Looking into the future

With seven verbal commits under his belt, Coach Tyrone Willingham has around seven scholarships left to fill. That assumes all seven verbals will hold firm with some maintenance. With that in mind, let's take a look at the roster and project 2005 and how the new recruits might fit into their roles.

Offensive Line – 14 scholarship athletes return: Washington returns all but two of their linemen. It will be a young crew, but the potential is there to be solid under new tutelage of Mike Denbrock. The interior line looks good with Brad Vanneman, Stanley Daniels, Clay Walker, and Tusi Sa'au returning. All four have significant minutes and starts under their belts. Add Juan Garcia to that mix and it looks very strong. Newc60051776omers Tyler Ashby and Nathan Flowers will use this spring to show that they should be considered for the rotation at guard and center. Ryan Bush is being groomed as a center prospect.

It's at the tackle position where the Huskies need to make an overhaul. Robin Meadow will be asked to man one side, and remain healthy. He's had bad luck with his knees so far in his career. It would be great to see what he can do at 100% instead of playing through pain. The other tackle spot may go to Tui Alailefaleula, who redshirted last year. He is listed as a guard but tackle might be in his future, particularly if Meadow can play the weakside. Jordan Reffett was moved from DL to shore up this area of the line as well. At 6-6 and 295, he's got the size already. Newcomer Casey Bulyca and redshirt sophomore Chad Macklin will push for time, and opportunity is definitely knocking for them. Jovon O'Connor has the size to be a future force here as well. He looks 25 years old already.

You would like to see 15 offensive linemen on scholarship. With one senior and possible attrition (it's always possible), the need would be for three this year. Look for Tyrone to plow the JC ranks to pick up one or two more.

COMMIT: James Paulk. PROJECTED: Ben Ossai.

Tailback – 5 scholarship athletes return: Kenny James looks good between the tackles and has the capability of getting 20 carries per game behind the right offensive line and scheme. Shelton Sampson is bigger now, and still has good enough speed to get the corner on most defenders. Louis Rankin has yet to really showcase his talents, but in practices he looks the fastest of the three. Chris Singleton has fought injuries which has made it some tough sledding for the senior to be. James and Sampson were an effective 1-2 at times, but there was not enough consistency in the play calling to get any real running game established. Jon Kirton is the wild card in this mix. He is a house and could be a Jerome Bettis type back if they leave him here. Personally I'd love to see what he could do as either a thumper at fullback or a bruising middle linebacker or defensive end.

It is a deep stable, but there appear to be no home run threats on paper. One of these guys is gonna have to prove it on the field.

PROJECTED: Jonathan Stewart would be a home run threat if he came here. JR Hasty would also be a marvelous fit. Dawgs could get both of them. Optimism leads me to believe that they will.

Fullback – 3 scholarship athletes return: James Sims, Jr., and Luke Kravitz are the two guys here that need to be the hole openers. Sims is a viable offensive threat and saw some action at the one-back last year as well as tailback. Kravitz will be the guy that knocks the linebacker out of the hole. Durrell Moss could be the sleeper here. At 215 pounds, he provides a bit of a bigger back, but the Huskies lack a "thumper" in the Tuiasosopo mold.

PROJECTED: I expect no recruiting help in this position for this year.

Quarterback – 3 scholarship athletes return: Casey Paus suffered through a nightmare of a season, as did the entire team at 1-10. Paus threw far too many interceptions and will have to fight off Isaiah Stanback and Carl Bonnell this spring to regain his starting job. Stanback has 4.4 speed and can break a game open with his athleticism, but he turned the ball over too often. Bonnell looks the most fluid of the three, and may have the upper hand in a new system where all things are equal.

COMMIT: Johnny Durocher. - Durocher is bigger than the three already on the roster and has a very strong arm. QB guru Greg Barton loves Durocher and thinks he has a large upside. Brock Huard sees him work out first hand and believes that he'll ascend to the top of the heap by next fall. We'll see.

TE – 4 scholarship athletes return: With Ben Bandel done with football, this is a huge need. Joe Toledo's back prevented him from going full time in 2004. I'd love to see him moved to offensive tackle, where the Huskies are green. That would enable Dash Crutchley to see more time. Dash can stretch the field vertically. The other guy that will likely get a lot of playing time is former walk-on Mike Gottlieb. He impresses me and is deserving of the scholarship he was rewarded with. Rob Lewis is intriguing if he is tried more at this position. He has the long lanky body that will bulk up, and he's very athletic. If he is not moved, I would love to see what he can do at tight end. Jason Benn could be a solid blocker as he gets bigger. Neuheisel wanted to move him to the offensive line but it didn't get done. He's also a deep snapper.

PROJECTED: My best guess is that if the Huskies sign anyone here, it will be from a JC.

Wide receiver - 7 scholarship athletes return: Craig Chambers, Sonny Shackelford, Bobby Whithorne, Anthony Russo, Corey Williams, Quintin Daniels, and Charles Smith all return. Williams and Chambers are proving to be two legitimate threats, and now need to show consistency for the entire year. Chambers was buried deep on the dept chart until the season was half over and Williams suffered an injury that cut his year short. Shackelford has the potential for the big catch but also dropped his share. Russo did the same. Daniels has great speed. Whoever is hired to coach wide receivers will need to instill confidence and disciplined route running into this young group of athletes. I look for the staff to try Charles "Dre" Simpson at wide out this spring. He's tall, quick, and VERY athletic with an offensive mindset.

COMMIT: Soft verbal Brandon Smith will add to the depth as another receiver if he stays with his commit after his final three visits. He has great size and good foot-speed.

Defensive tackles - 6 scholarship athletes return: Jordan White-Frisbee and Erik Lobos showed terrific promise on the interior. Both played a lot, lining up in the mix with returning upper classmen Donnie Mateaki and Dan Milsten. Manase Hopoi had an all-Pac 10 type season last year and is expected to return for his fifth year of eligibility. Wilson Afoa played some minutes up front, which allowed the staff to move Reffett to the offensive line to balance the numbers. Jasper Henry is a quick first-step guy that needs more size but could be a very effective player if he gets to about 285. He's got a low center of gravity and is explosive. This group is young but oh so loaded. Coach Randy Hart returns to continue coaching them effectively.

PROJECTED: Ismail Abdunafi, a 285-pound beast that could be an immediate impact player.

Defensive ends - 7 scholarship athletes return: Brandon Ala, Ty Eriks, Greyson Gunheim, and Mike Mapuolesega all bring experience to the table, all return. Mapuolesega looked primed to have a big year until he went down with an injury. Gunheim was named to the Sporting News all-freshman team, and has a world of upside. He needs to get bigger but his frame looks much more mature than his 19 years of age indicates. Caesar Rayford burned his redshirt last year due to injuries ahead of him. He looks like he could be the other bookend of the future opposite Gunheim. He's tall and skinny, but he'll bulk up another 25 pounds and try to show Randy Hart that he will be the big Husky end that was missing when Mapuloesega went down and Hopoi was moved inside. Adam Heater could remain here or move back to tight end. Walt Winter will see his first action this fall after redshirting in 2004.

COMMIT: Tyrone Davis is committed and will be tried on the edge as well.

Linebacker: 8 scholarship athletes return: Joe Lobendahn will be the leader from his inside position, and Evan Benjamin looks poised to have a big senior season next to him. Scott White returns, and he showed alternating flashes of brilliance with his moments where his inexperience showed. He is a football player, plain and simple, and makes football plays. He doesn't let his relative lack of size get in his way of sticking his nose into the fray. Tahj Bomar got buried last year, so look for this talented speedy player to make more noise in 2005. Daniel Howell made his mark on special teams last year and got some action as an outside linebacker. He is a good hitter with good pursuit speed. Trenton Tuiasosopo moved steadily up the depth charts, impressing the coaches enough to earn playing time as a true freshman. His wrestling background gave him an excellent foundation for terrific footwork and balance. He is a real striker. Mesphin Forrester is listed as a safety but I can't help but wonder if linebacker may be his future. Kyle Trew is another linebacker that can move well, and has a pretty thick frame that can get bigger. Ben Warren is another walk-on that could be deserving of a scholarship.

COMMIT: Chris Stevens. PROJECTED: EJ Savannah. Stevens can run and will grow into his long frame. Savannah is a tackling machine that the Huskies need to keep home. I believe that they will.

Safety: 6 scholarship athletes return: Dashon Goldson got torched as he learned to take proper angles, but there is no denying that he can hit and is more athletic than his predecessors at safety. New secondary coach Wilks has a very talented pupil to mold in Goldson. He has all-Pac 10 talent. CJ Wallace is the biggest hitter in the secondary, and has the similar quality of Scott White – the look of a bona fide football player. The way he runs, the way he moves, he just oozes football. Chris Hemphill is a long rangy player that can really talk a good game too. He's still learning his trade but he covers a lot of ground with his 6-5 frame. He'll only get better. Darrin Harris looks terrific in the back 40, and shows great wheels. Chet Sanders and Mesphin Forrester could move to linebacker, which would create the need for more bodies here. Dre Simpson is currently listed as a safety but I think the staff wants to take a look at him as a receiver to see if they can bolster their arsenal of offensive weapons.

PROJECTED: Kellen Moriarty is an athletic quarterback from California that could be a great fit here. I think Willingham gets a verbal from him in the next two weeks.

Cornerback: 5 scholarship athletes return: Matt Fountaine and Cody Ellis are the two corners on scholarship with some experience under fire. Kim Taylor and Josh Okoebor both need to prove it this spring that they're ready for the live bullets. Roy Lewis transferred in after getting a lot of starts at San Jose State, so look for him to challenge for a starting role. If none of these guys can get it done, look for a wide receiver to be moved out of that logjam. Derrick Bradley's football career is over before it ever got started.

COMMIT: Keno Walter-White. PROJECTED: 1 more. Walter-White is a speedster that will come out of JC ready to challenge for the two-deeps. It's always a difficult transition to Pac-10, but he's got the speed to get your attention. Washington will pick one more corner up to add depth.

Kickers: 3 scholarship athletes return: With Sean Douglas' improvement at punter, there are no concerns there. With Michael Braunstein on a full ride and Evan Knudson being awarded a scholarship, the kicking job will get good competition. The Huskies have to find more consistency out of their place kicking in 2005.

COMMIT: Ryan Perkins has a big leg and will challenge for either the kickoff job or placekicking job.

Total scholarship athletes returning: 71
Projected recruiting class for 2005: 14

Scholarship Breakdown

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