Coach's Corner

SEATTLE - Week two of spring ball and the bodies are flying around; hitting is encouraged and the attitude is positive. What's not to like? Football with live hitting is just the tonic for a sports thirst unquenched, especially with the state of the Sonics, the flame-out by Husky hoops, and a stumbling start by the Mariners. The only bad thing about it was the weather.

Stormy, cold, and windy conditions did nothing to help the Husky passing game. Regardless, nothing dampened the hitting and the kids were obviously having fun.

The weather is supposed to improve and with it hopefully so does the throwing and catching. Right now, Jake Locker looks solid and as of today the most experienced receiver - D'Andre Goodwin - looks to be the best catcher of a group who all look faster but not necessarily better than last year's group.

The passing game looms as critical if the Huskies are going to improve on that side of the ball. It is certainly something they are going to have to do in order to outscore the Oregon Ducks in their opener.

Right now the Husky running game looks like it will be the strength of the team simply because of the size and experience of the offensive line. Running back Brandon Johnson has been getting most of the carries this spring and he and Paul Homer, clearly a fine fullback, look like the starters.

Homer is bigger than last year and already a fine blocker, and together with senior Luke Kravitz they represent the best one-two punch at that position in decades at Washington. Their ability probably means Washington will not totally abandon their two-back sets in favor of the one-back spread option attack.

Johnson looks good but is being pushed by another Brandon whose last name is Yakaboski. He is the biggest running back and had it not been for a concussion during camp probably would have gotten to play as a true freshman. Yakaboski is very well put-together and will be right in the mix come fall. Yakaboski, along with fellow red-shirt freshman Willie Griffin show both power and vision in their running. It is clear that Yakaboski has an excellent set of hands and would be real dangerous out of the backfield.

Of course, they are all yet to be tested with their pass blocking, something that has probably been the main thing that has kept J.R. Hasty from playing more - besides of course his off-field problems. Regardless, the depth of the backfield will be further enhanced when Hasty returns and the four in-coming freshmen backs arrive this summer. For right now it looks to be Johnson's job to lose and Yakaboski's job to gain.

The offensive line looks capable of producing another 1000-yard gainer regardless of who starts and that could easily be Locker rather than a running back.

The receivers were banged up a little but I was impressed by the progress of the two leading tight ends. Both Michael Gottlieb and Chris Izbicki have done some obvious work in the weight room, and considering there are only four TE's in camp they are getting plenty of repetitions. Izbicki had a wonderful catch in the back of the end zone during one drill and Gottlieb is showing that he is the most experienced blocker. He appears more relaxed when catching the football and should be a real factor in this offense.

I mention the offense first simply because I think it will take a little time before the defense fully adjusts to the new concepts and approach being taught by new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. I already see something on defense that is exciting to me and that is the emphasis on hitting. The defensive kids are really bringing it and with big hits comes an energy the whole team can feed on. Right now they are hitting their teammates on offense and are woofing it up and enjoying the contact.

Leading the way are some linebackers taking advantage of E.J. Savannah's suspension and hitting just for fun - Donald Butler and Mason Foster. That is always a good sign and Butler and Foster appear to be leading the way. I really like these two and they are both emotional and energetic leaders. Safety Victor Aiyewa is taking advantage of an injury to Darin Harris by delivering some of the best hits of spring. This can become infectious on a defense and collectively the players are starting to enjoy laying the hat.

This is not to say that the past few years there has not been good hitting. It's just that these kids are finely gaining the confidence which comes with experience. They are hitting with extra emphasis and that is obvious.

Up front the numbers are thinner than they are at linebacker and safety - consequently they are getting lots of reps and that is only going to make all of them better. I saw a few good plays by a red-shirt freshman Tyrone Duncan, who hardly even practiced last fall. He looks like he has made some obvious strides in the weight room and should be in the mix as an inside player come fall. One of the defensive ends who also looks better is another red-shirted kid, Kalani Aldrich - who is starting to fill into his 6-foot-7 frame.

One of the best pass rushes of the day was by linebacker Chris Stevens, who is very fast and has been used in passing situations throughout his career. Stevens and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim are proven rushers and Darrion Jones and De'shon Matthews have been waiting years for their chance to play, and now is the time to finally make it onto the field. That is five off-the–edge rushers who will be joined by two really good freshmen come fall - Everrette Thompson and Senio Kelemete.

This team is finally getting the depth needed to compete in practice. This has not been the case since Tyrone Willingham took over the program. I really believe the team is still one more really good recruiting class from being back to where they are championship contenders, but they sure look solid this spring thus far.

Their insane schedule still makes it hard to imagine they can win it all this coming year but they are better now than they have been in years simply because the kids know what to expect and what is being asked. The most obvious and exciting thing for me is their determination. They are working hard and doing so in less-than-ideal weather. They are not afraid of failing and they think they are going to win their first game and take it from there.

I hope they are right. Top Stories