No resolution for position battles

Monday was supposed to be the day Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham was supposed to pop to lid off the uncertainty of position battles like a little kid finally finishing off his box of cracker jacks just to get to the surprise. But those looking for answers left Monday's press conference unsatisfied, as Willingham announced that he's still looking hard at two quarterbacks and three placekickers, as well at least four other undecided positions.

"I think they've been on a gradual climb, getting better each day," said Willingham. "But in most categories, all of our areas have improved since spring, so it's exciting to see what it's going to be like come game one."

With game time against the Air Force Academy just six days away, lack of definition doesn't appear to be causing Washington to suffer any needless side-effects, aside from the normal uncertainty a new coach faces in throwing a whole new team into battle. Isaiah Stanback and Johnny DuRocher were named co-number-one quarterbacks Monday. Willingham said that he wanted to see the two quarterbacks finish up the work that they have started. "Game is different than practice, it's different in preparation," he said. "And all the internal and external forces that work on us - hopefully I'll get a view of that and it'll help me to finalize my decision.

"I don't think it's affected the uncertainty of our football team because they have worked an adequate time with both quarterbacks," added Willingham. And that's what's so exciting about first ball games. The is so much you don't know. When you have an experienced club you can rely on that experience a little more, but in my case there's a new staff and a new team. It will be interesting to see all the things we can and will do during this ball game. But I'm excited about the work our young men have put in and how they've bought in and believed that they can do something a little different than what took place in the past."

Willingham also added that he'll be 'tailoring' the number of reps each quarterback gets the closer the team gets to game-time based on when a starter is named. What will be the top criteria for paring down his list of two quarterbacks to a single starter? "The number-one thing is they have to lead us to victories," he said. "If he throws it end over end, Coach Willingham doesn't care. As long as he completes it and as long as we win the football game. We are looking for the young man that can put this team in the winner's circle. "

And the possibility of using both Stanback and DuRocher in a dual role? "I've always said that my preference is for one quarterback, but that's something that could happen," said Willingham when asked about playing both against AFA. "I won't rule it out."

By not naming a starter, the Falcons will have to account for Stanback's athleticism and also for the fact that there is no film on DuRocher. "It's to our advantage," said Willingham. "The least amount that they know about our football team in terms of who lines up on Saturday, the better off we are."

While the quarterbacking position has been getting the bulk of the press, there's been an even hotter contest developing this fall for the starting job at placekicker. "That has been as intense a competition as some of the other positions on our team," said Willingham. "I think we're developing that guy as we get closer to the ballgame."

Incumbents Evan Knudson and Mike Braunstein are being pushed by frosh PK Ryan Perkins. Perkins and Knudson both prepped at North Thurston High School in Lacey.

Other position battles yet to be resolved include Stanley Daniels and Tui Alailefaleula at left guard, Tusi Sa'au and Clay Walker at right guard, Donny Mateaki and Mike Mapuolesega at defensive end and Scott White and Daniel Howell at one of the linebacking spots.

But uncertainty and overcoming obstacles is nothing new to Washington football of late. "When you come in during the spring, you have to take a leap of faith," said Willingham of his team. "You have to have people believe in what they are being asked to do, and what validates that is what happens on the field." It's that process of working through adversity that Willingham hopes his team has learned some valuable lessons about focus.

"That's a learned skill, and you learn that every day," said Willingham about overcoming adversity in a positive way. "And in all honesty, the good can be as bad as the bad. If someone does something well, it can create an inflation of one's self and that can prevent you from making the next play. It can be as detrimental as making a mistake. So you have to keep a very balanced head about you in all that you do."

But he also noted that he's not the most important thing the coaches are preaching during game week. With 42 turnovers handed to opponents by the offense, Willingham knows that it's going to take discipline to carve that number of takeaways down to a respectable level. "If you usually make 'em in practice, you'll make them in games," said Willingham in regards to turnovers. "So our biggest thing this week is one simple word - discipline. It's an easy word to throw out there, but it's a difficult thing to possess. Our players' eyes will see a number of things in a game, but it's the ability to stay on their particular focus that will help us. It takes discipline to do that."

It's that same discipline that keeps Willingham from riding the highs and lows while on the sideline during games. "My football team needs me to be emotional on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday," he said when asked about his calm demeanor. "Saturday is their day to be emotional. Hopefully I can be analytical and come up with the things that make a difference."

You can sum up the entire way of life at the Air Force Academy with the word discipline. While the Washington coaches are trying to teach it on a daily basis, those attending the AFA in Colorado Springs, Colorado live a disciplined existence twenty-four hours a day. It's reflected in how a Fisher DeBerry-led football team plays on the field. DeBerry - now in his 22nd season guiding the Falcons, has won both games he's coached against the Huskies. The last time Air Force and Washington collided - in 1999 - the Huskies came out the worst for it, losing 31-21 in Seattle.

"It's unique because we'll only see it once this year as a base," Willingham said of DeBarry's triple-option attack on offense. "It makes our preparation extremely difficult because there's not a lot of carryover from the other teams we'll see," he said. "Also they have excellent personnel. Their quarterback, if you can find the right guy for that offense, can make all the difference in the world and I think they have him. We have to be extremely patient and take each of our responsibilities. It gives you a lot of demands for your defense.

"You would always prefer to play something that you know more about. There's no question about that. That's an advantage they have because their system is so unique, but hopefully we'll be very well prepared."

While the style of attack gets the most publicity, it's the guys up front that have Willingham and the UW coaches concerned. The Falcon offensive line averages 6-foot-4.5 and 290 pounds across the board, and nine of the ten players in their two-deeps are either juniors or seniors. "It's not exactly the profile you'd think a fighter pilot would have," Willingham said of the size of Air Force's linemen. "It's a little different than what most people may anticipate."


Notes:
Low turnout not a shock: Is Willingham surprised that advance sales for the UW-AFA game at Qwest Field have been slow? Recent reports have 20,000 as the number of tickets sold for the game. "It's not a surprise to me," said Willingham. "Husky fans love Husky football in Husky Stadium. We're fortunate to be playing in Seattle, but it's not Husky Stadium."

Mr. Howell: Of those still competing for a starting role, Willingham was asked about the ascension of Howell, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker from Newhall, California. Howell and incumbent LB Scott White are locked in battle for a starting spot against Air Force, a spot that White - third on the team in tackles last year with 83 - seemingly had locked up. "He's had a very good spring and a very good fall," Willingham said when asked why Howell had moved up into a position to challenge for a starting role. Further complicating matters, a foot bruise has recently sidelined Howell. "We anticipate that he will be back and will play in the football game," added Willingham.

Chambers slips: Craig Chambers, who had 19 receptions for 408 yards in the last four games of the season, has mysteriously dropped off the two-deeps. The sophomore receiver from Mill Creek, Washington was expected to be the big-play threat on the outside, and still may be. "Craig has done some good things, but right now he's behind a couple of other guys on the depth chart," said Willingham of Chambers, also adding that Washington expects to play 5-6 receivers 'at a minimum', against Air Force on Saturday.

No motivation from 2004: Willingham stated that he will not be using the anger and frustration built up by UW's 1-10 season in 2004 as a motivation tool. "I had nothing to do with that," he said. "If they (players) generate something from that and it makes us a better football team, wonderful. But it won't be our focus."

Fountaine Back: Willingham said that Matt Fountaine is back. Fountaine was listed as a starting cornerback Monday along with San Jose State transfer Roy Lewis. Fountaine was held out of some practices while undetermined tests were being conducted - tests that Willingham came back negative. "He won't work today but he'll practice the rest of the week," Willingham said of the 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior from Oakland, California.


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