Dawgbytes - 4/10

Like spring training in baseball, spring workouts for college football programs can be an emotional roller-coaster for fans and coaches alike as the team works on fundamentals and drills that will prepare them for the long season to come. Saturday's scrimmage was a day that the Husky offense would like to forget, but head coach Tyrone Willingham, always the optimist, said he saw some good things along with the bad.

"I thought there were some very good things that happened during our scrimmage," Willingham told the media assembled on Monday. "Usually when the defense seems to do things better than the offense it can seem like a disappointment, but one of the things I think that has made this program a good program is when it has had good defense so hopefully that's a sign that we're moving in the right direction.

"I also thought there was some youth and inexperience on our offense that plagued us as well, but overall I thought it was a good day for us even though the elements didn't favor us. I still thought it was a good day for us."

One area of concern for the Huskies has to be the offensive line as they were dominated by the defensive line most of the day, including three sacks by DE Greyson Gunheim and two more by DT Donny Mateaki who seems to have found a home on the inside.

"I thought our effort was good," Willingham said regarding the offensive line. "But I thought there were some things that we didn't do and didn't have the consistency that we need to have to be good. Inconsistency is what we had and as I've said before we need to raise our consistency."

Missing all of the spring workouts so far has been offensive line coach Mike Denbrock, but Willingham says the Kyle Benn has helped ease the temporary loss of the line's leader.

"There's some of that," Willingham said regarding the line missing their position coach. "I've said before that I thought Kyle Benn has done a good job with the group, but I think you always miss the voice that will be the most dominant at that position and that is coach Denbrock."

Turning to the defensive side of the ball, Willingham addressed the addition of defensive backs coach J.D. Williams to the staff shortly before spring started.

"The first thing is he's been able to come in and make a quick adjustment," Willingham said. "In a matter of weeks he's been able to jump in and understand our system and really start to work with our young men. His skill-sets include player and coach at a very high level and I think that is a plus for our young men because I think the first thing is that when you have someone that's done it at a level like that it's much easier to listen to them.

"Then add to that, that he's had the experience of developing other teams and players speaks well also. I think that credibility bodes itself well for our guys and I think it's been a real plus for us."

The unit Williams' secondary goes up against on a daily basis, the wide receivers, has had it's struggles over the past few years since the departure of Reggie Williams following the 2003 season but Willingham says he likes what he's seen out of his wideouts.

"There have been some individuals that I think have started to step their game up," Willingham said. "One of those is Anthony Russo who was limited (on Saturday), but still one day or day and a half doesn't diminish what he's been doing up to that point. I think he'll do some more things before spring practice is over.

"You have Chancellor Young that I've been pleased about the physical aspects that he's been providing for the team and also someone that a lot of people don't even know about, Alex Mercier, has given us some good energy, made some plays and done some things throughout camp. He was down for a little while with a slight hamstring, but he's found a way to bounce back and is trying to get into the lineup."

Corey Williams is another player that the Huskies would love to have step up and make their decisions tougher when they release their two-deeps at the start of the regular season this September and he too has been a player that Willingham has been impressed with.

"He's had flashes which has been exciting because Corey is one of those guys that we're hopeful can come on and really do some things for us," Willingham noted. "Since he had the break in his wrist, unfortunately that was at Notre Dame, but since he's had that I think he's been trying to bounce his way back to being what we all expect and hope he will be."

Coming off two of the worst seasons in Husky football history could be a psychological detriment to the players, but Willingham said he's seen flashes of the players knowing they can be successful.

"We've shown it in flashes," Willingham said. "But we haven't hit that point where it is there, ingrained, you know it and we are just surging. It's kind of been that coaches word ‘inconsistency' that I keep throwing out there because it's there.

"One time, boy it looks like ‘they got it' but the next time ‘where did it go?' ‘what are we thinking?' ‘why could we possibly do that?'. It is still very much exciting because I think at some point it's going to hit home and I think our guys can realize the team we can be."

One player who many Husky fans are anticipating seeing on the field this fall will be redshirt freshman RB J.R. Hasty. He posted the longest run of the day on Saturday, a 42-yard scamper off the left side and Willingham was impressed with his young back.

"He's done some good things," Willingham said. "The biggest transition when you're a running back is in the passing game, not necessarily the running. You've got to understand the protections, who you have to have and then have the ability to take them on. That is where J.R. needs to have the biggest growth is in that area, but he seems to be coming along okay.

"He has a little different style. He probably does a better overall, maybe he's a better reader, if I have to list him that way, his vision and how he sees things. Louis (Rankin) is more of our outside guy to a degree, but he's done a better job this spring of being a little more forceful in the inside game and Kenny (James) is kind of your combination slasher-guy in a sense that you see him do a good job of reading things and he's got great body angles and he protects himself and gets himself going forward pretty well."

An area of concern for Willingham since he's arrived on campus has been the leadership of the team on the field. The Dawgs have had players that were solid contributors but lacked the personality to verbally motivate their teammates. One player that Willingham expects a lot out of this fall is going to be the only returning starter at linebacker, senior Scott White.

"Scott White has been prominent in that area," Willingham said about the leadership on defense. "What has to happen when you lose guys, especially guys in the linebacker corps, that seem to be the primary leaders you've got to step up even more and Scott is doing some of that. Still I would like him to be more consistent and a lot more forceful in that area.

"This thing about just leading by example is very nice and it does work and it's a great way to go and probably a good place to start, but leaders aren't just by action. I think leaders know the appropriate time to step up and the right things to say at that time and that's all a part of being a leader."




Seeing red: Besides the normal bumps and bruises associated with a full-contact scrimmage the only real injury of note was the one suffered by backup center Robert Lukevich who was helped off the field by two teammates. Willingham said there wasn't an update on his status at this point, but it looks like it might be a knee injury.

DT Eric Lobos continues to be hampered by some soreness in his injured foot, but Willingham said he's coming along. Russo, Sonny Shackelford, Jordan White-Frisbee and Durrell Moss continue to be "day to day, minute to minute" guys who will be evaluated daily for their ability to participate in limited for full drills.

Center of attention: With Lukevich down, Juan Garcia will be at center for the second team offensive line. He had been able to stay at guard with the second team, but now he will be able to move between the two when the need arises.

The comfort zone: A key to the Husky offense this fall will be, of course, the abilities of the quarterbacks to remain comfortable in the system the Huskies are running. Helping that transition would be Isaiah Stanback feeling more confident about when to run and when to wait for a receiver to come open. Those in attendance on Saturday all seemed to note that he looks much more ready to run when he sees daylight that he did last year and Willingham said that has as much to do with experience as it has to do with his comfort level.

"I've said all along that, yes, Isaiah is feeling a lot more comfortable in the system," Willingham said. "One of the key things for us when you have someone that has the ability to run and throw, that his ability to know when to pull it down and go is a critical part of our offense and to make better decisions in that area is a real plus for us."

Safety concerns: With Dashon Goldson's move to corner looking to be permanent the safety spot opposite C.J. Wallace has a real battle being waged and one player who really made his presence felt during Saturday's scrimmage was junior S Chris Hemphill – who took an inteception back 96 yards for a touchdown.

"In a sense, Chris had two interceptions," Willingham said with a laugh. "I think it was my whistle that blew it dead on the second one before things really got going.

"Chris is coming along, but we're hopeful he can be one of those big athletes that really starts to emerge and assert himself in our defense. This is a great opportunity so I hope that he will really seize it and take advantage of it."

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