Coach's Corner

The revolving door that opens up the office of the wide receiver coach for Washington has finally let someone in who has actually played the position. Eric Yarber might be the only receiver coach in decades who can teach the position from an actual background of having experienced it himself.

Maybe Bobby Kennedy played some receiver, but I am positive that Jeff Woodruff, Bill Wentworth, Dick Baird, Cary Conklin, Tarn Sublett, John Pettas, and Steve Axman all played another position in the sport of football.

Obviously teaching the position and developing players as young men, students and athletes is what coaching is really all about. It is not necessary to have played a position in order to coach it. However, I can say from my own experience that I was a heck of a lot better linebacker coach than I was a receiver coach.

Ex-linemen tend to make better line coaches, quarterbacks make good QB coaches, but linebackers don't always make good wide receiver coaches.

Well, Washington finally has a receivers coach who not only knows how to play the position, but is also an excellent recruiter and has a coaching background that includes dealing with controversial players like Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens.

Eric Yarber was an All-American collegiate receiver and played the position in the NFL. That's got to mean something to the kids who play the position, and it's going to mean they will be getting better overall as a group.

In all honesty, they will have to in order for the Huskies have any chance of having a winning season.

Coaching characters like Johnson and Owens is a remarkable accomplishment in itself because both of those players have had quite a background when it comes to behavioral explosions. Having high-strung and tempermental players seems to come with that position because many receivers are the thoroughbred types whose personalities usually reflect that. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they play in space and it takes space cadets to excel there.

T-O is the extreme of course, but the fact was Owens was at his best when he was coached by Yarber. That has to impress recruits and I am confident that Yarber will also find a really good one out of LA this coming year. Right now though he has his hands full developing those he has.

The Husky receivers are still very young and immature at the position, and quite frankly, were awful last season. An incredible amount of drops, fumbles, broken routes and missed blocks at the receiver position were some of the most obvious offensive deficiencies on the team. Protecting the football has now become one of the highest priorities in the new Willingham era.

That means you must catch the ball.

Receivers should catch everything thrown their way. It is a matter of concentration. If you can't catch, then don't play wide receiver - it's that simple. There can be no excuse for dropping passes. The job of the catchers is to catch the ball. When Washington does that and also quits fumbling then they will immediately become a much better team.

Not a real tough point to make, I know, but a very pertinent one.

Spring didn't exactly result in having a receiver emerge as the next great deep threat or even a consistent starter for that matter. Granted, two of the better prospects - Corey Williams and Quintin Daniels - did not even participate due to injury rehabilitation. That left scholarship players Sonny Shackelford, Anthony Russo, Craig Chambers, Charles Smith, Cody Ellis, and about 6 walk-ons to work with. I thought they all looked much better toward the end of the spring. Unfortunately, it still looks like they need a lot of work. I actually thought that Chris Rohrbach, a walk on, was probably the most consistent performer in spring drills.

Chambers, who looked the best at the end of last season, was somewhat silent all spring and I attribute that to the coaching turnover. He is still very young and has to learn a new system all over again. Some of the others, like Shackelford and Russo, continued to drop the ball and kept the offense from really moving consistently. Smith had moments and Ellis just made the move from corner to receiver but does show the most speed.

Throw out the spring game as an indication of what to expect from next year's offense. They obviously cut down the playbook, reduced the repetitions and showed nothing for either Air Force or California.

But no matter how vanilla they went this spring, they couldn't cover up the most glaring and obvious weakness on the team - the receiver position.

Yarber knows that and is up to the challenge of molding his kids into sure handed, consistent threats.

Washington's strength appears to be a running game that will feature a deep and diverse backfield. Look to see the Huskies re-emphasize the run and protect the football until Yarber can bring his troops along.

It will clearly come down to who steps up this summer and who comes to fall camp ready to play. Don't be surprised to see Marlon Wood, a JC transfer, right in the mix. I wouldn't be surprised personally to see Shelton Sampson or one of the backs getting reps as a receiver as well.

When I inherited the receivers job at Washington, we had Napoleon Kaufman at tailback. That meant whoever were the best blockers were the ones who got to play. Three of my best players were Joe Kralik, Dave Janoski and DJ McCarthy. None of them were very big or fast, although all of them had tremendous quickness. They played because they were tough. They chopped defensive backs and caught what was thrown to them no matter how hard they got hit.

Blocking is always a great measurement of "want to" and toughness as a receiver. One would think that Williams and Chambers are the naturals to start but those two need a lot of work and commitment on their part. Yarber is the perfect guy to get it out of them. He is also the perfect recruiter to go find another one.

One of the things that jumped out at me is that there's no absolute burner at the position. They finally got some taller players but it would still be great to get a tall one who also has great speed. You would like to have a couple in the 4.3-4.5 40 range that can run sharp routes, and I'm not sure there are any of those on the roster. That, again, will go back to hard work in the off season. Run, run, run and catch, catch, catch.

This group can go nowhere but up. It would just be nice for it to happen sooner rather than later. But - I promise you - Yarber will make them better because he knows how to play the position. He knows how to release, set up defenders, come out of the break and most of all, catch the football. I think he is the most qualified coach to coach at that position that Washington has ever had.


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