Dawgbytes - 3/30

As it is in life, you take a step forward and then take a step back. For the Washington football team, life is much the same. Going into spring football, they learned some good news this week with the return of Shelton Sampson. But that news was tempered Wednesday.

Huskies OL coach Mike Denbrock is out indefinitely with an 'unspecified illness', according to UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham. "I anticipate he'll be back before the end of spring in some capacity," Willingham said. In the meantime, they have hired last year's offensive graduate assistant, Kyle Benn, to take over Denbrock's duties until he can return. The staff is already thin because they were only able to have one graduate assistant on staff for this football season, another side-effect of the NCAA penalties that were imposed nearly two years ago.

"It is a tremendous loss," Willingham said. "Now that workload has to be spread out. And a lot of it is grunt-work. It puts more stress on our system."

But the inclusion of Benn should be a smooth one.

"He is extremely knowledgeable about the position, was our GA last year, and it should be a comfortable transition," said Willingham.

So the offensive line, a group already considered to be one of the weaknesses going into spring, will be without their coach. "I think they've put on some weight, but the key is performance," Willingham said. "Size is a wonderful thing. Lots of body-builders out there that aren't that nimble. I like the strides they've taken, but now they have to take the next step."

In fact, 'performance' will most likely be the key word that defines how successful the Huskies' spring will be. "You've got to perform well to earn a spot," Willingham said. "Basic acquirement of the fundamentals. If we can do that we're off to a good start."

The other word Willingham stressed on Wednesday was 'fundamentals'. "Last spring, when you're trying to get a system in, you're working on that," Willingham said. "But now it's time to get back to fundamentals."

'Fundamentals' and 'performance' will definitely factor into what happens this spring at running back. The 'it' guy is J.R. Hasty, and Willingham has nothing but praise for the redshirt frosh from Bellevue.

"J.R. makes yardage," Willingham said. "Talk about not being a sprint champion or this or that, and we take up so much time talking about what they aren't we lose focus on what they do. He gains yardage and understands how to do that, and that's a great quality to have."

Willingham also acknowledged that James Hasty, J.R.'s father, applied for the cornerbacks coaching spot and also interviewed for the position. "He is a quality man and coach," said Willingham.

Don't look for Sampson to be in the backfield this season. He was moved to corner last year, lasting less than a week before he decided to call it quits. But now he's back, back on scholarship and ready to give the position change another shot.

"Shelton did approach me and I entertained his thoughts about being part of the team. My obligation to help people. We mutually agreed on the opportunity."

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