Coach's Corner

Fifteen days doesn't seem like much, but they are oh-so-critical for the development of a college football team. Especially when you don't go to a bowl game, the few spring days you get take on even more significance. Ironic, isn't it, that the teams who needed those extra winter practices that come with a bowl invitation the most, don't get them.

Don't kid yourself - preparation for a bowl is one of the greatest growth periods for your team. First of all, the kids are really excited to be there and their concentration is always better. Obviously you are preparing to beat your coming opponent but at the same time you are re-evaluating and developing your younger and red-shirted players.

It is often a time when you also look at the younger kids in different positions. Khalif Barnes, arguably the best player of the Neuheisel era, became an offensive player during practices for the Rose Bowl and went on to become a high NFL draft choice. The same thing happened with Jerramy Stevens, who was a quarterback before converting to a tight end during a bowl practice period.

The losing teams of each conference totally miss out on these kinds of opportunities. This is the exact case with the Washington Huskies, and precisely why the Huskies are working so hard in preparing themselves this spring.

Last spring was used almost entirely as a "get acquainted" period. The coaches and players were excited and willing, but after so many years of change, the spring was basically disappointing and way too short as exemplified by the lethargic play and score of the final spring scrimmage.

This spring will be entirely different. The players and coaches know what to expect. The introductions are long passed, and except for the secondary, this group of Huskies will have the exact same coaches two years in a row. Considering that there has not been this sort of stability since the 90's, that alone should make this spring an effective and worthwhile developmental period.

Defensively the two areas where things and personnel will be the most interesting is in the secondary and in the linebacker core. Of course, the key question will be how many of the JC transfers will actually be in spring drills. That is always dependent on their graduation and whether or not they were admitted to school.

We won't know for sure until they actually take the field but my guess is that if four of the seven transfers are already in school then they are miles ahead of last year when only 2 of four made it in. Cornerback Jordan Murchison and long snapper Danny Morovick, are already enrolled. DE Anthony Atkins, moving up to put his hand on the ground after playing linebacker at the JC level, and the two safeties, Ashlee Palmer and Jason Wells, could really use the spring as well. Wells is here but I'm not sure if Palmer is ready academically yet to participate in the spring.

Shame about Palmer. Dawgman sees him as a cat-quick intimidating thug-linebacker while I see him as a potential big time playmaker in the back line of defense. We'll see who is right. But most of all, the kid needs to get here first.

It would have been tremendous to have the wide-receiver, Marcel Reece, likewise enrolled simply because of the team is in such a critical need of a large and fast receiver. Fortunately, there is already some depth at receiver so it's time for somebody to step up and prove he can be a go to guy. Corey Williams appeared to be that guy two years ago but has never really gotten back after his wrist injury. Charles Smith has been waiting patiently for his turn and discontented Craig Chambers has quit the program thereby opening a spot for Reece.

Sometimes it can be a case of addition by subtraction.

Anthony Russo and Sonny Shakelford have been given their chances already and should be much improved due to their experience alone. Duke transfer, Chancellor Young, has likewise been waiting to play as had injury plagued Quinton Daniels.

This spring will likewise be important to redeveloping the offensive line. Gone are 3-4 starters depending on how you count it, and O-line coach Mike Denbrock has plenty of numbers to choose from. JC transfer, Aaron Mason, would be one to watch but the four players I think could really prove something are Nathan Flowers, Casey Bulyca, Ben Ossai, and often injured Juan Garcia. Watch for the development of these four. All of them need to emerge as potential depth players to go along with Chad Macklin, Stanley Daniels, and Clay Walker.

Flowers is already listed as a starter, but based on what I saw from Ben Ossai last fall on scout team, don't count him out just yet.

The linebacker group should be really competitive with Scott White the lone returning starter. White is a heady player who should be counted as a veteran and along with Tahj Bomar should enter spring with the first unit. The speed of the group will be Chris Stevens and Dan Howell, with Stevens proving himself as a 195 pound pass rusher last fall. He is up to 215 now and has the speed to be a Joe Kelly type of player.

The secret ingredients could be Trenton Tuiasosopo and EJ Savannah. Injured in a bike accident, Trenton will be back after a long year of injury and operational rehab. I really liked him as a high school linebacker and he was showing a real knack for the position before his mishap. I thought Savannah was the best prospect I had seen at linebacker in years in this state and he too has been on the shelf due to a neck injury. Kyle Trew is another kid who has been waiting in the wings and is way over due to make his move.

Speaking of moves, it will be interesting to see if there are any other position moves that could strengthen the team. I found it very disturbing when Shelton Sampson quit his team rather than make a change to help his team last year. After the trouble he had with dropping the football, it seemed natural to move him to defense, but when asked he said no and left shortly thereafter.

NEWS FLASH: KJR reported yesterday that Sampson will return this spring, as a cornerback. Ah, speed. It cannot be taught, so we'll see if Shelton can make his work in the secondary. Also back is OL Erik Berglund, as a walk-on after quitting.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Chris Hemphill tried someplace else besides safety. At 6-6, he is pretty tall to be roaming center field and I would guess could be developed into a nice target as a receiver or tight end. Particularly if Jason Wells can spool up quickly and Ashlee Palmer arrives soon.

The key word this spring will be competition. It will be at every position - the quarterback position, and especially at the running back position. There is depth at the defensive back and line positions and Johnie Kirton, once healthy, should make it a battle at tight end spot.

The entire system will finally be rolled out and now it is the coaches' responsibility to get the most out of what they have. The positive is that the kids now know what to expect. They have the same coaches, the same drills, the same terminology, and the same expectations. They know their leader. They know their positions. Now all they need to know is how to win.

And only they can determine how quickly they learn that.

Dawgman.com Top Stories