Rick Neuheisel Spring Outlook - Offense

After a season where the Washington Huskies finished tied for second in the Pac-10 and assembled a respectable 8-4 season-ending mark, there is plenty of room for optimism when talking offense with UW's Head Coach, Rick Neuheisel.

"There is no down time for us," Neuheisel quipped when our interview began, noting that the Washington coaching staff has been working hard in the off-season, breaking down scheme and personnel issues, while also dealing with the addition of two new coaches to his cadre of assistants.

"I know where they are going to coach, but I don't want to say anything just yet," Rick said of new assistants Bobby Kennedy and Cornell Jackson. "I'll have an announcement on that when it gets closer to the start of the spring."

So after a season that saw the Husky offense rank 7th in scoring and 6th in total offense in conference, what changes does Neuheisel see on the horizon? "I think we are a faster team and we are going to be an explosive team," he said. "We had big plays last year, but we were an inexperienced offensive football team. I think we will be a better offense."

Neuheisel's optimism is founded on many fronts. "Four-fifths of our offensive line comes back," he said. Our running backs are back. We will miss Willie Hurst a lot. He was a great football player for the University of Washington, but I feel we have the wherewithal to be an outstanding running team. Fullback will be key and we feel that Zach Tuiasosopo hopefully can fit that bill. If he doesn't, we'll need to find another answer. John Gardenhire will get a chance. And Ty Eriks is also a possibility."

Eriks has already moved to safety but Rick wants to try to get him on the field wherever he can help the quickest. So while safety looks to be Eriks' position of the future, don't rule out a switch back to offense if things don't pan out with Zach.

Washington ran the ball at a paltry 111 yards per game clip this past season and it's an area where Neueheisel expects improvement. "Our tailbacks ran well," he said, referencing the pro-timing days the Dawgs had this week. "Braxton Cleman, Rich Alexis, Chris Singleton and Jelani Harrison all ran sub-4.5 times. That's what you are hoping for. One will need to emerge and give us that thousand-yard presence in the back end. I'd like to go back to being the top rushing team in the conference like we were two years ago. That's saying a lot considering how potent our throwing offense is going to be with guys like Reggie Williams and Paul Arnold and potentially even Patrick Reddick coming back."

Reddick? Neuheisel acknowledged that the diminutive receiver from Newberry Park, California may be available for spring if he is granted a sixth year by the NCAA. "There is a chance that he might get a sixth year, and we are working on that as we speak, so hopefully we will get news one way or another soon," he said. "If so, he can play this spring, but he had a procedure done on his knee and I'm not sure where he is health-wise right now, but my hope is that he would be able to participate at least part of the spring."

Another offensive player that should have a break-out spring is Charles 'ET' Frederick. The 6-0, 190-pound freshman receiver from Lake Worth, Florida has been biding his time with the basketball team during Bob Bender's final days and is now ready to once again resume his exploits on the gridiron.

"ET played basketball, and now he's got a golden opportunity to really show what he's capable of doing as a wide receiver," Rick said. "We felt like he was primed to do it, but it's hard to do it when you don't have the luxury of getting guys into the game. Spring ball gives us that luxury and I will be shocked if Charles isn't a front-line player for us in the fall."

Perhaps the most uplifting news pre-spring is that Cody Pickett is going to be the number-one quarterback in April. "He'll be out there with the first team and off we go," said Neuheisel of the redshirt sophomore from Caldwell, Idaho. "He's fine. He's throwing the ball. We may limit the number of throws he gets, but there will be no visible limitations in his amount of participation this spring." Pickett was second in the league when it came to passing yardage per game at 240 per, and that was just in his first full season leading the Dawgs' offensive attack. Having him available this spring at close to 100 percent will only help in his development.

There is one player coming in who seems to have been on the Washington radar forever. Will offensive tackle Francisco Tipoti live up to his billing? "Francisco is going to try to break into our offensive-line depth," Neuheisel said. "He's been looking forward to this opportunity and I'm looking forward to watching him play. For the first time in a long time we finally have depth on our offensive line. It's going to be fun watching us develop that. When it comes to swagger and identity, we need to establish that on the offensive front and it's a lot easier when you have four-fifths of your line back. We've got an exciting group coming in as freshmen too, so I'm excited about the future of the offensive line."

Neuheisel confirmed that freshman offensive lineman Willie Kava will not be taking his mission this year. When Kava signed his letter of intent over a year ago, he said that he would come to Washington for a year and then leave this March for his Mormon mission. He's had a change of heart, at least for this year.

"Willie Kava is going to stay," he said. "I don't know if he's forgone the idea of a mission altogether. He's had a couple of knee surgeries to fix his patellas. He's going to stay another year."

Speaking of patellas, Kava wasn't the only Husky to go under the knife in the off-season. The 2001 season was painful for a number of players. Neuheisel had difficulty keeping track when listing them off.

"Unfortunately there were a lot," he said. "Roc Alexander probably will not participate this spring. Greg Carothers will not participate this spring. Ben Mahdavi will participate on a limited basis. Those three guys all had shoulder surgeries. Jimmy Newell is just about through with his rehabbing. He'll probably participate but it probably won't be full contact. Todd Bachert will be on the sidelines with shoulder surgery. Wilbur Hooks will not participate. Justin Robbins will not participate because of knee surgery. And Ryan Brooks too, but Ryan will be back. It was a tough year from a health-standpoint for us."

But whether some sit on the sidelines nursing themselves to health or some make their mark this spring, they are all working towards a common goal - beating Michigan on August 31st. Neuheisel knows Michigan Stadium well, having already coached there twice. The first time was the infamous 'Hail Mary' play from Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook in 1994 when Neuheisel was Colorado's quarterbacks coach. The second time was in his second year as the Buffaloes' head man.

"It just doesn't get any better than that," Rick said when thinking about a return visit to Ann Arbor this fall. "Playing a marquee program like the University of Michigan, especially in a stadium where there's going to be 108,000 people there. That stadium is probably bigger than half the cities these guys grew up in. It is a huge, huge opportunity for us, and coming off a great win over them a year ago we know they will be ready for us. And we have to get better on the road. This is a great opportunity to start that at one of the more difficult places in all of the country."

And if you couldn't tell, Rick is excited about the challenge. "I think there's lots of reasons to be excited," he said. "We just need to keep battling. We have to make sure that our guys know that this is important stuff, and I think they do. We will be ready to play when we roll into Ann Arbor."

Up next will be Neuheisel's take on the defense, and the changes that are going to take place this coming spring.

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