Willingham excited as questions remain

It seems like everything is under scrutiny nowadays on the Washington campus when it comes to Husky football - even Tyrone Willingham's mustache. And like Willingham's close-cropped 'stache - which came back this August - Husky fans are looking to a return to normalcy on Montlake. Does normalcy come with no names?

"I hope you are as excited about this season as I am," Willingham said as he addressed the media Monday to open up fall camp. Fall football begins for the Huskies Tuesday and goes all the way through the 27th. With the way the NCAA works, coaches can't monitor their players during workouts, so Willingham was left with nothing but 'wishful thinking' to soothe his concerns as his team takes the field for the first time in over three months tomorrow.

"I know there are question marks, but that's why you practice and play the games," he said. 103 players will start out in the purple and gold Tuesday, including 22 walk-ons. There could be up to two additions to the roster before the first game against Air Force September 3rd at Qwest Field.

Focusing for their first outing against the Falcons is a difficult enough task for Willingham. Add to it a defense inexperienced in the ways of defending the option and you've got a recipe tailor-made for the opposition. "It's a huge challenge for us," he said. "Coach (Kent) Baer has seen Navy and Air Force recently, so we have some coaching experience there. But no player here has ever played the option. It will tell us all we want to know about our discipline - or lack thereof. If you lose your responsibility, it can open up a huge gap in our defense."

But after a 3-0 spring game, it's not the defense that most fans are talking about. It's the offense, which has pulled a disappearing act of Houdini-like proportions since the beginning of 2004. And it all starts at quarterback. Casey Paus, Isaiah Stanback, Carl Bonnell and Johnny DuRocher all had a chance to solidify their position as the leader of record going into fall. None of them seized that opportunity, nor did many of the other contributors on offense.

"My offensive philosophy is defined on one word - 'WIN'," said Willingham. "If it takes 70 rushing plays to win, we'll run it 70 times. If it takes 70 passes to win, we'll throw it 70 times. But we're always interested in balance because balance keeps our opponents off-guard." Willingham added that ideally he would want his offenses to average 500 total yards per game - 300 passing and 200 yards rushing.

Would he be adverse to having more than one signal-caller in the rotation? Not if they win. "I'm not really a platoon guy at quarterback," said Willingham. "I like one leader and I think the team needs just one personality as much as possible. But the philosophy is to win. If it's best to use three quarterbacks rotating through, we'll find a way to do it. But our preference is to have one young man lead our football team."

There's no question Willingham loves the idea of a meritocracy.

"I'm going to let the players decide who is the starter by what they do on the field," Willingham said when asked how the starter at quarterback would be determined. He said that method would be applied to the team as a whole. But who would have thought that the offense with no name would literally have no names on their jerseys come fall?

Perhaps it was a subconscious extention of those pesky NCAA rules not allowing coaching or observing during the summer, but taking off the names on the backs of Washington's jerseys harkens back to an era that was most certainly about toughness, attitude and selflessness. But in talking about his team's off-season workouts, it's that 'wishful thinking' that has Willingham thinking positively about the strides made these past few months. For him, it's about trust.

"That's part of developing the bond it takes to be a good football team," he said. "It's a wonderful thing."

And for a coaching staff and a team in transition, that bond of trust might be all they have as they take to the football field these upcoming fateful Saturdays. In a bit of an ironic twist, Willingham hopes the feel of transition doesn't go away.

"When you are in transition sometimes you are on edge. And in life it's nice to have that edge," he said.

Two not here: Willingham announced Monday that Tyrone Davis and Qwenton Freeman would not be joining the team due to academic issues. Davis is a 6-3, 225-pound defensive end from Olympia and Freeman is a 6-1, 187-pound corner from Pasadena (Calif.) City College.

A Trio of walking wounded: Willingham also announced that Trenton Tuiasosopo, Jordan White-Frisbee and Brandon Leyritz would not be able to practice right away. Leyritz is the closest, expected to join the team in roughly a week and a half after fighting a bout of mononeucleosis. White-Frisbee had surgery for an undisclosed injury, but Willingham expects the sophomore from Inglemoor High School to possibly be available later in the year. Tuiasosopo has not been medically cleared to play after a bike accident in the spring, but Willingham was hopeful Trenton would be back with the team at some point in the season.

A change for the better?: There have been two position moves made before fall camp starts. True frosh Chris Stevens was expected to split time at running back and linebacker to find his best position, but the coaches have moved Stevens to linebacker full-time. Also, Durrell Moss has moved back to defensive back after one year at fullback.

Rides for everyone: Offensive Linemen Willie Kava and Morgan Rosborough both have received scholarships for this school year after there was some dispute as to whether or not they would be on rides or walking on.

Walking the walk: There are four new walk-ons this fall for Washington - Lakeside LB Linus Chou, CB John Gardenhire and WR's Alex Mercier and Troy Perry - both from Pasadena (Calif.) City College. Gardenhire's name may be familiar to a lot of Husky fans - his father John played for Washington in the early 80's and John himself played one year already for the Huskies back in 2001 as a running back. Mercier and Perry, originally from Bishop Blanchet and Franklin respectively - both played at the same CC that also brought in ATH Marlon Wood.

"I enjoy the legacy," Willingham said when asked about Gardenhire. "But it has to be the right match." And the receivers? "It's an area where we need some push. It's an area where we might be able to develop some talen there," he added.

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