Dawgbytes - 4/19

It's spring at Montlake, Dawg fans. The sun was out in its full glory on Tuesday, and the UW football team was battling that lucky old sun all day, trying to stay in the moment despite distractions coming from the sun's warmth and the fact that there were 20-30 members of both the men's and women's track teams whizzing around the track that encircles the Husky Stadium playing surface.

But they've got work to do, and new Head Coach Tyrone Willingham has been stressing the need to eliminate mental mistakes all spring. It was one of the rare occasions this April where receivers had to stare into the sun to catch passes and it showed. But it was also one of those rare days where quite a few people outside the football program were using the Husky Stadium facility, and that's something that probably didn't make him feel all that warm and fuzzy inside.

"Closing practice just eliminates distractions," he said. "The more people that are around, the more distractions you have. To me, it's no different than any other teacher on campus and their classes. They don't just open up the doors and let anybody in. They want as much of a clinical environment as possible so they can teach and their students can listen and learn in the best possible conditions. To me, football is no different."

With one more practice to go before the end of spring, it appears as if Washington will have a normal spring game, as normal as any spring game can be. "We're trying to keep it that way," he said. "Hopefully we won't do anything today that has us going in the other direction."

Willingham will split teams depending on what gives him the best chance to see the competition he wants to see out of his team. "I'm going to try and split them up evenly and let them go out there and have some fun," he said.

As was discussed earlier in the spring, Willingham has decided against having his quarterbacks go 'live', meaning they would be subject to tackles and sacks. "In the rush of the moment, things can happen," he said, alluding to the year at Florida State when they lost a quarterback in their spring and it cost them the following fall. Former Washington quarterback Mark Brunell was lost in the spring of 1991, and backup Billy Joe Hobert led the Huskies to a national championship.

The 2005 draft will be happening the same day as Washington's Spring Game, and two former Huskies - Khalif Barnes and Derrick Johnson (via phone) - talked with reporters Tuesday about what they will be doing this weekend and where they might find themselves being taken. Zach Tuiasosopo was on a flight back from Arizona and was unavailable for comment.

"I think my chances are good," Johnson said. "I've been hearing things, I hope they come true." He added that most of the speculation on his draft status has him going in either the 4th or 5th round. "I think the season may have had an effect, but I didn't play well as an individual either," he added. "But I think I did well at the pro day and combine and I'm excited about what can happen."

Barnes' stock has skyrocketed after a great Senior Bowl and Pre-Draft combine performance, which has him a long ways from the time when he came to Seattle expecting to play defensive end for the Huskies.

He was moved to tackle a couple of days before the 2000 Rose Bowl. "I wasn't too happy about it, but they told me that I had a chance to start next fall against Michigan," he said, looking back on where he'd been. "Who doesn't want a chance to start against a team like Michigan in your own stadium? It's been a crazy ride, and this is where I ended up."

Because of his improvement over the spring, Barnes may have moved up a round after each step in the process. But he doesn't keep track of any of it. Where he is staying right now, he doesn't even have a computer. "I have my folks tell me about it or old friends from high school," Khalif said. "I don't want to be a guy that tells guys where he's going and then finds out that I don't go there. Wherever I get my name called, that's where I'm going.

"There are so many things that are thrown out there. I've watched a lot of drafts now and I know a lot of guys that have been through the draft. You think you might be going one place and the next thing you're with a team you never really talked to."

The pro-timing day at Dempsey indoor was a big day for both Johnson and Barnes. It was at that event where the Seattle Seahawks had both Huskies go through individual workouts. They were the only NFL team to do that.

Seahawks line coach Bill Laveroni personally worked out Barnes mentally while Khalif visited the Seahawks complex in Kirkland. "He had me on the board for about 45 minutes, seeing how well I could regurgitate what he put on the board," said Barnes. "I asked questions about Walter Jones and what makes him so good. They have the best left side with (Steve) Hutchinson in the National Football League."

Besides the Seahawks, Barnes has worked out with the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars. "I flew out to Philadelphia, but I didn't work out," he said. He's also been watching guys like Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones, Chris Samuels, Orlando Pace and Brad Hopkins. "And the whole Patriots line too," he added. "They play together as one unit. All of those guys are the elite linemen in the NFL, and who better to learn by?"

Derrick and Khalif spent the last five years of their lives in Seattle, but they are going back to Southern California to spent this exciting weekend amongst a small group of friends and family. Johnson will spend the weekend with his mother, brothers and uncles in Riverside. "We're just going to enjoy being together as a family," he said. "It's going to be a couple of really long days. I'm going to watch a lot of guys go before me. I've heard the first day will be longer than the second. It will be stressful."

Barnes is a little more at ease, but he knows the stressful part will be coming up very soon. "I'm going to be in my living room of the house I grew up at," he said when asked about his plans. "I'll have a few friends over, some family - not too big. I'm not one of those guys that wants a big huge party. Just people that knew about me even before anybody knew I was going to play in college.

"As soon as that draft happens, I'll be happy, but ten minutes later I'll be worried about what I need to do to earn that spot." More than a few mock drafts have Barnes being selected by San Diego late in the first round. He played at Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley, a suburb of San Diego.

"I've had a few ex-coaches that called my parents up and my sister and cousins watch ESPN all the time," he said. "They told me that that San Diego Tribune had a story up about it. If San Diego picked me, it would be a great place to play."

Johnson worked out in Arizona and then in Riverside, going after it five days a week. He graduated this past fall from Washington with a degree in law, society and justice. "I'm good to go," he said about his health. "I was a little beat up last year but now I'm feeling good and I can't wait to show what I can do when I get picked up."

"I think I had a little more work to do than the other tackles out there, like Jamaal (Brown) and Alex (Barron)," said Barnes when asked about the wrist injury that sidelined him for a majority of his senior season. "I missed six games and they played a full season. But it was a personal thing with me, showing that I'm of an equal caliber. I had to take it a few events at a time - the Senior Bowl, the (pre-draft) combine and then the individual workouts."

Johnson and Barnes have much to look forward to, but they aren't going to lose touch with their past. "I'm excited to see what he (Willingham) does the next couple of years," Barnes said of UW's new coach. "I think a lot of people are expecting an immediate turnaround where things are going to flip. They have to understand that it takes time.

"He's getting those guys on the right track and getting them to where they need to be. If you've ever been around the guy, he demands your respect. Just his posture...he's a classy guy. You listen to what he says and he's got a lot of important things to say. He's a natural leader. You want to follow him. I think he's a great coach, and I haven't even been coached by him. It just because of what he says and what he does."

In attendance: Hugh Millen, coaches from Eisenhower HS in Yakima, as well as players and coaches from Columbia River HS in Vancouver, including 6-foot-9, 290-pound lineman Dee White. Trenton Tuiasosopo was wearing a jersey today and playing catch with Joe Lobendahn, Scott White and Dan Foafoa.

Do as I say and as I do: New receivers coach Eric Yarber doesn't just talk the talk. Tuesday he was out catching balls with the team. All the kickers were also catching passes, something they've been doing since the beginning of spring.

A doubtful return: It's possible OG Stanley Daniels might be available for Spring Game, but Willingham said he's doubtful. The junior from San Diego had a surgical procedure done that has kept him out of the majority of spring.

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