Coach's Corner

I got to watch the first scrimmage of spring with ex-Husky great, Ed Cunningham. Ed was in attendance with close to 150 other ex-Dawgs as they all came out to watch the progress of this year's version of the Huskies.

Most were impressed with the same things I was and I left with the general impression that this team is better organized, better conditioned, and simply better over all than they have been for the past three or four years.

They need to be if they are going to have any kind of success next fall.

Ed, of course, sees teams from across the country and is a well respected television analyst who watches lots of football and lots of different teams. As an ex-center he enjoys watching the offense so we concentrated on that side of the ball. He had the same general impressions that I did and much of it had to do with the attitude, hustle, and general the seriousness of their mission. They are all about work and effort. They had obviously spent many hours in the weight room since the season ended and many looked different than they did last fall.

They appear to have two solid quarterbacks and even the younger signal callers showed some promise, but the top two, Jake Locker and Carl Bonnell, stood out. These two are certainly going to be the trigger men to make this team go. They both had some great moments and made some nice throws in addition to showing they both can run this spring.

Locker had one run that made both Ed and I look at each other and simultaneously say, "Did you see that?" He is not as fast as Isaiah Stanback, but he is a better runner with the ball. He is sort of like a cross between Isaiah and Tui. He likes to take off like both of them did but "sees" the running lanes and cuts backs just like Marques did.

And oh he is tough!

A lot of people underestimate the importance of toughness at the quarterback position. I have always thought that if there is one quality you would like about your quarterback other than throwing the football, its toughness. Jake Locker is just like Marques Tuiasosopo in his toughness. He lowers his shoulders at contact and tries to run over people. To me, the best hit of the scrimmage was by Locker when right after he threw an interception to Dan Howell, he hustled to make the tackle and absolutely blew up Howell at the goal line. It made a statement, but was not a surprise to me, because he had played both ways in high school and was a hitter at safety then.

The chances of success by any football team usually start at the quarterback position and Carl Bonnell looked like he was an older and more mature player than last season. He is throwing the ball well and actually has better anticipation right now than does Locker, proving that the Huskies are a solid two deep at the most important position.

I did not go study the films and thoroughly evaluate their performances but I really believe the top two quarterbacks will more than prove me right. They will be ready by fall. The young, true freshman quarterback, Ronnie Fouch, who is technically still in high school, showed some great feet and a live arm as well and should develop into a fine quarterback. I can't imagine though anyone taking any snaps for the Huskies next fall other than Locker and Bonnell.

Next in importance to an offense is probably the tailback position, and I really believe that Louis Rankin is going to be special if he can stay healthy. He has obviously put on some weight and strength and has always had the burst to take it to the house. He is a bid of a long strider which can be good because those kinds of runners eat up yards quickly. He appears to be attacking the line of scrimmage faster and with his shoulders down more. Still a relatively upright runner, Rankin is clearly the veteran back and it will be his position to lose. JR Hasty shows lots of juke and vision but I think lacks the high end speed that Rankin enjoys. Clearly Hasty has a knack for inside running and is a make you miss type guy along the lines of Willie Hurst or Kenny James. He was usually running behind the number two line so Rankin has that edge as well.

It is probably a given that one or two of the incoming freshman backs will work their way into the rotation but Rankin appears ready for the challenge and I think will have every opportunity to prove he can be the man and carry the rock for this team. Based on speed alone, I think Rankin is the fastest back Washington has had in years going all the way back to Rashaan Shehee.

It is up front offensively that the Huskies appear to have made the most progress in the off season. They are simply huge across the front with lots of 320 pound plus bodies and lots of additional strength and push. Line coach, Mike Denbrock, has obviously got a thing for working with giants. Almost all of his linemen are veterans who have been red-shirted and are all ready to play at this level. The two tackles, Chad Macklin and Ben Ossai are 6-8 and 6-6 respectively and they are not even as big as the guards. They are really improving and getting better as a group. They appear to be a solid two deep and I think you will see more than just five of them playing next fall, thereby having fresh bodies at the end of games.

Helping out the running game and the blocking are two solid contenders at fullback. Paul Homer and Luke Kravitz both look bigger, faster and stronger. They both are getting better at their blocking and catching and appear to be in the 240-250 range as opposed to their listed 222 and 225 on the current roster. Both will be ready come fall and are obviously hard workers and show an element of toughness. They both are really put together and the competition will only make them better.

In my opinion those catching the football are the ones who can really make a difference next fall. There has to be a better and more consistent performance at both the wide receiver and tight end positions if the Huskies are to be better on offense. The tight ends all looked bigger and better at blocking and besides Michael Gottlieb, Robert Lewis, and Johnie Kirton, Tim Williams and Walt Winters both made some nice plays. That's five players all in the 250 lbs. plus range except for Kirton who looks a slimmer 270. I have specifically watched their drills and am convinced we will see a lot better tight end play come fall simply because of the competition.

Wide receiver is still a question mark position because of graduation and depletions in the ranks due to players leaving the program. Anthony Russo returns and is the veteran of the group and as a senior has the most game experience. He looks bigger and stronger and needs only to become more consistent in catching the ball to be a really good receiver. I've never really known about his high end speed but his quickness is obvious and if he merely hangs on to everything thrown to him, he will improve tremendously.

Marcel Reece obviously was serious about getting in shape and looks more trim and explosive. I still maintain he will become a great player this year and really think he has now made the adjustment to playing at this level. He is effective as a blocker due to size alone and is surprisingly fast for his body build. Corey Williams is way over due to emerge as a go to guy. His career at Washington has featured some game winning catches but also some disappearing acts. Both he and Russo should be helped by fellow senior, Quinton Daniels, who appears rusty but finally healed from his injuries. Daniels came to Washington with legit sprinter speed so that could really help this team.

There could also be an incoming receiver or two who could possibly help in the rotation simply because it is not a very deep position. D'Andre Goodwin has made some nice plays and there are a couple of walk-ons, Tony Chidiac and Charles Hawkins, who show they can catch. Still, this position has a new coach and a new approach so we probably won't really know until fall how the depth will run.

It is usually easier for new players to help you at the skill positions than it is the line so I really think there will be running backs and receivers who we will see next fall that aren't even on campus yet.

What is obviously helping this team is the continuity they have in the system. This will be a better offensive team because they know their system and they know each other, particularly up front. Offensively, the Huskies obviously took a dip when they lost Isaiah Stanback last year. I really believe they would have gone to a bowl had they not lost him for the last month of the season. This time around I think their understanding, depth, and preparation will serve them well. If they continue to protect the football by eliminating turnovers they will be competitive with everyone they play.

This team still needs the addition of the 25 new players it is expecting next fall and they will need another full class the next year before we will know what the Willingham era is really going to be about. The program was essentially gutted by the continual turnover of coaches - four head coaches in a seven year period.

Coach Willingham was on the verge of a breakthrough season last year that was cut short by lack of depth to withstand injury and lack of belief to withstand temporary setbacks. Handling adversity is a sign of toughness. Toughness is an essential quality in winning football. Coach Willingham and his staff have been rebuilding toughness ever since the got here.

When you see your quarterback hit someone like Locker did then you know things are changing for the better.
Willingham 4/19 notes:
Savannah now working with the ones: "He has some wonderful instincts about getting to the football, and that's what you need out of your linebackers," Willingham said Thursday when asked about junior E.J. Savannah's ascent to the No. 1 WIL position over Chris Stevens. "You also need some discipline with your gap integrity, but you also need some instinct to play with it, and E.J. is doing a good job with that." Willingham also added that Savannah, Stevens, Dan Howell and Donald Butler have emerged as four players that should give them some solid play at linebacker this fall, but stopped short of announcing any sort of set trio. "It's Howell, and then we're working our way toward the other ones," he said.

Lone Gold: Paul Homer was once again the only player wearing gold, making it two days in a row the sophomore from Nebraska was the lone Husky wearing the coveted gold jersey.

Injury Report: Juan Garcia is back, as is Erik Berglund. Anthony Russo is out, as is Quintin Daniels (knee inflammation). Matt Mosley was kicked in the back by a knee, but is expected back either Thursday or Friday. Ryan Perkins has been out of practice due to a death in the family, but was back kicking Thursday.

The Huskies have hardly kicked at all this spring, due to the fact that Jared Ballman has been focused on punting, Ryan Perkins is limited to only kicking with his left foot, and the other kicker expected to fight for the starting spot – Erik Folk – will not be on campus until August. Up til now, the only time they have kicked was during last Saturday's scrimmage, where Ballman and walk-on Zach Gerasin attempted a few kicks.

Text Messaging on the outs?: With the NCAA looking into college recruiting and banning all texting between coaches and prospects, Willingham offered his opinion. "I'm for all or nothing," he said, matter-of-factly. "That's how I feel about it. Let's do it or not do it. If we're going to do it, you constantly need to be calling, constantly need to be communicating. There's always going to be some other way to communicate that will happen, so if they ban text messaging, we'll have to find another way to communicate. That will never change."

Career Fair: Washington held a campus-wide career fair at the HUB Wednesday, and Willingham made a point of making the team show up for it to make sure they had ‘options'. Team members were expected to wear dress shirts and ties to the event. "It's something we've done for three years now. It's good for our young men to have options, and it's my belief that when you have options, you have power. And when you have power, you have control, and you can dictate what happens in your life, and that's what we want for our young men. We want them to have those options, that power and that control in their life. Attending the career fair is just another one of those options." Top Stories