Coach's Corner

The Washington Football schedule for this coming fall features probably the toughest opening month in the history of the school. I know that sounds strange especially after over a hundred years of playing the sport, but really, the 2007 Husky schedule rates as one of the toughest in the nation.

Let's face it, Athletic Director, Todd Turner has put his stamp on the schedule as well by sending the Huskies about as far east as you can go to start the season in Syracuse, and then about as far west as you can go to end it in Hawaii. Syracuse is coming off a terrible year but the Rainbows had one of their finest years in the history of their school.

In between, the Dawgs will play a full Pac-10 slate along with two games against two undefeated teams from a year ago, Boise State and The Ohio State University.

Who would have guessed years ago that Boise State would have become one of the finest teams in the country? They played arguably the best game of all the BCS series and were the darlings of college football with their stunning defeat of Oklahoma. I do know that years ago we used to have great battles with the Buckeyes with the home team almost always winning.

The Huskies have an excellent chance to beat either or both of these teams simply because they are playing at home. Of course, it also helps that both lost a lot of seniors. BSU loses 18 senior starters and OSU loses 16. Both teams are also replacing their starting quarterbacks.

Regardless, both teams bring in a strong reputation, and that alone would make victories over either or both of them big time events in the Husky program. Either would become the signature win for the Willingham era.

But they need to get out of the blocks with a win over Syracuse to set the whole season's tone.

The start of the Huskies schedule goes Syracuse, Boise State, and Ohio State followed by a road trip to UCLA and another home game against the Mighty Trojans of USC. Another Turner change in the order features a BYE following USC and then @ASU, home again vs. Oregon and Arizona all in October. I think the BYE is very strategically placed and should really help the team after their murderous five game beginning.

At least Turner understands that scheduling a BYE after your opening month can be very beneficial to a football team struggling to re-establish its identity. That is something his predecessor simply didn't understand. His scheduling of Hawaii on the road December 1st could prove to be a difficult task at best if the Huskies have any chance of getting to a bowl game though.

With such a challenging early month of football to open the season, the Huskies will need to make considerable progress this spring and continue their development right thru the summer until fall camp begins in August. The Huskies have a lot of ground to make up but appear to have the work ethic to get them there. The problem is whether or not they have the horses to get it done and then there is the mental challenge of playing teams that are traditional winners and who fully expect to win again when they play the Huskies. That is why an early win over Syracuse and BSU or OSU would be so important. Early success builds momentum very quickly with a football team. The Huskies need and will get a win over one of those two programs and it will become the cornerstone of their season.

And it all begins with these fifteen days in April. Following these three weeks of work, I would assume that the entire team will remain in Seattle for summer school and continue their lifting and conditioning.

The same problem that has plagued Coach Willingham since he's been here is lack of quality depth. This spring there will again be less than 90 total participants. Some positions like running back and quarterback really only have two real competitors so all out scrimmaging is probably out of the question.

Jake Locker and running back Louis Rankin both need to be ready for the Syracuse game. As far as the depth behind them, some of that won't be here until fall camp. Consequently, I see them really trying to develop Locker's passing and pretty much leave his running against full-contact defenses on the shelf for at least the spring. Rankin has the job to lose and knows what he needs to do to make it happen. He's got to hang onto the ball and get his shoulders down in traffic. He has put on some weight and this should be a break out season for Rankin. He has the burst to take it to the house but needs to turn 1 yard gains into 3 or 4 yard gains. Both he and JR Hasty have an excellent chance to get lots of reps and they both still have lots to prove especially in their blocking and pass receiving.

I really think that at least two of the incoming running backs will see the field next fall and they will need to get the true freshman quarterback, Ronnie Fouch thru spring drills without in jury as well, although it's pretty much a given that Carl Bonnell will serve as the backup come fall.

I look for Marcel Reece to have a break thru spring at wide receiver and become the go to guy for Jake Locker. He has way too much potential not to become the big play artist for the offensive side of the ball. I think he will be the most improved player in spring and an all-league player next fall.

I also think the tight ends will show the improvement necessary for them to become parts of the passing attack, and the two fullbacks may become the best one-two punch at that position in years. This spring will have great competition at those positions and only strengthen the team for fall.

I think the line situation will solidify itself this spring and they will come out of it with 8 guys on both sides of the ball that can play and be successful at this level. Then in the fall if they can get help from 2-3 incoming kids, the depth will be more than adequate. Again though, this is why you can't afford to lose anybody on the practice field. If the Dawgs can develop 9-10 offensive and 8-9 defensive linemen this spring then they can have the depth to compete when injuries happen - you just have to plan for it.

One of the thinnest parts of the team for spring will be the secondary, where Coach JD Williams barely has enough bodies for a two deep. Watch for the coaches to try an offensive receiver or two in the secondary just because of need. They have some walk-ons and expect an infusion in the fall where no less than 5 incoming kids will get their chance.

That is precisely why we have to look at these preparation periods separately. Remember what the kids do this summer, they do on there own. They attend conditioning sessions with the weight and strength coaches but any video watching, walk thru, run thru's, or 7 on 7 pass offense vs. pass defense must be done by the players themselves.

I think that both of these first two phases will be the most organized and productive in years. These kids know what to do and when to do it. That is so different and reflects on the continuity of the program. I will be real surprised if there isn't at least 95% of this team staying for the summer and the guy who will be leading them is Jake Locker. Remember, just 4 years ago that Coach Gilbertson couldn't get half of his kids to stay in town (and I'm not implying that that was his fault). That was reflective of the kids who were in the program then. These kids have different expectations now. They expect to get better - and they will - and they will beat somebody early like a Syracuse or Boise State or the Buckeyes or the Bruins or the Trojans.

Dawgman.com columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the Dawgman.com staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.


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