Coach's Corner

Each football season, probably the worst scrimmage every spring is the final one. First of all, without a senior class your numbers are down, thus making it difficult field two full teams. Second of all, you know you're being skunked by next year's first opponents, so you don't want to show everything anyway.

Finally, because of injuries and post operative rehabilitation, you are often missing some of your key players. Then if you try to divide up your players evenly, you end up diluting your starting units and any continuity you have developed team wise over the spring. All of the above were reflected in this year's annual spring game.

A reasonable crowd of about five thousand showed up for the first glimpse of the Willingham era. If they were looking for excitement in terms of scoring, they were probably disappointed.

They did get to witness the makings of a pretty good defense, but let's face it, there are very few of us out there who view the game that way. The defenses dominated the scrimmage especially when you consider the score of 3-0.

Considering there were six former defensive starters who missed the scrimmage, we would have to assume that the defense will be even better come fall. Combine that with the incoming JC transfusion (most of it on defense), the stop department might just be good enough to win games on their own. The defense basically played well enough last season to win 4 0r 5 games if it weren't for a woeful offense.

The missing players were almost as obvious as the lack of efficiency. A total of 14 scholarship players did not participate in the scrimmage. That's about one fifth of your roster when you factor in senior graduation.

Not having LB Joe Lobendahn alone took away much of the defense. There is no one else playing the position near his level of play. The young linebackers got a chance to develop this spring, but one of the best, Trent Tuiasosopo, missed the whole spring because of a facial injury suffered in a bike accident. Taj Bomar and Kyle Trew got plenty of reps alongside Evan Benjamin, but are not yet the caliber of Joe. Benjamin is a solid player and an even better person.

The young linebacker who really caught my eye all spring was Dan Howell. This kid can really run and has put on weight and muscle and stepped into the outside linebacker position. He is threatening to replace Scott White, a returning starter who likewise sat out all spring with mono. Howell is much faster than White but is still learning the position. Still, he is an exciting looking athlete who can close real fast to the ball. His speed alone makes him an excellent pass rusher off the edge.

Overall there are enough linebackers if every one comes back healthy in the fall.

The defensive line was missing five players but still held the line of scrimmage. Greyson Gunheim has a chance to be a really special player and become a dominant defensive force if he continues to develop as he has so far. He is very gifted quickness-wise and will only grow into his long lean body. I think both he and Caesar Rayford have a tremendous upside to them simply because they want to be great players and both are so rangy and quick.

It appears that they and Brandon Ala, Walt Winter, and possibly Donny Mateaki and Jasper Henry will play the defensive end spots with honors candidate Manase Hopoi, Mike Mapuolesega, Jordan White-Frisbee, Eric Lobos, and Jordan Reffett handling the inside tackle spots.

That spells depth. A great advantage early on in season because you can keep throwing fresh bodies at an offense. Pass rushers get tired, and rotating personnel is a real weapon, especially with the big kids.

I thought the defensive line played relatively well in the final scrimmage and there were a number of sacks. They read the quarterbacks well for the quick passes and merely got their hands up, thereby knocking down a number of attempts. Combined with the linebackers, there were a lot of sacks and hits on the quarterbacks. Pressure appears to be ahead of pass protection but that is understandable because they were emphasizing the run so much offensively this spring.

On the backend of the defense the secondary played very well. There were some picks, knockdowns, and some sure tackling. Again those missing are probably going to make an impact here as well. Returning Free safety starter, Dashon Goldson, did not participate and will probably start at the position come fall. He is a real good football player and should combine well with C.J. Wallace, who I think is going to be one of the best players on the team. Wallace is a real hitter who is getting better and better as a clean up hitter out of the secondary. Darin Harris of Federal Way made some nice plays this spring from the safety position and has put on a little size to help his tackling. The emergence of Mesphin Forrester, who almost had two picks in the scrimmage, adds some depth to the safety spot along with Chris Hemphill, who at 6-6 can't be missed when he is in the lineup. Both are backing up Wallace and look to be much improved over last fall.

That leaves the corner position, with starters Matt Fountaine and Roy Lewis both showing in the scrimmage that they will be capable of handling their roles. When Chris Handy arrives in the fall via Nevada and Pasadena JC he will compete as will Qwenton Freeman, also a transfer from Pasadena. Right now the only real backup is Kim Taylor, who will be a junior this coming season and has had not played a lot his first three years.

All in all, the defense showed the promise of becoming a pretty good stop unit. Part of that is do to the fact that half of their coaches are back on that side of the ball and Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer has brought back a little more aggressive attack style to the defense.

Baer does not coach a specific position but rather circulates as a "defensive head coach". Baer was an excellent coach at both Stanford and Notre Dame and has been with Willingham for ten years, and at both schools the defense was really solid. He has also been at two other schools in the Pac-10 so has an excellent feel for this conference. In the scrimmage on last Saturday the defense clearly dominated the affair.

The defense concentrated this spring on stopping exactly what the offense had been working on - running the football. They stopped the run. It is and always will be one of the most important things in defensive football.

The offense was obviously restricted by the time element of 12 minute quarters and a reduced playbook. Still, there are signs that that side of the ball too is going to be greatly improved as well. The strength of the offense appears to be it's depth at running back positions and I can't help but believe that next fall the Huskies will be trying to win games by running the football, playing good defense, and being solid in the kicking game.

I know – "Duh, Coach Baird!"

But that's always been the key to good football, at least how it's always been played here at Washington. That is precisely what Tyrone Willingham expects to do come fall.

For a former defensive coach like me, seeing a goose-egg up on the scoreboard isn't all bad for the final spring scrimmage.


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