State of the offense, Part 2

Tim Lappano has his work cut out for him putting points up on the board this year, and he knows it. He also knows that he has a receiving corps that accounted for only six touchdowns in 2005, with only one person having more than one score to their credit. But as is his want, he sounded more than just upbeat in talking about his pass-catchers; he was talking about big-play capability.

Despite losing their home-run hitter?

"We have depth, so don't be surprised to see more receivers playing in the game...more three and four-receiver sets," Lappano told Dawgman.com. "You never know, you might even see five out there sometime. I'm happy with the growth of the receivers. I think they showed it during spring game. They caught the deep ball, ran good routes and got themselves open and made plays. So I think they are a strength. As a group, there's depth there right now."

Everybody already knows about Washington's top-two returning receivers - Sonny Shackelford and Anthony Russo. They combined for 71 catches for 1079 yards, an average of over 15 yards a catch. But it's the guys that are going to have to step in for the departed Craig Chambers that Lappano wants to see more of. The one the Washington offensive coordinator mentioned right off the bat was junior Corey Williams. Williams will alway live in UW infamy for his touchdown catch to put the Huskies ahead of the then-No. 8 Washington State in the 2003 Apple Cup. But one catch does not make a career, and Lappano is very curious to see if the junior from Las Vegas can pick things up after breaking his hand at Notre Dame in 2004.

"Corey Williams has really picked his game up and has had a really strong camp," Lappano said of Williams. "That's good to see because we really need his athletic ability. He's a great route-runner. He's got size and he's got speed and now he's starting to catch the ball consistently. That's been nice to see. He should be a starter."

The other receiver that has captured the hearts and minds of Husky Nation is Marcel Reece. At least 250 pounds, Reece is the big receiver the Huskies haven't had since Reggie Williams. "He's shown some signs that he can be that 'go-to' guy," Lappano said of the junior college-transfer. "He's got speed for a guy that's as big as he is right now. He can really run. He's getting a little overwhelmed right now with the playbook. This is way, way, way different for him than it was at junior college. So right now he's out there thinking, he's not playing as fast as he needs to be playing. There's a lot of offense thrown at him right now, so we're going to back off and start all over again. We've thrown the book at him right now and he's overwhelmed with it, but he's shown some signs where he's caught the ball and outrun guys that were 40 pounds lighter than him."

He's got good hands, not a bad route-runner. He needs to get in and out of his breaks faster, we need to keep working with him on that. But he's got the potential to go after balls and be brilliant after the catch with it, because he can break some tackles."

The other Husky that definitely has the ability to get away from defenders and make huge plays is Marlon Wood. The junior from Florida made two eye-popping plays in 2005; a 69-yard catch against Notre Dame and a 92-yard opening-kickoff return against USC. He was eventually sidelined for the year because of a horse-collar tackle on that return, but Wood is back to 100 percent and showing that he can break for big yards.

"He's been really consistent," said Lappano of Wood. "I don't know if he's dropped a ball. I'm really excited about the potential with him. I think he's a role-type player. With his speed and his soft hands, I think he can catch the ball as easy as anybody on this football team. He's a guy that we can move around and get matched up and get some speed and quick and quickness where he can take care of someone like he did the Notre Dame game."

And what about Cody Ellis? Cody scored his only touchdown of the year against Air Force the first time he touched the ball. But ever since that point he was used sparingly (despite playing at least one down in every game in 2005), catching only seven other passes all year long.

"He's picked up where he left off," Lappano said of the junior from Puyallup. "He always makes plays. He's doing a good job. Like I told him last year, 'Everytime you go into the game, you make plays."

The tight end spot, especially the starting role - could be purely a semantic choice. All three scholarship players in the mix - Michael Gottlieb, Johnie Kirton and Rob Lewis - are all expected to get extended minutes, according to Lappano.

"I'd say they are all competing hard," Lappano said of the improved tight end position. "Competition is really good for this football team. Right now, those guys are all playing good. It's going to be fun to see how it all spins out in the end, but we run a lot of two-tight end sets anyways. Two are going to be on the field a lot anyways. They are making each other better because they want to be the guy and everybody is playing good now, so they have to pick their game up up to stay in the race."

Of the three, Gottlieb is the one player that has never seen live action in college, but the former walk-on sophomore is impressing the offensive coaches enough to put him right at the top of the list. "It really started for him in the spring," Lappano said of Gottlieb's ascension up the depth chart. "His intensity has gone up, his passion...he's really improved his pass blocking and he's running good routes right now too."

So what will it take for Gottlieb to hold off Kirton and Lewis and get that starting nod against San Jose State September 2nd? "He just needs to keep practicing like he's been practicing and he's going to need a nice scrimmage too," Lappano said. "We haven't scrimmaged yet, so that will tell us a lot."

But don't expect Lewis and Kirton to just hand the job over to Gottlieb. Expect all three of these players to be battling it out all season for the prize of having their name listed first on the depth chart. "Robert Lewis has really improved his run blocking," Lappano said. "Johnie Kirton is playing faster. They are getting in and out of their routes faster. They have all caught the ball pretty consistently. I'd like to see Johnie focused a little more in that area. But getting in and out of their breaks, they've improved that and they have to.

The tight ends should be a big part of this system. The 'west coast offense' and the 'spread coast' both have used their tight ends a lot. They are catching a lot of balls right now."
To see Part One of the State of the Offense, click HERE


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