Dawgbytes - 4/18

With just one more practice before Spring Game, the Washington Huskies put their gear on and got back to business under sunny skies. With Offensive Line coach Mike Denbrock back from illness, the team appeared energized to get the final week of spring behind them.

"I think it is a welcome position that he occupies being back and taking on the sole responsibilities of the position," Willingham said of Denbrock, who missed 11 of 14 spring practices due to complications arising from Crohn's Disease, an illness of the digestive tract Denbrock as diagnosed as having back in July of 2005 but had been able to effectively manage with diet and medication. "I think the players missed him, I think the coaches missed him. And that's not to say that Kyle Benn did not do a good job, but the ultimate responsibility for the group has been with Coach Denbrock. He likes that and I think his players like that."

With Willingham, health is his number-one issue - not only for his coaches, but also for the rest of his team. "The number thing I've always concerned myself with spring is getting through it healthy," he said, matter-of-factly. "That's a big thing. You see a lot of teams that have injuries to knees and things like that and it's difficult for them to recover. That's why you see a trend of a lot of teams having their spring practice in early or middle March, especially down south. That way, if there are some injuries, you can get some rehab and get ready for the season."

That being said, it appears as if the tenor of this Saturday's Spring Game will be just that - a game. "We're going to move toward a full game unless injuries decide otherwise," he said. "Usually I tend toward competition more than anything else." That probably doesn't mean a straight-up, ones versus twos game will be played.

So does Spring Game act as a weighted 'test' for the team, giving them a pass-fail grade that will determine their worth as they work toward fall? "It's difficult for me to say that one day of Spring Game eclipses 14 days of spring practice," Willingham said. "There's no question that a game has value. But I look at the body of work."

A question was asked Tuesday about this current group of Huskies being better than their 2005 counterparts at the end of their season. Willingham believes they are on track. "I think we have a better understanding of our offense, our defense, a better understanding of what they are being asked to do as a team," he said. "I think we'll start to gradually eliminate the different styles of coaching that has been taking place within the structure of the program. Continuity is the word that comes to mind."

Continuity also comes to mind when talking about the quarterback position. Isaiah Stanback is the number-one quarterback, followed by a battle between Johnny DuRocher and Carl Bonnell. Willingham would not offer up just how big the gap is between Stanback and the other two. "At this time, he's still our number-one," Willingham said. "There has been good play on all our quarterbacks part, but I don't think anyone has dethroned him from that position.

"They've all improved. Their overall command of what we're doing is so much better today than it was at this time last year or at any point in the season. And that understanding goes a long ways toward making us a better offensive unit. I think the improvement has been pretty solid."

With Denbrock back, it appears that the achilles' heel of the offense will be getting a shot of adrenaline at just the right time - with three practices remaining. It was clear he meant business on Tuesday, as he had the offensive line and tight ends moving the blocking sled from one side of the field to the other in short order. Senior Stanley Daniels told reporters Tuesday he feels the offensive line is '20 times better' than where they were coming into the spring. Does Willingham share the same belief? "Our measuring device is different," he said with a chuckle when told of Daniels' comment. "I don't know if we're 20 times better than when we started, but I do like our improvement and I do like the direction they are going."

One area that was immediately shored up the moment spring football arrived on Montlake was in the secondary. J.D. Williams, hired away from California, has put his imprint on the corners and safeties and given them some much needed confidence and attitude. They may not be strong in numbers right now, but Williams is making the most of what he has to work with.

"I've been very pleased with the demeanor, the attitude that he's brought to our group," Willingham said of Williams. "I think he has a special hand in how he does things with the younger men and they are enjoying his style as he works with them and what he's able to get accomplished with them."
Injury update: Willingham said there were no new injuries of note, but did say that converted cornerback Shelton Sampson has been limited by a shoulder injury since last week. He was, however, going through drills without red on today. Chris Hemphill is still limited by hamstring, practice status unknown. Durrell Moss made a tackle on the first play of their 11-11 session Tuesday, so he's clearly closer to full-go. He also practiced yesterday. Receiver Alex Mercier is in and out with a sore hamstring. Sonny Shackelford is still nursing a high ankle sprain, but practiced for the first time in a while Monday. Josh Okoebor was seen on the sideline with crutches.

No pads for Hasty: J.R. Hasty showed up during stretching, not in pads on Tuesday. He was not wearing red and didn't appear to be injured.

Kicking update: Willingham noted Tuesday that Michael Braunstein is still the leader so far this spring for placekicking duties.

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