Lots of questions heading into spring

Another year and another set of questions surround Washington football as the Huskies prepare for their spring campaign. Coming off a 2-9 season in Tyrone Willingham's first year at Montlake, a bowl is considered a pre-requisite for most Huskies teams. Willingham isn't talking any differently, but there are plenty of holes to fill and just getting to .500 appears like it could be a major chore in 2006.

"It's been a long time since we've been on the practice field," Willingham said, hitting off his annual spring football press conference. "Considering the fact that we didn't have a bowl game, which provides a bonus for other teams to continue. So, I think we're eager to get out and get back to practicing. We will approach our practices with an open mind. When I say open mind I mean open minded to improve and get better. An open mind in terms of looking at all of our positions and to find out what best serves this football team to be the best we can be."

Willingham might as well add 'patience' to his 'open mind', as he returns only 25 players that have started at least one game last year - a number you think might be pretty high - but seven of those players have started a total of two games or less in their Husky career. And double-digit starters? Those are endangered species around Graves. Defensively it's not that bad - UW has seven returners that have started in ten or more games in their careers (Matt Fountaine, Dashon Goldson, Greyson Gunheim, Donny Mateaki, C.J. Wallace and Scott White), whereas there are only five on the offensive side of the ball (Kenny James, Robert Lewis, Anthony Russo, Sonny Shackelford and Isaiah Stanback), and James isn't the starting tailback coming into spring. That distinction is held by junior Louis Rankin.

"We need to get improvement in the big play area from both our running backs," Willingham said. "We saw some of that from Louis Rankin early in the year before his injury. He gave us some big plays and seemed to be one of those guys who can stretch the field on occasions. We need to get more of that from him and from all of our running backs. Kenny James needs to step up and be a force for us. I think from the winter that he had that we're going to see some thing out of him."

Redshirt frosh J.R. Hasty is breathing down both their necks and is a player fans want to see come out of the woodwork with a breakthrough spring. "That would be a guy that in the back of your mind you factor in as a big part of what's going on with our football team," Willingham said of Hasty. "Now he has to live up to those high expectations that we have."

And of course fans are going to be interested in what kinds of strides Stanback - who started all 11 games in 2005 - has made this off-season. "Your quarterback has to take a tremendous lead in any leadership that has to do with your team," Willingham said. "If you fail to have good leadership at your quarterback, then you'll probably have a tough time with your football team. I think, in Isaiah, we have a young man that wants to lead, wants to lead the right way, and is dedicated to making himself a great player. I feel the same way with Johnny Durocher who finished up as our number two guy. I like his toughness, I like his drive, and I like the way he demands more of his teammates. I think we have some leadership at our quarterback position."

The Huskies did their best to try and get some mid-year help from the junior colleges, and there will be five coming in - four scholarship players and one walk-on - that hope to immediately add depth and quality to Washington's lineup. "We do have a couple of JC transfers on the roster," Willingham said. "I think (Danny) Morovick is classified as a junior college player as our long snapper. He is already here. We have Anthony Atkins that will be reporting shortly. Jason Wells will be joining us shortly for spring practice. As will Jordan Murchison. We expect those guys to add to our football team. Hopefully they can give us something that we didn't have last year."

The walk-on JC player is tight end Tim Harris, a 6-foot-4, 250-pounder from College of the Redwoods. He played his high school football at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma.

Arguably the two areas hit hardest through graduation and attrition were the offensive line and the linebacker positions. The Huskies lost seven lettermen from the line, and only have five lettermen returning for the spring, led by Clay Walker, Stanley Daniels, Chad Macklin and Nathan Flowers. Compare that with the nine returners on the defensive line, and you can see that the OL will be young and thin in 2006. There is hope that the five other scholarship linemen - Juan Garcia, Casey Bulyca, Ryan Bush, Morgan Rosborough and Ben Ossai - will play a big part in acquiring some much-needed experience in shoring up the OL. In fact, the oft-injured Garcia is slotted as the No. 1 center, Bush is backing up both guard spots, and Bulyca and Ossai are backing up the tackles (Macklin and Flowers).

"Our offensive line definitely had a lot of losses to it," Willingham said. "We lost not only in talent, but in experience also. We had guys who had been around for a long time and played a lot of football. That's always difficult to replace. The guys we have returning, I think, offer us some athletic ability and some attitude that should assist us to be better than where we were."

At linebacker, the Huskies lose five lettermen at that position, but bring back six and two other players that look to immediately crack the two-deeps - Trenton Tuiasosopo and E.J. Savannah. "That was one that was also hit pretty good, in terms of our starters," Willingham said. "You're looking at (Scott) White, and the positions could vary depending on how we get in and out of spring practice."

And that's probably the coaches' biggest concern; team health. While players like Tuiasosopo and Savannah have been cleared for contact, there are quite a few others that will be limited in their workouts. Players expected to have limited springs include: Jordan White-Frisbee (foot), Durrell Moss (knee), Johnie Kirton (foot), C.J. Wallace (shoulder), Marlon Wood (broken leg), Dashon Goldson (undisclosed injury), Darin Harris (back) and Quintin Daniels (knee). Brandon Ala was hobbled a little bit at the end of the year, but is expected to have a full spring. Players that Willingham said would be out of spring include: Josh Okoebor (knee), Dan Milsten (broken leg, dislocated ankle) and Jasper Henry (undisclosed injury).

"I think the overall, general attitude has been an improvement," Willingham said, stressing the upside. "I hate to use the word improvement sometimes, but I think it's probably warranted. We have a better understanding of our young men, so I label that an improvement of where we were a year ago. I think that benefits us. I think I can be a better coach when I can better understand our guys. I think our players can be better players when they better understand what we're trying to do."

And just like last year, all positions are up for grabs. "We have to get the team solidified in terms of who's playing, who's not playing, etc," Willingham said. "But I think we also have to deal with getting back to Husky football. I thought that there were some glimpses of that last season, but not enough, certainly, to put us in the winner's circle or among the elite teams of this conference."
New walk-ons: A blend of new and old walk-ons come to Montlake this spring. Among the new are Harris and Ian McMilan, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound receiver from Portland, Ore., who is transferring from Princeton. An old face will also be coming back - Erik Berglund, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive lineman from Beaverton, Ore. Berglund left the UW program back in 2004 and comes back as a redshirt junior in terms of eligibility.

Washington's spring practice schedule:
Thursday, March 30
Friday, March 31
Saturday, April 1
Monday, April 3
Tuesday, April 4
Thursday, April 6
Friday, April 7
Saturday, April 8
Monday, April 10
Tuesday, April 11
Thursday, April 13
Monday, April 17
Tuesday, April 18
Thursday, April 20
Saturday, April 22 (SPRING GAME, kickoff at 12:45 p.m.)

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