Willingham pleased with spring effort

Tyrone Willingham can see progress, and not just on the scoreboard either - even though that is the ultimate indicator for success in college football. The scoreboard read Purple 24 - Gold 3 after Saturday's Spring Game at Husky Stadium. What did he think of the end of their spring campaign?

"Usually it's difficult to say everything that you think you saw in the course of a game," Willingham said afterward. "It's always best if you get a chance to go back and look at it. But the things I believe I saw were the same things I've seen all spring. Our quarterbacks had a better handle and a better feel for everything we asked of them. That displayed itself today, from Felix right up to Isaiah. I felt like we had that coming in. I think we've had growth on our football team and I think you saw that in all places, but I said we had some weak areas that we needed to shore up and I think we still need to work and improve in those areas. It was a good conclusion for us, to be very honest about it. My disappointment obviously is with the health. That's a big thing and we lost a man today and that's extremely disappointing."

Defensive end Caesar Rayford was blocked into punter Ryan Perkins during a normal punt play, but the result was anything but normal. After being hit by Rayford, Perkins lay on the Husky Stadium field turf for roughly five minutes before being helped off the field. His right knee appeared to be severely injured. "Any knee surgery, if it does require surgery, it's a tough recovery for the fall," Willingham said of Perkins' prospects for possibly re-joining the team healthy for the fall. Defensive tackle Wilson Afoa was also carted off at the same time as Perkins, but according to Willingham he's OK. "There are no long term issues with him," he said of the junior from Honolulu.

If there was one clear point of progress being made from this past fall, it was with the wide receivers and their ability to make big plays. The purple team had three catches each of over 40 yards and Isaiah Stanback threw for 190 yards on only six completions. Anthony Russo, Chancellor Young and Cody Ellis were the recipients of long Stanback passes, and Walk on Alex Mercier was also another name Willingham mentioned in terms of a player that has talent and can get down the field and make big plays.

"Our guys made the plays, and that was nice to see," he said. "There may have been one drop in there or so, but when the ball got near them, they made some catches. Make the difficult catch, make the easy catch, and I thought they did that, for the most part."

The way the lineups were created for both teams gave the game a definite 'ones versus twos' feel about it, something Willingham wasn't sure he was going to do leading up to the game. "I just thought it was the best thing for our team, especially on the offensive line," he said. "I wanted to make sure we had some continuity there."

The play of Stanback was certainly a highlight, but Willingham was more eager to talk about what was happening in the battle behind the senior from Garfield. Having the number-one spot already solidified, there's no question the battle for the number-two spot going into the fall will be a hotly contested battle between two players with experience.

"There's a real intense battle going on for that number-two spot between Carl Bonnell and John DuRocher," Willingham said. "Both of those guys did some good things. I was really impressed with some of the throws Johnny made toward the end of the scrimmage. He made a couple up the sideline that showed a lot of patience."

Another highlight mentioned by Willingham was the play of the two purple cornerbacks - Roy Lewis and Dashon Goldson. Lewis led the entire defense with 7 tackles and also had three passes defensed. Goldson, playing in his first true action since switching from safety, had an all-around solid game, coming up with three tackles, one pass defensed and one interception. Ironically, both Lewis and Goldson hail from the same high school - Narbonne - in Harbor City, Calif.

"I've been pleased with what Roy has given us all spring," Willingham said. He's been very solid, very energetic and very aggressive in his play. When he had the opportunity, he came up and made the plays in his area well."

The move of Goldson appears to be paying big dividends. "I think he's added to our football team with the change," Willingham said. "First, making the change, and working diligently at it to make it a great position for him.

So does Willingham take the credit for the move? "It was a great idea by our defensive staff," he said. "It's something that's been talked about the whole time Dashon's been here. He's got some great feet, which is a pre-requisite for being a corner, and he has wonderful range and size for that position. The timing was right and our coaches made a wonderful decision."

He certainly didn't want to forget mentioning his safeties. "Jason Wells, he arrives four days before spring practice and has an injured ankle early on and he never missed one snap," Willingham said of the junior college transfer from Mount San Antonio College. "That's impressive."

Now to the parts that need shoring up. As it has been all spring, Willingham mentioned the continuing maturity of the offensive line, the 'heart and soul of the football team', as he referred to them. Washington is in the process of replacing five of the first six players on the offensive line. "Today was just one more of those 'growth' days for our offense, our offensive line, our quarterbacks, etc...," he said.

Willingham also noted that he's been happy with the work done within the linebacking corps, a group that lost two starters last year. "I was pleased with what I saw from (Chris) Stevens and (E.J.) Savannah all spring in that battle for the WIL 'backer," Willingham said. "I've been pleased with what we've gotten out of our SAM 'backer, to some degree. We've got an excellent battle taking place between Dan (Howell) and Scott (White)."

The other part of the spring game that earned comments from Willingham was the running game. With a clear focus on the downfield passing game, it appeared as if the running backs were not as much of a focus as they will be in the fall. Four fumbles didn't help their case that much. "That's an area I didn't feel as comfortable as I would have like to coming out of the spring," Willingham said. "Not as much was done there as I would have liked to, but I'm comfortable believing that it will be in place when we get to the season.

"If I had to say there's a leader in the group right now, I might say Kenny James. Louis Rankin has done some wonderful things. He made some plays today where it looked like there was nothing there. But at the same time we're looking for consistency. That's something we've got to have. At the same time, the growth of the offensive line is extremely important to our success running the football."

Ultimately, the team appeared to be on track and far ahead of where they were at this point last year. Willingham isn't surprised at the rise in confidence. "That's a product of being together and being with the same staff for the most part, and the continuity that's hopefully developing over a period of time," he said. "You gain confidence because you can trust the words that come from your coach and you can have more confidence in the person next to you. All of it has a tendency to build on itself, and that's what I believe is happening with our football team."


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