Dawgbytes - 8/10

Inside the new Conibear Shellhouse, it doesn't feel like the place where you would want to talk about running. With the magnificent views of Lake Washington littered throughout the spacious cafeteria, a mellower pace would seem to be in order. But Tyrone Willingham had plenty to say about the run on Wednesday as his football team prepared for their first day of split practices.

Split practices are something Willingham did at Notre Dame as a way to get everybody involved the repetitions needed before the season. While certain position battles (QB, TE) necessitated a split approach so the coaches could get an optimum number of looks, it will also bode well for the running back corps, a group as talented as any on the Washington team.

While Kenny James and Louis Rankin have been getting the bulk of the ink since the beginning of April, the development of Johnie Kirton seems to have progressed at a very nice pace. "I saw some wonderful things from from Johnie in the spring," Willingham said on Wednesday. The 6-3, 275-pound running back has been earning some well-deserved praise for his summer conditioning effort. "But I think his growth for us really started in the spring. I think he can do a lot of things for us at fullback and at halfback."

The same goes for senior James Sims. "You have to," said Willingham when asked about the chances of seeing Sims at both running back positions. "During our testing he had some eye-popping numbers (reportedly a 44-inch vertical jump and 4.4 speed). We need to use his skill and talent. And he's also a very bright young man who loves football and has a passion for life."

But when it comes to a number-one player at the tailback spot, Willingham is staying with the incumbent for right now. "Kenny James has been the leader, but I've also been pleased with what Louis Rankin did in the spring. Also with Shelton Sampson and Sims and Kirton - we have a solid group in the mix."

When asked if anything jumped out at him watching film of yesterday's practice, Willingham wasn't swayed by any one thing. As they start to put the pieces of the puzzle together to take on their first opponent of the season - Air Force - Willingham acknowledged that at some point there isn't much 'carryover' to be gained by continuing to practice against yourself.

"At some point you have to carve out some additional time to prepare for what they do," he said. "But at some point, our players still have to have the discipline. That's the biggest thing, to take responsibility for your area and executing it even when nothing's going on."

While the team has yet to fully shake off the rust in terms of execution, Willingham appeared fairly pleased at the condition his team was in. "During our testing it looked as if they were in good shape," he said. When asked about strength, Willingham noted that while it's great to bench 400 pounds, you don't do it that much in a game. "We'll get all of our answers when we play the game," he said.

"In the end, everything is measured by wins and losses."

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