Dawgbytes - 8/22

Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham remarked Monday that he's usually wary of practices the day after a day off. Intensity is usually down, energy lags. But Willingham was pleased with Monday morning's effort.

"I thought this morning was very productive," he said. "After a day off you have a tendency to lose something the next practice, but that didn't happen. For the most part it was good."

Deep down inside, Willingham must be doing jumping-jacks. He knows that the effort that is now being put in by the players is a direct result of the effort put in by the new coaching staff to turn around a culture on Montlake that was less than conducive to winning football.

"In trying to get out of a cycle (of losing), the first thing we had to do is create a positive enivronment," said Willingham. "And that starts at the top. And it doesn't mean that we just stick our head in the sand either. It means we go about things in a positive way, and if there's an issue, we find a way to resolve it in a positive manner.

"It helps move your team forward."

For instance, the NCAA allows very limited contact with players and coaches during the summer, but the team did get together a couple of times for dinners. "It's been my policy to change their appearance," said Willingham. "But no demands are made. It's still a voluntary situation. The players showed up in collared shirts. They are changing their thought-process in how they want to represent themselves."

But just like the success of placekickers rests with the number of kicks made, the success of this cultural about-face will only truly manifest itself in the win column. "To alter the thought-process, you have to eliminate what happened in the past," said Willingham. "And while the team is coming forward, what will really elevate us is winning that first game."

Enter Air Force. And while it's easy to focus on their high-powered option attack, Willingham also suggested Monday that it will not be easy to get past AFA's defense, even if the Huskies are playing well.

"It's not something you see every day, in fact it's a little unorthodox," Willingham said of the Falcons' defense, one he termed a 3-5-3. "It's a unique look that keeps you off-balance. You don't necessarily know who is stepping up on the line and who is stepping off."

Don't look for Willingham to be all that pleased on the sidelines if his first game as Washington's head coach turns into a shootout. "I've never gone into a game thinking I wanted it to be a shootout," he said, and then added with a smirk, "I'd prefer for us to be the ones doing all the shooting."

Injury Report: Willingham said that Joe Toledo (lower leg bruise) and Sonny Shackelford (upper shoulder/neck) were limited Monday morning, but were expected back during the afternoon practice. Brandon Ala was also limited, but Willingham said that it was 'nothing major' and the junior from Waianae, Hawaii should also be back to full strength shortly. Carl Bonnell (quad) is still limited, as is Robert Lewis (ankle), but Willingham added that Kenny James is back and participating. Because Lewis, Dash Crutchley (foot), Mike Gottlieb (shoulder) and Jared Bronson (eye infection) have all missed time at tight end, Willingham suggested that it was possible Johnie Kirton could start at TE against Air Force.

Not being Hasty with freshman: While most freshmen redshirting would be a given, and especially when it comes to a position of depth, Willingham praised frosh RB J.R. Hasty, saying that he's very much in the mix for playing time. "I've been pleased," he said when asked about the work put in by the 2004 AP high school State Player of the Year. "With his quad, he's missed a couple of days, but overall he's done well. He' got a natural ability to see things, see the whole field."

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