State of the Offense, Part 1

It's been just a little more than a week since fall camp started and Tim Lappano is bubbling with energy. You can tell in the way that he walks and in the way that he talks about his Washington offense - a group that was maligned in 2005 for not being able to run or pass the ball with much consistency.

But he expects that to change in 2006, mostly due to the fact that everyone in his system is a year older, a year wiser and (hopefully) a year better.

But for what most call 'consistentcy', Lappano calls it 'finishing', as in finishing what you started. "We've got to finish," Lappano told Dawgman.com. "We've got to finish runs, we've got to finish passes, we've got to finish blocks and we've got to run the ball and we've got to finish the fourth quarter. We got outscored 70-116 in the 4th quarter a year ago and we lost three or four games in the fourth quarter because we couldn't finish. Everything we do is finish, finish, finish."

And admirable goal, to be sure, and clearly one that's easier said than accomplished. Yet the building blocks have been in place for a year, and now it's time to see if the offense has taken hold. Now players should be thinking less and playing more. And it all starts with the senior incumbent at quarterback, Isaiah Stanback.

"He's been real steady," Lappano said of Stanback. "He's thrown the ball good, his decision-making has been good, he's pulling the ball down. When he pulls the ball down, it's scary...and he's got a nice feel for when to pull the ball down and it's been fun to watch. He's really improved in that area, maybe even moreso than throwing the football. He understands when the pull the ball down, and he's had some long runs, so that's been good."

Can Lappano tell if Stanback is putting that 10.5 100 speed to good use this fall? "Oh boy," Lappano said with a smile. "He's had a couple of runs that have been scary. He pulled it down a couple of days ago and ran it 85 yards. I think there was a scout at practice. It was fun to watch."

And the other two upperclassmen - Carl Bonnell and Johnny DuRocher? From all accounts, Bonnell has taken a lead over former SPSL rival Johnny DuRocher, but Lappano said it would be foolish to count Johnny out at this juncture.

"I think it's a horse race, I think it's a good battle," Lappano said. "Both have improved. Yesterday, it was great to see Johnny starting to throw it on time. We're still battling and we haven't had a scrimmage yet. He (DuRocher) had his best practice of fall yesterday. He's learning when to throw the ball on time, he's not holding it. I think he's been more accurate. The ball isn't sailing away. It did early and it's been corrected. He had a nice day yesterday."

But Bonnell isn't going to make it easy. "He's off to a fast start this camp," Lappano said of the former Kentwood Conqueror. "He's been consistent, knows where to go with the ball. He's making good decisions. Fundamentally, he's always been sound...good feet, good release."

And freshman phenom Jake Locker? "As we suspected, it's a faster game than it was at Ferndale High," Lappano said of Locker, who is very much still trying to get settled and comfortable in his new digs. "He's had some brilliant runs and had some throws where you ooh and ah...but he also is struggling when we start bringing pressure and the defense starts stemming and moving and the game really speeds up for him. And like any freshman on this football team, at times it becomes a concern. You can tell by looking at him that it's fast. But he's got unlimited potential."

While the brunt of the rushing load in 2005 went to a player that was not expected to be the workhorse (James Sims), the rushing scenario in 2006 appears on paper to be a little more solidified for the Huskies. All of the top three returning backs (Kenny James, Louis Rankin and Shelton Sampson) have 73 games of college football experience in their collective back pocket. But is any one of them capable of bringing home the bacon like Sims did at the end of 2005?

"Right now they each give the defense something a little bit different to look at," Lappano said, describing the backs' strength in numbers. "They (James and Rankin) both compliment each other really well, and right now they are both doing some good things. Both are really running hard. I think Kenny is running behind his pads good right now, his vision is good. Louis is playing with more velocity than when he was in the spring and that's something good. He made a lot of nice runs for us a year ago. He's playing a little more physical right now. Together, both of them give us our best chance to win."

Add in Sampson - who is coming off a year that saw him move to cornerback, leave the team, rejoin the team and move back to the offensive side of the ball - and you've got three backs that will all add something a little unique to the mix.

"There's no question that he's going to help us," Lappano said of Sampson. "He's made some nice runs in this camp. The thing that I really like about him right now that I didn't see my first year here is that he's playing with more heart and he's playing more physical. No one has ever questioned his ability to run fast and ability to make people miss. He is playing more physical and more behind his pads. He is playing with a lot more passion. We like to see that with him."

And what about James and Rankin? What is Lappano seeing from them this fall?

"I never got to see him run more physical because of his shoulder," Lappano said of the senior James. "I'm seeing now what I saw the year before I came here. He's dropping his shoulder and he's actually moving into some people and finishing people and being very physical dipping his pads and getting three and four extra yards just by dropping his shoulder. So I'm seeing more power from him than I really thought he had."

And Rankin? "He's running more downhill than horizontally," Lappano said. "He's got God-given ability to make a guy miss. But instead of two and three cuts, we want him to take one cut, square himself and go vertical. That's what we tried to convince him to do during the winter and the spring, and I'm seeing that more right now. I'm excited about that."

Add in the fullbacks, especially Mark Palaita and Luke Kravitz, and you have six running threats that are sure to improve on the 1487 net yards the Huskies amassed in 2005. Lappano is using the split practices to give the fullbacks more chances at carries. With Palaita considered the more physical fullback and Kravitz the more versatile fullback, Lappano wants to make sure both are fully ready to go in 2006.

"We're so low in numbers, when we go to split practices - they thin out," Lappano said. "To ask Rankin or James to take 100-plus reps in a two-hour practice is hard on them. We'll rotate our fullbacks in some of those slots, just to make sure we don't wear their legs out. I think it's really important that we come out of this fall camp with fresh legs, so we don't want to wear them down. And it's good for our fullbacks to get reps where they normally wouldn't be getting reps. They get a chance to catch the football, they get a chance to run with the football more...they are getting some added work that they can use, so it helps both spots."
Note: Look for Part 2 (receivers and tight ends) on Thursday.


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