Lappano speeding things up

SEATTLE - "Curtis Shaw," Washington Tim Lappano emphatically said this week when asked who the fastest player on the Huskies' football team is as they head toward Saturday's spring practice - the first one they can run in full pads.

For those watching Washington's recruiting efforts of late, emphasis has been placed on getting players that can stretch the field, and Lappano is pleased at the speed he saw on display this winter.

"He (Shaw) can really go," Lappano added. "(D'Andre) Goodwin is right on his heels, (Chris) Polk is right on his heels and (Jake) Locker is right on his heels.

"I can keep going. And the Long kid that's coming in this summer (Adam Long), he might be the fastest of all of them."

Long, who plays football and runs track for St. Bernard's in Playa Del Rey, Calif. is poised to challenge for the California state 200 meter crown. Last year as a junior he ran a 21.20 to Shaw's 21.32 at the same meet.

"We've increased our speed on offense dramatically."

That's the good part. The bad part is that - outside of Locker - the Huskies have basically no experienced skill talent. Certainly Mike Gottlieb comes back after two years as the starting tight end, but in those two years he's accounted for 16 catches for 214 yards. His job has been to block - and he's done it well. But now the Huskies need to pick up the slack.

In terms of total offense? After Jake Locker's 3,048 - the next closest returning player is Brandon Johnson and his 196 yards. Broken down over a 13-game season, that means Johnson was averaging less than 18 yards a game.

There are some holes to fill the size of Richie Sexson's swing. But Lappano feels the pieces are in place to get the job done.

"I think we've been able to surround him (Locker) - through recruiting - with guys that have the capibility to make plays, maybe moreso than we've had here in a while," Lappano said. "Now they have to go out and do it. Right now it's all potential and speculation. They have to go out and execute, and that's our job this spring - to get them through that.

"It's a big challenge."

"It can be very difficult, but I'm excited about the group we've got," added head coach Tyrone Willingham.

Lappano mentioned that during the small window of time the coaches were allowed to spend with the players, they were able to watch guys and evaluate their athleticism, strength and speed. It also sounds like situations were set up to try and bring out the competitive streak in the team.

"I'm impressed with all the young kids," he said. "They are all competitors, they are all athletic and all can run. I wasn't disappointed with any of them."

"When you have talented individuals, you love to have them compete," added Willingham. "That's a part of their nature, and it enhances all that they do in football."

And apparently it all comes back to speed. College football has evolved from three yards and a cloud of dust to freaskishly athletic players finding space in wide open offensive systems to score quicker than you can say Woody Hayes.

"I love the speed," Lappano said of his current crop of skill players. To his way of thinking, it's all about separation in this era of spreading things the entire width of the field.

But separation isn't a new idea. In fact it's a basic premise that has been a thorn in the side of the Huskies' offensive attack for a few years. The reason being? The UW skill players haven't been able to remove themselves from the jersey of the player defending them.

"What's the DB's worst nightmare?" Lappano queried. "Having the ball thrown over the top. When they don't respect your speed, they'll squat on you, and that just makes your job that much tougher."

And for now Lappano will have to rely on some on-the-job training this spring to help get his skill players up to speed - so to speak. But in his opinion, this offense has something going for it.

"The learning curve of the offensive line is tremendous," he said. "The average fan has no idea the communication that goes on during the course of a football game every play up front. That's huge, and it takes a long time. We've got everybody back but (Chad) Macklin. That area is going to be very solid."

"The two most important positions on offense when you haven't had any experience - quarterback and offensive line. There isn't the learning curve at receiver and running back that there is at those other positions, so that's going to help us a little bit. But I'm not telling you there isn't a learning curve - there is."

That's why, even though in unguarded moments you might see Lappano openly drooling at the thought of using true frosh Kavario Middleton at tight end this fall, he's trying not to let his eye wander too far down that road. Yet.

"We've got so much to do, I'm not going to be worried about the summer," he said. "We have to get these guys ready on the perimeter and behind the quarterback. We've got enough to keep us busy for these 15 days."

There are three new faces in particular Lappano is focused on when it comes to getting them integrated into the offense as quickly as possible. They are three receivers - Chris Polk, Anthony Boyles and Devin Aguilar. Polk came in with a ton of fanfare after eschewing a USC offer to make an immediate impact at Washington, while Boyles and Aguilar finished up some Clearinghouse issues which allowed them to enroll this past winter. They both signed letters of intent to play for the Huskies back in February of 2007.

"It could be like a year advantage to them," Willingham said of Boyles and Aguilar and their time away from football. "There's a lot in their situation that didn't involve football. There's some maturity that took place that allowed them to grow a great deal. Hopefully that will enhance their ability to step in and be football players."

In Polk, Lappano envisions using the talented athlete much like former USC OC Norm Chow used all-everything tailback Reggie Bush.

"A lot of good running backs can't run a route," he said. "He (Polk) can be a receiver as well as be a bona fide runner back there."

Whatever happens with Polk this spring, don't expect him to be the workhorse that Louis Rankin was in the backfield this past season. "I don't think we'll have to go there," Lappano said when asked about the thought of moving Polk strictly to tailback if he ends up being the best option. "I think he's going to get enough touches. We've got young guys we haven't even seen yet coming in this fall that could challenge. We're going to have enough."

And don't look to just Polk at the slot position. Curtis Shaw is another player with experience at both receiver and tailback. "You can't just have one guy at slot," Lappano said. "We've got more than a couple of guys that can do this."

The Huskies have a couple of guys at quarterback who can get the job done, but for this year at least that role will again be filled by Jake Locker. And in Lappano, Locker gets more than just a coach and mentor. Lappano just might be Locker's biggest fan. There's no question he is Jake's most vocal supporter.

"Going from the first year to the second year, you're going to see a lot of growth," Lappano said of Locker. "And not many in this league can play that position as a freshman anyway. The growth from year one to year two is going to be substantial."

It's an idea that has plenty of merit. "It's been a tremendous education for him, especially with the caliber of teams we've played," Willingham said of Locker's 2007 campaign. "It's helped him immeasureably.

"I don't think there's any question that Jake is going to progress forward and be better than he was a year ago. I take that as a given."

Lappano said that last year the staff counted 17 drops from the receivers. "That's being really kind," he said. So if, reasonably speaking, there was an average of just one more drop per game during a 13-game season, the Huskies receiving corps could have been responsible for 30 dropped passes.

It's similar to the difference between hitting .250 in baseball and hitting .300 is one base hit a week for the season. Statistically-speaking, Locker was only three passes away per game from having a 60 percent completion percentage.

Just three more passes per game coming from an offense that threw the ball 385 times in 2007.

"It all goes hand in hand," Lappano said. "It wasn't always on him."

That being said, it's clear the coaches aren't taking any chances with their prized quarterback.

"You make him aware of why he was inaccurate," Lappano said of what the staff did in the off-season to work on Locker's throwing issues. "What are his deficiencies?" Lappano said. "We've talked about it, we've made training tapes. We broke down every one of his 15 interceptions. Forcing? Protection? Route running? It was a lot of things."

That's where all the new faces come in. "We've surrounded him (Locker) with some playmakers to help take some of the pressure off of him," Lappano said. The team even took a recent trip to Florida to take in some of the Gators' practice sessions, as well as break down their film and learn some things they might want to incorporate into their own offensive system.

"If you can go down there and take one thing from that trip that can help you, it was worth the money and time spent," Lappano said. "But did we go down there to re-invent the wheel? No. We're going to run our offense. But if we can take one thing away from it, we helped ourselves. And we did.

"There's always going to be some new wrinkles with me. But the worst thing we can do to Jake is change the offense. That's not going to happen."

Everything points to Lappano being supremely confident in 2008. With the offense running through Locker, coupled with experienced gained from last season - the Washington offense just might have what it takes to make that long-needed step toward the winner's circle.

"We're not far away offensively from being pretty good," Lappano said. "30 points a game last year, second in rushing ... if we can bolster up the passing game and make some plays outside to help him (Locker) and not have him run more than we should, we'll be pretty hard to deal with." Top Stories