Coach's Corner

Grayson Gunheim lay in a heap on the turf surrounded by trainers and players and coaches. He was obviously hurt and everyone registered the same concern. He is, without a doubt, one of the Huskies' best players.

He had been injured in a kick off drill and it appeared to be a knee.

He'll miss 1-3 weeks, not as bad as it could've been, but the whole incident exposed one of the real major problems facing Tyrone Willingham and his staff - that of adequate depth to withstand a season of twelve games.

You really only have about five to six stars on any team, and by most indications, Gunheim was slated to be one of those. He is easily their best pass rusher and as a former high school sprinter, he was being asked to do special teams work because of his speed.

He will be OK, but you never know when it comes to injuries. For now, the coaches need to get the next guy ready and that would appear to be Caesar Rayford who immediately responded with two sacks. That is encouraging but the over all depth is still not a bright spot.

This may be one of the smallest and therefore one of the thinnest teams in the last 30 years of Husky football. The current roster hovers around 90-95 total bodies. The NCAA allows you to have 105 at this point in the season and you can expand it as much as you like after the first game. Roster size fluctuates based on attrition, (those quitting or leaving) academic eligibility, (those being accepted or rejected by the clearinghouse, and of course by injury.

The numbers are reflective of a many factors. Coach Willingham took hardly any kids with his first recruiting class shortly after he took the job two years ago. I believe only about a dozen players represent that class and certainly that has affected the depth. Added to this is the fact is that a number of kids have quit the program because they could not accept the demands of discipline and accountability that are inherent with Coach Willingham's system.

I believe that some of that is addition by subtraction. You want kids who are willing to pay the price. You want toughness. You don't want quitters. You don't have time to waste worrying about those who leave, you need to concentrate on those who stay and buy into what you're trying to do as a team.

The Gunheim situation is a little unique because you never have enough speed pass rushers off the edge. It is one of the hardest positions to recruit for and consequently, one of the hardest to replace. Overall, it is one of the thinnest positions for proven players on this team.

Surprisingly, one of the deepest positions on the team appears to be at quarterback where the Huskies have four scholarship players who are all capable of leading the team. This is definitely Isaiah Stanback's team right now, but that is not to say that Carl Bonnell, Johnny DuRoucher, or even freshman Jake Locker, couldn't run this offense. They represent the positive in terms of a position of depth. I think when you get your numbers to four-deep at every position then you have adequate depth to survive the rigors and demands of a whole season. That adds up to 88 plus about 6 specialists, or 94 total.

That is the precise number of the current Husky team.

The next strongest position in terms of depth appears to be the secondary where the emergence of Jason Wells, Mesphin Forrester, Durrell Moss, Jordan Murchison, and Chris Hemphill has been terrific. All appear to be capable of making contributions along with veterans CJ Wallace, Matt Fountaine, and of course, Roy Lewis and Dashon Goldson. If highly touted JC transfer, Ashlee Palmer, joins the mix, you might have decent depth on the back end.

Where it is really thin though is along the offensive line. There can be no doubt that one of the highest priorities for the next recruiting class will be offensive linemen. I would guess that Coach Willingham will bring in a full line on that side of the ball. The Huskies are barely two deep in the offensive line and the return of Erik Berglund to the program now appears to be a blessing. He is a big body and has to be a definite backup. Getting both he and Shelton Sampson to return to the program has proven to be important additions to the depth simply because of shortages at those two positions. Sampson will be playing running back and has returned with a positive attitude and has always brought speed to the table. Berglund will prove valuable beyond expectations.

The offensive line and running back are thin and not deep enough to survive injury. That is a key consideration as far as getting this team ready for the long season ahead. How much do you have to protect them to avoid practice injuries? It is a difficult and double edge decision. If you pound too hard in practice, then injuries are inevitable. If you go too lightly, then you may not be ready when things start pounding for real. If I know Coach Willingham, there will be no change in how things are done. They will be hitting at least every other practice and will continue right up until game time.

The other position groups on the team that appear to have some depth are receiver, tight ends, and linebackers. Each of these obviously needs another infusion of talent in the coming years of recruiting because they are really only about two deep. They are also positions where there are no real established or experienced stars.

Overall, this team has some good front line players but not enough players below them. You never replace a kid like Gunheim at the same level of play, but it's always nice to have 3-4 more waiting in the wings. That is where the depth issue begins to be most noticeable (in the red-shirt or scout team players). If you don't have enough players to practice against, you end up practicing against yourself. By this, I mean that your starters have to spend time helping the other side of the ball prepare for up-coming opponents. It is what is done at the NFL level and Coach Willingham, having experience at that level, understands how to structure practices accordingly. Still, you don't get as many repetitions and that ultimately hurts your preparation. College football is limited to 20 hours per week of work, including the games.

One of the modern day problems that we didn't have years ago is the reduction of the football roster size in today's NCAA. Coach Neuheisel made a deal with his boss years ago to cut and maintain roster sizes at 115 max. This was in contrast to the days of James and Lambright where we regularly had over 130 kids on the team. We actually were over 140 a number of years.

We maintained these numbers by committing special consideration for "invited" walk-ons. We always figured that for every 5-6 walk-ons, we could find one player who would help our depth and the rest would enable us to practice with full sets of scout teams. We placed the highest priorities on linemen and special teams players. By having those numbers we were able to have two full scout teams of players to go against our first two units on offense and defense. With such a system we were able to keep more kids involved and get many more reps per practice session.

As a sports educator I always thought that the purest amateurs on the team were the walk-ons. They were playing football because they chose to. They got nothing for their time and effort except the honor of being on the team. They had more to prove, less to prove it with, and sacrificed more than the scholarship players. They were the ones who made you most proud when they contributed because you know that it had come from the heart.

I really feel that when Washington de-emphasized the walk-on program that they hurt Husky football. Without the practice squad numbers you simply get a lot less looks at what your opponents do. Coach Willingham is such a realist that he will simply adjust to what he has and move forward.

It doesn't make any difference if it is Gunheim being hurt or Palmer being ineligible, you can only work with the bodies you have and go from there.

There are currently enough bodies for Washington to compete but a rash of unexpected injuries could make practice almost impossible.

Another contributing factor is the difficulty of getting junior college transfers admitted to Washington because the school doesn't accept PE and Recreation credits as "core credits" because they don't offer those majors. Oregon added Sports Management as a major and can accept PE credits without having PE as a major. That was very innovative.

Coach Willingham lost at least two JC recruits last year and it looks as though he may lose a couple this year as well.

It is going to take two full classes of 22-25 players each over the next two years to get the Huskies back to a stable number in terms of roster size. For now, however, they will be walking the thin line. It really takes a lot of luck to go injury free but it is obvious they are going to have to be careful not to lose players due to practice.

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