Coach's Corner

The Huskies are getting better, and that is one of the keys to any winning program. Let's start with the head coach. Take a look at his personnel decisions, his practice organization, and the strategic elements of the game. Gilbs is making the program better.

Put on your rose colored glasses (or you can borrow mine), because this is how I see the developing Husky football team. Keith Gilbertson's hires are all solid "Washington" guys, who want to be here and understand Husky traditions.

First, he brings back Scott Pelluer and assigns him to recruit in state, and that has made a difference in the Huskies' recruiting. The program helped close the borders by signing a good percentage of their class right out of their own backyard. Losing Keauntea Bankhead temporarily and Matt Tuiasosopo to baseball hurt, but the emphasis on in-state linemen was really encouraging.

There are always a certain few who want to go out of state or go across the mountains to WSU, but the Huskies' strong showing in Washington had a lot to do with Pelluer's approach to recruiting. He and Randy Hart work together in this state. Because Scott was an ex-Cougar, it gives him a certain advantage when recruiting against the Cougs (At least I always thought it helped me in recruiting).

Pelluer also took over the kicking game and there was improvement there as well. Save the Nevada debacle, there were less blocks, better returns featuring the number one punt returner in the conference, more solid kick protection, and simply a better overall kicking game. Pelluer also has been handling the tight ends and you could really see improvement this spring in Jon Lyon, the junior college transfer. That was a necessity given injuries to both Joe Toledo and Ben Bandel. Lyon really improved his run blocking as well, which will be essential in the running game.

All in all, Pelleur is proving to be a good initial hire for Gilbertson.

Two of Gilbs' next hires were both on the defensive side of the ball. Bringing back Chris Tormey was a tremendous get, as Chris is also an excellent recruiter and his background as a head coach really improves the quality of the staff. Chris is an excellent position coach, and was an excellent defensive coordinator during his previous stint at Washington. The kids have already figured that out, and Chris definitely has their attention. The linebackers as a whole were one of the most improved units in the spring.

Tormey's hiring alone was the best personnel move of the Gilbertson era thus far.

Coach Jimmy Lake has been a rising star in the local college ranks and brings youth and excitement to the secondary. He proved to be a good teacher in spring and his group of corners might be one of the best units on the team. He will surely learn a lot from veteran Phil Snow.

Snow took over the safeties, and he's attempting to build the depth there where it once was nonexistent. Even with the loss of Bankhead, there is still significant talent and it's all bigger and faster. Jimmy Newell is still the brains back there but Coach Snow found at least 3-4 other safety types. That allowed him to move last year's starter, Evan Benjamin, up to linebacker where he clearly adds more speed. Watch for Dre Simpson at safety, which could be a very good move, along with the addition of Dashon Goldson.

All three of these personnel moves by Gilbertson have really improved their overall recruiting, as Lake will work well in Los Angeles along with recruiting coordinator Cornell Jackson. Washington will again recruit both the state of Washington and LA with primary emphasis.

The most recent personnel move was interesting. Very quietly, new offensive line coach Charlie Dickey came on board and proved this spring to be an excellent choice. His unit, which is not highly rated, actually had a really good spring. The players that were there really improved, but the missing ones, particularly Rob Meadow, might even make it a really good line come fall.

Questions continue to dog the OL, but Dickey did improve the depth in the younger ranks, and some of that has to be attributed to his style. For example, Ryan Brooks appears to be the best he has ever been since he came into the system. He really responded to his new coach. Clay Walker and Khalif Barnes should make for an excellent weak side of the offensive line.

Dickey is very familiar with the Pac-10, and knows what it will take to compete up front. He's getting the necessary work done, and if injuries can be held to a minimum, I see a lot of good things happening here. It should also be noted that Dickey already received a recruiting pre-season commitment from a JC corner (Keno Walter-White), something that is rarely heard of at Washington.

Gilbertson brought back former UW Quarterbacks Coach Steve Axman to coach the wide receivers. Like Tormey, Ax is another ex-head coach who brings an excellent football mind to the system. He has also been here before so he knows the landscape and knows Gilbertson's style and expectations, and more importantly, the system.

Coaching longevity and continuity are still some of the most important personnel considerations, and having people with familiar backgrounds for both coaching and recruiting really helps a program to improve.

The Huskies have gone back to the Don James style practices with lots of reps and keeping everyone moving. If you buy into this system, you believe that more gets done because there is a lot less standing around, no sitting down, no helmets off, no walking off the field, much more hitting, and a higher intensity level. With the right personnel and the proper attitude, this practice strategy can be outstanding. I certainly buy into it, but Don was the guy I learned from.

Speaking of strategy, that is the toughest thing to gage at this point about Gilbertson. In his first year, to maintain continuity in such a difficult situation, Keith was somewhat hamstrung so he tried to keep a similar approach in many ways as former Head Coach Rick Neuheisel had.

The obvious ugly spots are the second half of the UCLA game and the two road games in November. The positives were that I felt the adjustments at halftime were solid, from the press box you could see the changes in strategy. From an x's and o's standpoint, they were sound. And this has always been one of Gilbertson's strengths. As a game develops he has a wonderful knack of counter acting opponent's game plans.

Now with a full winter and spring drills under his belt, Gilbs knows that it is his program, and with that comes more pressure.

I anticipate seeing three things continuing to change or improve:

1) I really believe the Huskies will be attacking more on defense. They will go after the quarterback and play less soft zones in the secondary (IE: letting the receiver catch the ball then tackle him).
2) Fans will see a new and potentially explosive offense with much more emphasis on running. This will include the quarterback position being a real weapon outside of the pocket.
3) The solidifying of the kicking game

This is why it is so hard to predict how good this team will be. If constant improvement is really a factor, then they will certainly be better than last year, and if they are, then they will go to a bowl game and have a winning season. I believe that they will accomplish that.

I tried to study the whole picture objectively this past spring and I am confident Strength Coaches Pete Kaligis and Steve Emtman have done - and will continue to do - their jobs this summer.

I have personally set a goal for the Las Vegas Bowl because I like the city, but I can always change reservations for Pasadena just in case the chips fall right and this team gets on a roll. At this point, even the Sun Bowl looks good to me.

Even with the rose colored glasses off, I truly believe at a minimum that this football team has really improved in the off season, but only a win over Fresno State will confirm this.

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