue blocked a field goal with the Huskies leading 17-0, then proceeded to run off 34 straight points. Despite the punting and snapping sucking during the final scrimmage this spring, the field goal snaps, holds, and kicks are all faster and the blocking schemes appear more sound. Washington should be solid in the kicking game next season.

3) That leaves the running game and I personally believe that the running backs were one of the real bright spots of the whole spring. Kenny James is the real deal and has a definite knack for finding the cracks. He is a real good vision runner and has a little juke to his game that makes him hard to hit. Shelton Sampson is bigger but probably not quicker yet as he is still learning to carry the extra pounds he added over the winter. Chris Singleton showed some flash in the spring game and will give added depth at that position along with freshman Louis Rankin, who played quite frankly like a freshman much of the spring. James Sims really compliments Zach Tuiasosopo at fullback and gives that position two distinctly different type of players. Sims was certainly one of the biggest surprises of spring and shows quickness at the position that hasn't been there for years. Watch for the Huskies to be one of the best rushing teams in the conference next fall simply because they have added an extra running back to the mix in the quarterback. The quarterback is one of the hardest players to account for when designing you run stop defense. Washington is going to force opponents to play sideline to sideline defense because of the threat of the option. They really have had no outside running attack for the past two years. That is changing, and slowly so is the culture of the program.

Realistically this fall, I just want to see the Dawgs win more than they lose, go to a bowl game, and win the bowl game. I would even be happy to go to El Paso again.

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