Dawgbytes - 4/5

Who knows if Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham liked report cards growing up in North Carolina, but he's definitely no fan of them now. His focus after five spring practices still remains on the big picture, namely getting his team acquainted with his new coaches, new philosophies and new ways of taking care of business on the football field.

"The thing we try to do as coaches is not try and make that transition as difficult as possible," Willingham said Tuesday. "You keep some of the things in the language and vocabulary from the past so that there's some carryover. As a staff you make those consessions."

But any transition is bound to be trying, especially to a group of young men coming off the worst season in Washington football history. "They've got a new language, to some degree. A new system, to some degree. And new people implimenting the system. They have to figure all that out and that's what makes a transition difficult."

But when practice is done and Willingham and staff repair to the video room to recap the day's events, it's not the system or the language that is receiving the bulk of the head coach's attention.

"I'm looking for the ability of the individual to be receptive to learning," he said, noting that the literal volume of practice has increased as familiarity has begun to set in.

"As you become more familiar, it becomes easier to work in that environment," he said. "You've been around your coaches, so it becomes more commonplace. You know them better and what you can do and what you can't do. That process will continue, and with that growth it allows you to be more enthusiastic and allows your own personality to come through."

But with a third of his spring nearly behind him, there's no way Willingham is set to grade his new charges. "I don't like report cards," he said, matter-of-factly.

He seems to be a lot more tuned into trying to identify what makes this particular team tick, or more to the point, how well they can come together when the season is upon them. Much like trying to figure out which coaches will be on the sidelines and which ones will be in the box come game-time, Willingham is constantly trying to hone a game-plan that will work best for Washington in the crunch.

But one thing he won't have is the luxury of coaching them in action first.

"If you don't know your football team, you want to find out how they respond to stress, how they respond to different situations," he said. "You don't learn about people until you are in pressure and stress situations. We have to learn about each other, and that's part of the process. Until you are in live competition, how does one perform? That's when you find out."

One phase of the game Willingham has not shied away from is contact, something the team demonstrated Wednesday afternoon. With roughly 20-25 recruits watching on (mostly from Mt. Tahoma and Ingraham), a ball-carrier was asked to score from five yards out with the help of one blocker against two defenders. They ran three of these drills from sideline to sideline and it had the team jacked up, especially the defense after a hard hit. New cornerback Roy Lewis was one defender that fared well in this full-contact drill.

Despite a reticence to single individual players out, Willingham did show that he is quick to hand out praise when he believes it is merited. "There have been no major disappointments, and I don't see anybody that has shown themselves to be spectacular," he said. "There have been some excellent plays. Last week, Louis Rankin had a wonderful run in one of our scrimmages. There have been some other great plays. But still, where we have to get to is where we are all performing at a high level. And we're not there yet."

He also was keenly aware of the physical condition of his team, including the various injuries and surgeries from last season that have carried over into April. "I think our team recognizes that we're delighted it's not the season," he said.

Quarterback race: Willingham wasn't ready to single out a front-runner for the quarterback job, saying "I'm in no rush to make a decision."

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