Spring Preview: Offense

Spring football is an event that, taken as a whole, begins with many questions, and often finishes with many more. The number-one question for the Washington Huskies ever since Tyrone Willingham took over for Keith Gilbertson has been – when will the winning return? Well, this spring just might start to peel back the layers to that relatively innocuous query.

In this article, we'll talk about the Huskies' offense – specifically the skill positions - who returns and who is expected to be major contributors as lineups are refined and playbooks expanded.

Quarterbacks: The Huskies have the "luxury", albeit a minor luxury, of having a returning signal-caller with starting experience in Carl Bonnell. Challenging him will be the media/fan proclaimed "program savior" Jake Locker who redshirted the 2006 season.

Bonnell has an above-average arm, but he was still making too many mistakes toward the end of the season. The Apple Cup aside, Bonnell really struggled in making decisions and reading defenses, but it appeared he gained some much-needed experience while starting the final five games of the season.

His biggest issue is that he's relatively frail and has suffered a myriad of issues physically. In 2004, Bonnell played against Notre Dame and started games against Stanford and San Jose State, ultimately going down with a shoulder injury after the first half of the game with the Spartans.

In 2005, Bonnell took a helmet to the thigh in fall camp and was never able to recover enough because of a calcification in the injury, ultimately never seeing the field that season.

Last season, after Stanback went down, Bonnell came in and looked good at times, but also showed his inability to stay healthy when he went down with injuries in the Oregon State, Stanford and Arizona State games.

Following the season, Bonnell had shoulder surgery and there was more damage discovered than was expected. Some thought he might have to miss the entire spring, but after a tough rehab, it looks like the senior from Kent will be able to work out in a limited capacity, but is not expected to take part in contact drills.

Locker is everybody's All-American. He's a natural leader, has a great arm and excellent athleticism. What he lacks is experience.

Many have anointed him the starter heading into spring ball, but with Bonnell able to take part in limited drills, don't expect Locker to just be handed to job. If he gets the starting nod, it will be because he absolutely, unquestionably beat out Bonnell.

Two other players to keep an eye on are freshman Chandler Clemons and Ronnie Fouch.

Fouch graduated early to show up for spring ball and he's not afraid to compete and stick his nose in the fray. He's a good athlete and very experienced in the spread offense. He's got a great arm and he's tough as nails. He'll swim early on, but as the team approaches fall camp, expect him to make some noise and push the two quarterbacks ahead of him.

Clemons comes to Washington as a walk-on, but his talents coming out of Oak Ridge High School in California are well known. In his 2.5 years of starting, Clemons managed to throw for 95 touchdowns and was named the Sacramento Bee's area Offensive MVP.

All four quarterbacks will get lots of reps this spring and it should be a fun battle to follow throughout the workouts.
Running backs: The Huskies have a returning starter in Louis Rankin and a player that everyone thought would challenge for carries this past fall in J.R. Hasty. However, Hasty was ruled ineligible shortly before fall camp began and missed the season while working to get his academics in order.

Apparently Hasty's desire for the game has been renewed and the coaches like the shape he's in from the winter workouts. If he's in shape and has his mind right, Hasty can be the workhorse that the offense has lacked the past few seasons.

He runs with a good forward lean and, while he's not explosive, he's a player that will move the chains and bust off a long one every now and then.

Rankin is almost the exact opposite of Hasty. He runs a little too upright, but he's got speed to burn and he showed that on his long touchdown run against Washington State.

Where Hasty succeeds between the tackles, that's still an area where Rankin struggles and needs to improve. If he can get that down, there's no reason why Rankin shouldn't end up getting a bulk of the carries heading into next season.

Behind those two, there isn't much at this point as Washington will welcome five high school running backs into the fold in August.

At fullback, you have junior Luke Kravitz and sophomore Paul Homer, both of whom could receive some carries at tailback allowing Hasty and Rankin to get a breather every now and then.

Kravitz is bigger and a better receiver, but Homer is probably the more accomplished blocker and more athletic.

Homer was a devastating blocker on the return units in 2006 and the expectation is he could push for time this fall in the backfield. Either way, UW has two solid fullbacks in the mix.
Wide Receivers: Washington has a ton of players returning to the wide receiver corps this spring and they have three headed to campus this fall as well.

Since our focus is on spring, the top two players at the wideout position would have to be seniors to be Marcel Reece and Anthony Russo.

Russo has tons of experience – 23 straight starts – but he isn't that dynamic receiver the Huskies need for their offense. Ideally, Russo would be a third or fourth receiver – a player who could play the slot in the spread offense and be a killer on third downs. As it is, he's a starter.

Reece is Washington's most explosive playmaker regardless of position and he appeared to "get it" the week of practices before the Apple Cup. Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano even said the Reece seemed to have the lightbulb go on for him in how he needed to practice and prepare and he's really trimmed up.

When he arrived on campus last summer, Reece weighed over 260 pounds and that took away some of his quickness, speed and stamina. He's now right around 240 and he's been tearing it up in the weight room as well as during offseason workouts. Don't be surprised to see Reece have a big senior season.

The primary backups behind the starters will be seniors Cody Ellis, Quintin Daniels and Corey Williams along with redshirt freshman D'Andre Goodwin.

Ellis is a good receiver, but he's not very big. When he gets his hands on the ball he catches it well and he's a good zone receiver, able to find the soft-spot in the coverage. He also has enough speed to get deep on occasion.

Williams confounds understanding. He's got all the physical tools you could want in a receiver – big body, good speed and excellent hands – but he just isn't a good blocker on running plays and he seems to get lost in the passing game. This is his last year to show what he's got – let's hope he makes it his best.

Daniels reportedly posted a sub-4.5 forty time in the team's offseason timings and seems to have regained the explosiveness he had before he tore his knee up twice. If he can be the receiver they projected him to be coming out of high school, the Huskies could have a very deep receiver corps.

Goodwin is one player that should be fun to watch. He's the fastest Husky and he's been magical with the ball in his hands. Expect the Husky coaches to do their best to get the ball into Goodwin's hands on a regular basis this spring to see what he can do with it.
Tight Ends: The Huskies have some experienced players returning to the lineup, but none have been the game-changing receiver that they so desperately need.

The best receiver is probably Rob Lewis, but his inconsistency in the running game as a blocker keeps him from being in the game on a regular basis.

Challenging Lewis for his spot will be Johnie Kirton and Michael Gottlieb. who are much better blockers. Kirton especially is the most intriguing guy because of his abilities with the ball in his hands. If he ever figures out how to be more consistent – watch out.

Gottlieb is a player who won't wow you with his athleticism, but he's a blue-collar guy who gets the job done.

Also in the depth is Tim Williams who still needs to get bigger in order to be considered a challenger for regular playing time.

According to coach Willingham and the rest of the staff, every spot is up for contention in the spring and, because of the young and talented players who they brought in the past two years, expect this to be a very spirited and intriguing 15 practices over the next three weeks.


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