Dawgbytes - 4/20

It's that time of the spring, where all things lead up to that final workout, that final chance the Washington Huskies get to show that they are ahead of the 2-9 pace they set for themselves last year before they start working out without coaching supervision. So how will it go? What will the format be? Who will be on the teams? Tyrone Willingham answered most of those questions on Thursday.

The format for spring game will be 12 to 15 minute periods, with a break at the 2-minute warning to go through some two-minute drill scenarios under a normal clock. Willingham did not mention how he's going to break up personnel, saying he would work on that with the coaches later Thursday night.

"I like it more competitive, but some years you need that continuity and it's been better to have more of a straight split (of groups)," he said when asked how he might split the teams up.

But as it has been in the past, the quarterbacks will not be a live part of the equation. "The quarterback is never live," said Willingham. "They'll be a quick whistle for them, and I'll have a whistle too in case I think the referees are slow."

Willingham's priorities for Spring Game, which will be played Saturday at Husky Stadium at 12:45 p.m., are the same priorities he's had for the entire spring. "They would be health, health and health," he said with a smile. "You can do so much damage to your team if you get the wrong guy or guys injured during spring practice. So we need to get through as healthy as possible so we can get to the next phase of our work, which is the summer training to get ready for the season. That's an important element for this football team because we don't have a bye week. Our ability to strengthen ourselves, our minds and bodies, over the summer, is going to be extremely important. We have to be in great shape."

That, coupled with a very strong turnout rate for summer workouts, will go a long ways toward giving this Washington team a chance on winning some more games in 2006. "You can go home and become a great player, and go lift weights and run and do all the things you have to do, but it's very difficult to become a great team unless you are here," Willingham said. "You've got to work together, you've got to communicate together. And I think they understand that. I think they are willing to make that sacrifice, to make that commitment to stay here and be together and work as a team.

"We've laid a better foundation, now we have to continue that building process."

How will the coaches treat Spring Game? From the sounds of it, Willingham will run things a little differently this year. The coaches will not treat this game like a dry run for a normal game. "There will be no work on mechanics of our communication," he said. "We did last year because it was our first time through, but we only have one new staff addition (J.D. Williams), and he's an experienced coach that's been through all of this before."

The Huskies won't be playing with a number of experienced players out, including Jordan White-Frisbee, C.J. Wallace, Darin Harris and Quintin Daniels. Chris Hemphill is a player that will be a game-time decision. J.R. Hasty was sick on Tuesday, but Willingham gave no indication that he wouldn't be available for Spring Game.Willingham mentioned Isaiah Stanback, Kenny James, Anthony Russo, Corey Williams, Alex Mercier, Danny Morovick, E.J. Savannah, Chris Stevens, Tahj Bomar, Dashon Goldson, Jason Wells and Mesphin Forrester as individual standouts from the spring, but with a caveat. "There's still room for all of us to grow," he added. "We've got to grow and improve and we've got the summer to get that done."

As far as walk-ons, Willingham mentioned two players that have stood out. "(Linebacker) Josh Gage has done a nice job this spring," Willingham said. "He's shows some upside to his play. (Offensive lineman) Eric Berglund is showing some strong possibilities for the future."
Skipping a beat?: Willingham noted that the offensive line is the area that needs the most work. "The offensive line will be the heartbeat of our football team," he said. "Its growth, improvement and maturity will make all the difference in the world. They'll be asked to do all the little things well. They'll need to have knowledge of the system, knowledge of the techniques involved, and confidence in yourself to do all of those things well."

A quandry at receiver: With so many players in and out of the receiver corps this spring with injury, Willingham couldn't determine would be his starters if he had to play a real game on Saturday. "I wouldn't know," he said, matter-of-factly. "Sonny (Shackelford) has not had a lot work a lot this spring. Anthony Russo started out strong, but then went down. Alex Mercier and Chancellor Young are doing some strong things. Corey Williams has done some nice things and Cody Ellis is always showing himself."

Running in threes: Willingham gave his assessment of where the running game is going into Saturday's game. "It's been very positive," he said. "There was great anticipation that one guy just might take the position over, but I think the three guys have competed very well and have made it very difficult for one guy to snatch it away. Kenny James has been solid in his performance, especially coming off his shoulder. Louis Rankin has provided some big plays for us. He's worked hard this year to improve himself as an inside runner. And J.R. (Hasty), who comes in highly touted and has done some great things in the practice sessions. We're still looking for the entire group to be consistent in their play. Playing running back is not just running the ball. That's the easy part. It's being involved in the blocking scheme and seeing how all of it fits together."

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