8/26 PM Practice Report

The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter, the end of camp is in sight. But that doesn't mean the hard work is over - far from it. With another two-hour-plus practice under the sun in Husky Stadium Thursday night, The Washington Huskies are sorting out the best 44 guys they will start with a week from Sunday against Fresno State. Washington Head Coach Keith Gilbertson pointed out some positions that are still under review.

"I think just about everybody knows where they are in the depth," Gilbertson said after practice Thursday. "We need to get solidified at tight end and kicker. We need to see where Charles (Frederick) is at, where Donny (Mateaki) is at. Same thing at defensive end with (Mike) Mapuolesega."

Both Lyon and Mateaki played on Thursday, but did not run at one-hundred percent. "We kind of kept them under control, but I thought they had good practices," Gilbertson said.

With Lyon running at less than one-hundred percent, and Joe Toledo and Ben Bandel out completely, Rob Lewis has stepped to the fore along with Dash Crutchley and Mike Gottlieb to form a very young but very athletic group at tight end.

"He's pushing for some exposure," Gilbertson said of Lewis. "He's anxious to get an opportunity and has had a darn good fall." All three healthy tight ends caught the ball well Thursday, and Lyon also had a good workout.

Mateaki, during the 11-11 'Thud' tempo team drills, slashed in from his spot on the defensive interior and put a hand on the quarterback before he was able to get started on his drop. The DT from Hawaii needs to be healthy for the Huskies to have success, especially with depth thinned out a bit as the result of Jordan Reffett moving to offense.

But there is a very good chance that UW starts their 2004 campaign off with an all-Polynesian defensive line. Brandon Ala is the clear leader at REB now, and Mapuolesega is holding down the defensive end spot on the other side. Manase Hopoi will start inside, and Mateaki has every chance of beating Dan Milsten for the number-one nose tackle position. One thing is certain - Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow will not shy away from bringing players in and out to form a solid, consistent and athletic defensive rotation.

"I think our strength right now is that we've got some good players at all three positions," Snow said, referring to DL, LB and DB. "During a game, I think we are going to be able to roll guys, and not just in the secondary. We might be able to play 18-20 guys and stay fresh out there."

One of the main switches happening defensively is the move of Cody Ellis to the fourth corner spot, ahead of Clarence 'Dre' Simpson. The speed merchant from Puyallup has impressed Snow with his abilities. "He'll be our fourth guy and we will also play him in dime situations," he said of Ellis. "Dre just isn't running as well right now as we would have hoped. Maybe it's because of the weight he's put on, but others are just more productive right now."

Another big-time battle that starting to percolate to the surface revolves around the strong tackle position, where Ryan Brooks and Rob Meadow are duking it out for playing time.

"Good battle," Gilbertson said of the Brooks-Meadow tete-a-tete. "I want to give the benefit of the doubt to a senior, but it's neck and neck. And if Tusi (Sa'au) isn't one-hundred percent, we would run a little three-man rotation with Robin and Stanley (Daniels) on that side."

Khalif Barnes, Clay Walker and Tui Alailefaleula hold down the other guard-tackle 'rotation' on the other side. "I think he has to right now," Gilbertson said of Alailefaleula and the possibility of the big man from Alaska foregoing an opportunity to redshirt this fall.

At the end of the day, the team focused on two-minute drills, and both Casey Paus and Isaiah Stanback did their jobs, getting the offense downfield. This set up approximately 40-yard field goals for both Evan Knudson and Mike Braunstein.

Knudson made his. Braunstein didn't. And thus, the kicking enigma is once again shrouded in mystery and wrapped up in a riddle. "Evan today had a clear edge and Mike struggled," Gilbertson said. "For about 95 percent of camp it's been Evan's job. That hasn't changed."

The receivers were clad in red for the most part Thursday, as Frederick, Anthony Russo and Corey Williams were all held back from major participation, although Frederick and Russo did work out today catching passes. Williams had a tight hamstring Wednesday and is expected back Monday.

If Frederick isn't able to go against Fresno State - which isn't expected - Bobby Whithorne would take his spot in the rotation. "He's had a hell of a camp," Gilbertson said of the redshirt frosh from Rancho Santa Margarita, California. "He's really improved in the offseason. He worked hard this summer. He looks fast and he's catching it."

The rest of the rotation appears to be Quintin Daniels, Frederick, Williams and Sonny Shackelford Shackelford has really bounced back from his blow-up in Olympia, where he earned some choice words from Gilbertson and from the rest of his teammates for kicking a ball and causing a personal foul in the process.

"He's practiced well all the time other than the one blow-up," Gilbertson said of Shackelford. "And that's how you learn. I don't think confrontations like that are negative if you learn something from it. And he has."

Russo was having one of the best camps of anyone on the team until he came up with an injury and has been out ever since. "He was the first inside receiver before he got injured," Gilbertson said. "He's got skills that remind me of Mario (Bailey), that twitch and the ability to run with the ball."

Shackelford now becomes the number-one inside receiver in Russo's absence.

The red is disconcerting to Gilbertson, but outside of Josh Okoebor - lost for the season with an ACL tear - no one is considered out for Fresno State with the possible exception of Ben Bandel.

"Everytime you go out to scrimmage, it happens," he said about the possibility of injury. "But we've had a physical camp and I think our guys are in pretty good condition. Hopefully it's a sign of a more-athletic team. I've always thought that the more athletic teams were less apt to get injured. Hopefully we are getting closer to where we want to be."

It was a nice sight to see frosh OL Juan Garcia running up and down the sidelines, doing what he can to get back in the mix.


Notes:
Clearing the way: Luke Kravitz is back on the team after having his clearinghouse issues resolved. "He showed up just in time to get the heck kicked out of him today on the scout team," Gilbertson said. "It's one down, two to go." Casey Bulyca was at practice Thursday, but didn't participate. He has yet to be cleared, as well as defensive lineman Jasper Henry.

Frosh Front and Center: Snow said that they have not ruled out using Erick Lobos this fall, and Jordan White-Frisbee and Greyson Gunheim are certainly doing what they need to do in order to play as true freshmen. He also said that it's highly likely that Darin Harris will also see action, as well as Daniel Howell. Speaking of Howell, he had the most athletic play of the day, picking off a Casey Paus pass right at the line of scrimmage in mid-leap, no more than ten feet away from the junior quarterback. Howell also batted a Paus pass down on the very next play, and Mapuolesega also had success getting his hands up to deflect a pass from Paus. And last, but not least, frosh DE Caesar Rayford also took his turn in the reject-fest, batting down a couple of balls this afternoon.


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