Hugh Millen discusses Isaiah Stanback

As quarterback Isaiah Stanback heads into his senior season, one thinks back to that cold November night in Pullman in 2004. With Casey Paus at QB, the Huskies fell way behind the Cougars. But when former Coach Keith Gilbertson pulled the plug on Paus and inserted Stanback, Washington mounted a comeback.

It wasn't enough, however, as the Huskies lost. To many Washington fans, it was inexplicable why the struggling Paus played so much during a 1-10 season, while the raw but exciting Isaiah Stanback wasted away on the sideline. Former Husky QB and current KJR analyst Hugh Millen worked the post-game show on radio that night. He was apoplectic. "Yes," Millen says now with a chuckle. "I was a little upset."

As talent-depleted Washington prepares for the 2006 season, the only prayer for a bowl game rests on the shoulders of Isaiah Stanback. Dawgman.com spoke with Millen this week to get his impressions of the Husky quarterback. Millen was asked what improvements he saw in Stanback from 2004 in comparison to the 2005 campaign, during which Stanback started ten games.

"I'm sure that the coaches would differ with me on this," said Millen, "But I don't think Isaiah was appreciably better in '05 than '04. Maybe nominally better, but not appreciably. I'm not trying to paint a bleak picture. I did see improvement this past spring. You know, there have been a lot of guys that have had a breakout senior year. (Former Huskies) Warren Moon and Steve Pelluer had breakout senior years. They were the Pac-8 and Pac-10 Players of the year, respectively. That's my hope for Isaiah. He's clearly the guy coming into camp. I don't look at Isaiah and think ‘Well if he keeps improving like he has been, everything is going to be great.' I don't see it that way. I see it more that there's precedence for quarterbacks in this conference – and Washington quarterbacks—to come on and have great senior years. That's my reason for optimism for Isaiah—but it has nothing to do with anything I saw from him in 2005."

Millen was asked just how much the constant change of coaching staffs has hampered Stanback's development.

"I think it is difficult for him," he said. "I think the change in the scheme, the difficulties in picking up an offense in the first year, are difficult. You don't look at his receiving corps and see guys that are earmarked for long NFL careers. So there have been some things like that working against him. It's a mixed bag. I'm hopeful that he can breakout in his senior season. This past spring he played with a lot more confidence. And I've read quotes of his, and it's clear that he's a confident guy. I think he's ready to assume that leadership role. But you know-- Isaiah has never won. I think he understands that he has to portray the body language of a winner. The team's confidence is tenuous right now. If they see him slump, they're liable to fall too."

Millen was asked to describe the most vital change in a quarterback's development by the time he reaches his senior season.

"The biggest adjustment you make in your development as a quarterback is to learn to anticipate when receivers are coming open," he said. "Because it is a lot easier to play the game if you get rid of the ball quickly. That requires knowing where you want to go with the ball and having a feel for your receivers and anticipating where they're coming open. From what I've seen from Isaiah, he might make the correct read (on a pass play), but he needs to learn is that it's not WHERE you throw the ball, but WHEN you throw the ball. Those are two different things. When you see really mature quarterbacks, the `when' is just as important as the `where.' If Isaiah is going to have an improved senior season, he's going to know the offense, read the defense, and anticipate and trust where his receivers will be—and then throw the ball early. If a quarterback is a tick late in the thought process regarding the progression of the play, the design of the play, the structure of the play, and how it coincides with the defense, then he's in trouble. If he's a tick late on his release, he makes it a lot harder on himself. By having had last year's experience, I think that can help Isaiah."

If Stanback does exhibit a quantum leap in his development, Millen was asked how far the Huskies could go this season.

"Well, we know what kind of runner Isaiah can be," said Millen. "If he were to really have had a vault in his understanding of defenses and the offense, he can make a big impact. One could argue that the 2000 (Rose Bowl Champion) Washington team would have gone 3-8 without Marques Tuiasosopo at quarterback. In a best-case scenario, if Isaiah becomes a Vince Young, he could lead this year's Huskies to six or seven wins. I don't want to put a lid on their potential. But if he becomes a much better player, and has a better rapport with his receivers, it can happen. But that's one thing that I don't see right now from him—that real cohesiveness of understanding where the receivers are going to be so he can turn the ball loose."

Millen contrasted his own experiences at Washington and long career in the NFL to provide a closing perspective:

"I could never have lasted a year in the NFL if I played with the same anticipation at the professional level that I played at the college level," he said. "You just learn early on that you can't play that way. You're at such an advantage if you can anticipate. But it's hard. If Isaiah was in his sixth or seventh year in the NFL, and he was a quarterback, he would look back (at his college years) and just shake his head.

"That's what happened to me," he said. "It's not as if while at Washington that I couldn't identify the defenses, etc. But I didn't demand of myself throwing the ball early because I didn't feel comfortable. It's a lot more comfortable to wait until the receiver comes out of his break. But, in the NFL you realize that to really play the game well, you have to anticipate guys coming open. If you give the defense an extra second to react, it's just impossible to play the game. I keep harping on this, but it's vital to being a good quarterback."

Washington's 2006 regular season again ends in Pullman. The spectacle of Isaiah Stanback performing like Vince Young and crushing the Cougars, would demonstrate huge progress—for both Stanback and the Washington program.
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnson1@verizon.net

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