Offensive leaders hoping to catch on

SEATTLE - All Washington football fans can't wait for the debut of heralded quarterback Jake Locker. Similarly, all the freshmen running backs competing for playing time has fans giddy as to which player might emerge as the next Napoleon Kaufman, Greg Lewis or Corey Dillon. But what about 'The Flea'?

Sophomore receiver D'Andre Goodwin might have a diminutive nickname, but the UW coaches are hoping he brings a big game to Husky Stadium.

"He's shown me exactly what we thought he had - which was speed and burst," Willingham said of Goodwin, whose last recorded time is 4.35. "He's made some plays, so now what we're looking for in D'Andre is consistency. It's his time and opportunity to do that."

If you listen to UW Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano, all the receivers need to step up - especially the seniors. "They are the strength of our offense," he said.

Charlie Baggett agrees.

"They understand it," Baggett - the new receivers coach for the Huskies, said. "They know they are the veteran group on the squad. They know they have to step up, be accountable and make plays. As they go, our offense will probably go. We have a great trigger man in Jake (Locker), and he's going to give them lots of opportunities to make plays, and they have to make plays. I tell them often that we are the strength of the offense and we have to make it go."

Did Baggett - who has coached players like Randy Moss, Chris Chambers and Cris Carter in the NFL - see any future NFL stars during this past Saturday's scrimmage?

"I thought they did alright on Saturday," Baggett said. "There were some mistakes, some drops. We have a long ways to go. I was real forceful with them. I told them that I was going to be very critical with my grading and I talked to them about what they did - but I was also positive and upbeat. You have to have a little bit of both."

Baggett, known for his stoic demeanor, admitted to Monday that if pushed, he can howl at the moon with the best of them. "The guys in Miami paid me a compliment," he said with a smile. "They said I was kind of like Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. I'm a quiet guy, but when I go wild, I go wild. And there are times you have to get in their face, but I'm not a screamer. I like to get my point across through teaching."

Did the Husky receivers get a dose of Jeckyl Saturday night, or did Mr. Hyde come out to play? Baggett said that for the most part he was his normal self, but added, "they've seen it. There's a time for it and it comes out every once in a while."

The new receivers coach is hoping to create a transformation of a group that was eighth in the league last year in passing, but they've stacked the deck in his favor. He's working with five fifth-year seniors, and despite the fact that they are going on their fourth position coach, Baggett will use that experience to their advantage.

"Any time you come into a new situation and it's a new group, you have your own style of coaching that they have to get used to - the subtle things that are involved," he said. "But it's a positive. Experience far outweighs inexperience. There's nothing like having already been in battle.

"We had a staff meeting the other day, and I told the coaches that this is one of the most pleasant groups I've ever been able to coach. They take coaching, they know when to have fun and they are also trying to say what we do, and it's been a real pleasure coaching these guys."

But in talking with Williams - who unofficially had six catches for 77 yards in the scrimmage - being coachable is nowhere near enough to satisfy these Dawgs.

"I know that every guy knows in their heart wants to win the bowl game that we set our sights on," Williams said. "I don't want to get left behind. The team has a different mentality this year. We let ourselves down, and everyone is striving to achieve those goals this year."

And they will achieve that main goal, if the veterans - himself, Marcel Reese, Anthony Russo, Cody Ellis and Quintin Daniels - step up the way they are capable of, and have - at times - in their career. You could see it last year at Arizona with Daniels. You could see it last year against Washington State with Reese and Ellis.

"Up to this point, I do think that we have underachieved, as far as our talent goes," Williams said. "And I think this year could be the year we really step out and carry the team, make big plays and get the team going."

Williams has as big an opportunity as any one of those receivers to have the type of season that seemed almost fated for him after catching the game-winning touchdown as a true freshman in the 2003 Apple Cup. It's the last touchdown he has scored as a Husky. "I look at it as an opportunity that was presented to me, and I took advantage of it," he said. "When I think back on things that happened freshman year, it's been a while. When I think that my last year is about to be over, it feels like I just got here.

But he has also suffered his share of heartbreak. Early into his true sophomore season, Williams broke his hand on a fluke play at Notre Dame, and has never really been the same since. In 2006, he caught as many passes (10) in 10 games, as he did in 2004 (three games).

"Last year got me back to ground zero," he said. "I just want to take it (2007) all in slowly, not let it slip by too fast."

Ironically enough - while the receivers hope to make their biggest mark on the team by catching passes and scoring touchdowns, it might be their largely-unoticed work in the blocking game that could be the difference in producing a rushing attack comparable to the Huskies' backfield talent. "We're coming along, and you can always get better at it," Baggett said when asked about the receivers' ability to block. "We can create big plays with Jake, and also with the running backs by blocking in open space. And that's one of the tougher parts of the job, but it's all about attitude. There's really not too many techniques you can use out can either base-block the guy, or you can chop 'em. Those are the options, but it's all a mental attitude of being physical and trying to help the run game."

As with all the position groups, the younger guys are feeding off what the older ones put in front of them. It's a tradition as old as the game itself - the passing of the torch. But the old dawgs aren't ready to just take their diplomas and walk off quietly. They want to shake things up, and they have one more year left to do it.

"Everytime we get around each other, we try to uplift each other," Williams said of the seniors. "We're always playing off of each other's strength." Whether it's the size and speed of Marcel, Marcel, the self-described 'ranginess' of Williams, the quick burst and sure hands of Russo, the savvy of Daniels or the ability to make the tough catches like Ellis can, each brings something to the table that gets the Husky coaches excited about the future.

"I take it as a challenge," Goodwin said. "We compete and get better. They are helping me and pushing me to go harder, because we all want to play on Saturdays."

Williams and the other seniors even spearheaded some summer activities to help in the bonding process. One night, they went out to see 'Transformers'.

"I liked it," Goodwin said with a smile. "We need to do more things like that."

"This summer all the receivers were at the 7-7's," Williams added. "Everyone is really focused on the goal. This is the first time in the last three or four years where I can tell that everyone is focused - where we have laid down goals and everyone is striving to achieve them."

Even the walk-on receivers - normally the guys that get zero publicity for their hard work on scout team - have been earning kudos from the head man for their play.

"Tony Chidiac is making some plays, making a contribution," Willingham said. "Charles Hawkins is doing the same thing. One of my favorites is Sho Yoshinaga. He's just a steady guy, not flashy. He's your classic walk-on that may never start for you, but he does everything you want him to do. He shows a lot of toughness and he works hard every day."

"He (Hawkins) has made some plays, showed some nice hands," Baggett said of the senior from Chicago - by way of Graceland University. He led the Huskies unofficially with eight catches for 88 yards and one touchdown in Saturday's scrimmage.

"I just want to see us win," Chidiac said, matter-of-factly. "I think it's good to see, that the group is a strength. We're going to have to make big plays at receiver."

Chidiac doesn't mind the long hours and the toil. "I just love the game," he said. "I'm having fun. As long as I'm having fun, there's no reason to change."

It's that kind of dedication and renewal of focus that has the receiving corps well on their way this fall. Top Stories