Willingham likes puncher's chance

With one year down in his plan to get the Washington football program back on track, Tyrone Willingham appeared to play the part of a manager looking at 'all systems go' despite losing at least four players to academics and a possibility that more could fall by the wayside.

Not deterred, Willingham spoke of the experienced gained from his first year on Montlake and how his team should use that to their advantage.

"I'm excited and ready to go," were the initial thoughts Willingham talked about, noting that it was truly hard to believe that the time had come again where he could actually talk about football instead of just hypothesizing about it.

"You hear rumors about how things are going, but we'll see today where we are," he added. "We hope that guys have a history with today. They know our style of practice, so it should be vastly different than a year ago. With knowledge hopefully comes experience, and with experience a better performance in everything we do."

The team will run a series of shuttles that Willingham said would give the coaches a sense of where the players are at from a conditioning standpoint in about 65 seconds. "We'll see what the recovery rate is," said Willingham. Because of NCAA rules regarding acclimatization, the team will practice the first two days in shorts and shirts only, then shells for two more days and then their first full-padded practice will come on Saturday.

Whether or not the team comes back in excellent shape remains to be seen, but that hasn't stopped the Pac-10 writers from already mailing in Washington's season. They have the Huskies picked dead-last this year, something Willingham takes a little bit of umbrage with.

"Every game we play starts out at 0-0, so we have as good a chance as everyone else. That's my mindset," he said. "You don't have to be the best - you just have to play the best during that three-hour period on Saturdays and we'll be alright."

The team will start their fall camp workouts without senior corner Dashon Goldson, who will be limited by an ankle sprain he apparently suffered in the summer. Ryan Perkins and Josh Okoebor (knee) will not join the team until the Monday after the San Jose State game.

But those aren't the only guys that will be missing. Gone are J.R. Hasty, Charles Smith, Nathan Flowers and Chancellor Young, all grade casualties. Smith and Hasty have a chance to return after sitting out the 2006 season; Flowers and Young are no longer with the team.

Junior transfers Ashlee Palmer and Aaron Mason are still finishing up coursework before they can step foot in Husky Stadium. Freshman Leilyon Myers still has a clearinghouse issue he must get cleaned up before he can participate. Anthony Atkins, who played this spring at UW, looks to be waiting on grades from the UW summer term before he is eligible to rejoin the team. Because of the length of UW's summer 'B' term, Atkins could be out for at least another week to 10 days.

"It all belongs to me. It's my program," Willingham said when asked about the academic casualties. "What you are in it for is to help and assist the young people. I think we do a fair job of that, but you're always looking to see how I could do better. I don't know if I've ever had four (academic casualties) before."

Willingham used the example of losing running back Kenny James to injury in the first practice last year as an example of how the team has to move on and prepare for that part of the game. James will have to wear a splint for the first couple of weeks of practice while a bone in his forearm heals.

Speaking of James' forearm, the Husky Head Coach went a step further, saying they are 'bone-thin' at the position and added that the fullbacks might be used in different capacities. "There will be some creative ways we'll manage their situation just based on depth."

Washington offensive coordinator Tim Lappano suggested last week that tight end Johnie Kirton could be used running the ball, but Willingham said that the former Jackson RB would stay at tight end.

"Right now it's my plan to keep Johnie at tight end," Willingham said. "I think he's continued to develop and will only make us stronger there."

He also added that former walk-on Michael Gottlieb will start as the No. 1 tight end, with competition between Kirton and Robert Lewis for the number-two spot.

The Huskies have moved senior Shelton Sampson back to running back after a spring at corner to help shore up the position. Sampson has run for 483 yards and 10 touchdowns in his Washington career to date.

"Obviously the move was difficult for him, but it was one I thought would assist his future. And in moving him back, I asked him to forsake his future in some regards for the team, and he was willing to do that."

Willingham also said that true frosh Matt Mosley would also get a look in the Huskies' backfield. "In high school, there weren't too many positions that he (Mosley) didn't play," Willingham said.

One position the Huskies are clearly looking good at is quarterback, Spearheaded by senior Isaiah Stanback, Washington may not have the total numbers they would typically want, but their depth has experience and the future looks bright in Jake Locker.

"I think Isaiah is clearly a better quarterback than he was a year ago," Willingham said. "And also a better leader. I think a vast majority are. I think Stan Daniels is a better leader than he was a year ago. Dashon is a better leader, C.J. (Wallace) is a better leader. Greyson Gunheim...all of those guys are better leaders. As those guys continue to grow and improve, our team will grow and improve.

"It's about the attitude. It's about getting to a common ground with attitude and the way we think, and I think our team is getting closer to that mindset every day."

Willingham went even further when talking about Stanback and his emergence. "The number-one difference is his intelligence about the game, his intelligence about our system. Number-two would be his physical development, not only what he's done with our strength and conditioning coach, Trent Greener, but also his involvement in the track program. He's growing in all aspects, and because of his growth, it's pronounced him more as a leader of this football team, and I think he embraces that.

"The better you learn the system, the easier it is to see the appropriate opportunity. I think that's where he's going, and I think that's all part of that 'football intelligence' that's making him a much better quarterback."

While the backup QB roles seem to be pretty well-defined by Carl Bonnell and Johnny DuRocher, Willingham hinted that he wouldn't be afraid of using Locker, the most-highly touted prospect in Washington's 2006 recruiting class.

"I am looking to put the best players on the field," Willingham said. If he identifies himself as one of our best players, than we need to have him on the field. If he's our best quarterback, he needs to be a quarterback. If he can help somewhere else and it makes a difference on our football team, I'm quite sure he'd be delighted to do that. He's a winner and an outstanding young man. I do like Jake's future at quarterback."

New walk-ons on the roster include Jay Angotti, a 5-10, 180-pound DB from the Punahou School in Honolulu; Tony Chidiac, a 5-11, 190-pound receiver from Skyline High School in Issaquah; Gregory Christine, a 6-3, 280-pound offensive lineman from St. Bonaventure High School in Camarillo, Calif.; Fred Wiggs, a 6-1, 225-pound defensive end from O'Dea; James Walker, a 5-9, 175-pound DB from Calvary Chapel High School in Irvine, Calif.; and Kyle Meuli, a 6-2, 190-pound WR from Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie. Willingham noted that Palaita might be one of the walk-ons that could earn a scholarship this fall.

Those walk-ons join WR Troy Perry, PK Michael Book, CB Wade Gurnett, WR Alex Mercier, QB Felix Sweetman, DB Desmond Davis, RB Shelton Sampson, OLB Joshua Gage, FB Mark Palaita, OLB T.J. Poe, OLB Linus Chou, OL Erik Berglund, WR Sho Yoshinaga, DE Joel Nelson and TE Tim Harris.

Ben Ossai was named by Willingham the number-one left tackle. He's expected to join Stanley Daniels, Clay Walker, Juan Garcia and Chad Macklin on the first-team OL. Darrion Jones' move to defensive has stuck, so the true sophomore will play 2006 with his hand down.

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