State of the Offense - Tim Lappano

In talking with Washington Offensive Coordinator, you'd never know that the Huskies were dead-last in scoring and ninth in total offense last season. For the former OC of the San Francisco 49'ers, he's seen this before - at least twice. And he's very optimistic about Washington's offense as they head toward the 2005 season.

"When Tyrone (Willingham) hired me I told him that I wanted to be a power football team," Lappano said, harkening back to the time when he was pondering a move to Seattle. "I wanted to be able to come downhill on teams and pound the ball. At the same time I also want to be able to spread the ball around, because that's very hard to defense. That's asking the defense to do a lot of things."

Certainly a heady ideal, and one Lappano fully intends on realizing - even if it takes more than one year. But he's been at programs that have turned things around in one year. Not all the way around, but enough to give fans a significant dose of encouragement for the future.

"When we came to Purdue they weren't winning much and we won 7 games our first year," said Lappano. "And going to Oregon State from the (Seattle) Seahawks, they hadn't won at all and we won 7 games that first year. So it can happen, I've seen it."

One of the things that was clearly evident during Washington's opening practice on Tuesday was Lappano's three-word mantra: 'Take What's Given'. It's something he's working into the quarterback's brains over and over, and he sees it as an integral part of not only improving the offense's performance, but also improving UW's horrid turnover issues.

"Take what's given," he said again for emphasis. "We had more turnovers than any other team in the country last year, and most of them were made by the quarterbacks. They need to play smart. We don't have a guy that has a rocket arm, but not many schools do. Our backs are our strength, so we need to play to that and drop it down to them. The 5-yard pass to our backs is a very high percentage throw. Why wouldn't you take it?

"In my experience, you can't turn the ball over at any level to be successful." Lappano hammered the point home further, talking about a practice back in the spring when he 'ran them (quarterbacks) into the ground' because they weren't getting the message. He's hoping it soaks through this fall.

Despite a very rusty showing on Tuesday, Lappano would rather focus on the positives. "We definitely threw some balls around that were errant, but we didn't have a lot of assignment mistakes," he said. "They are picking stuff up and we are throwing a lot at them."

And it goes back to the emphasis the players had on making sure their summer off-season was a productive one. While the coaches cannot be at the players' workouts, they did what they could beforehand to make sure the players were working smarter, not just harder.

"It really helps them to have our sheets and shells to look over during the summer," Lappano said. "The quarterbacks took charge of putting all of that together." When it came to the playbook and doing the preparations off the field to be successful, Lappano had one QB that was going to be a challenge - Isaiah Stanback. The junior from Garfield has all-world ability but is just starting to understand the off-the-field responsibilities.

"I think the main thing with Isaiah is that he bought into studying the position, which I don't think he's ever done before," Lappano said. "A guy like Ken Dorsey, he's not as athletically gifted as Cody Pickett, but he studied his opponent and knew them inside and out. Guys like Tom Brady, they do that. By studying your opponent, you get an edge. And I don't think Isaiah ever unerstood the time and effort that went into being a quarterback."

Lappano also talked about how he was going to use the strength of the receiving corps - size - to their advantage. The quick intermediate passing game will be a focus for UW this season. "It's going to be three steps and it's gone," he said. "And in a lot of the west coast offenses you see, there's a lot of intermediate stuff. And most of those teams didn't have really fast guys, but they had big guys who could go up, get the ball and make plays. And that's what we have. That's going to be a huge part of what we do."

And when you talk about the 'big' receivers in Lappano's arsenal, you're talking about Craig Chambers and Corey Williams. "He can play fast when he wants to," Lappano said when talking about Chambers. Craig finished 2004 in a strong way, leading most to believe that he's capable for bigger and better things this fall. "He beat a guy yesterday that was in bail coverage. He went right past him, so he can. He's another guy that tested well."

And Williams? "He just didn't get that many reps last spring because of his hand, so we need to see more of him," said Lappano. "But Anthony Russo and Sonny Shackelford both worked hard this off-season too. Sonny really transformed his body in the weight room, you can see it."

But when Lappano is asked about the strength of the offense, he points to two places - offensive line and running back. "I really like our strength up front," he said. "I like our offensive line a lot. I like their athleticism, they are big guys who have some attitude and some physicality. And the other nice thing is that there is some depth with our redshirt freshmen. They are good-sized guys that can move around."

And in the backfield? "I don't think it matters who starts," Lappano said, matter-of-factly. "Kenny James has been the leader and has been the most consistent. You like Louis Rankin because he's the home-run threat and can score from anywhere on the field. And the guys like Johnie Kirton have their roles that they will play. Shelton Sampson, I thought he played better than anyone else in the Spring Game. James Sims, I think he had something like a 44-inch vertical jump and a 4.4 40. He's a leader and a veteran player. They all give us something."

When asked about Kirton, Lappano's face lights up. "He's changed his body a little bit," he said of the big, bruising RS frosh from Mill Creek. "He's just better looking - 275 pounds and there's no fat on him at all. You don't see many guys like that in the National Football League. I had an all-pro fullback for the 49'ers that was 245 pounds. Johnie's 275 and he's got really good feet and he catches the ball well. He has a chance to be something special, have a brilliant career and make some money.

"He's going to be a role player for us, we have to get him on the field."

But back to the areas of concern. Quarterback gets the most press because of the high-profile nature of the position. But Lappano would argue that the lack of a dominating tight end is as big a hole and they need to find a remedy for that sooner rather than later. "This is 'Tight End U', and it's not a strength for us right now but we need to find somebody who not only can catch but can also 'hold the point' on a strong side run. My tight end last year for the 49'ers was also our leading receiver," he said.

Robert Lewis is starting to emerge as a player to grab hold of the starting TE spot. "He has some ability to go get the ball," Lappano said.

Overall, it's hard not to feel pretty optimistic when hearing Lappano talk about his offense and the potential for big things. "I think I have a good understanding of what we can do," he said. "The thing I want to do when we play Air Force is play really fast. They've had the winter, spring and summer to work on things and we gave them our practice shells, so they've had a chance to work on execution in the off-season. We're probably doing 80 percent of what we're going to be doing all year right now." Top Stories