Five things from spring to get excited about

This past Saturday the Washington football team finished up their allotment of 15 spring practices with the annual Purple and Gold game. The result from the game, a 10-7 win for the Gold team, wasn't that impressive, but that doesn't mean there weren't several things to be very excited about this coming fall.

Here are five things to be very excited about as the Huskies head into the offseason…

1) Jake Locker is showing poise and control: Washington's main weapon on offense was erratic, at best, last season, completing only 47.3% of his passes, but in the spring game he was 13 of 17 and he showed a patience that was lacking last fall.

His first pass to WR Alvin Logan was impressive because with a wide open field, he settled himself, got his feet underneath him and he delivered a nice throw for a 13-yard gain. Last year, Locker may have run or overthrown his receiver on the same play.

It appears the game has finally started to slow down for Locker who is an amazingly talented, yet still raw passer. As he learns how to read defenses and figures out his reads quicker, the sky is the limit for a player with his athleticism and skills.

Add in the fact that half of Locker's game (running the ball) was thrown out the window for the final scrimmage of the season and you can see that he's got a great chance to really improve as an all-around quarterback this fall and hopefully lead the Huskies to some wins late in games.

2) The linebackers are ready for a breakout season: Even with E.J. Savannah on the sidelines for seven practices, the Husky linebackers appear to be as deep as they've been in years.

Players like Donald Butler, Mason Foster, Trenton Tuiasosopo and Matt Houston really seemed to step up their games in Savannah's absence and then throw in Joshua Gage who is the fastest player among the linebackers and Cort Dennison who steadily improved during the month of practices and you have a very deep group.

According to several defensive players, the linebackers will be "unleashed" this fall in new defensive coordinator Ed Donnatel's scheme and you could easily see three players with over 100 tackles.

Foster and Butler were flying around most of the spring, lighting up running backs and receivers whenever they had the opportunity. Tuiasosopo and Chris Stevens were both used as pass-rushers throughout the spring and Houston was a demon on special teams and brought the lumber on the second unit as a backup to Foster.

Savannah, who led the Huskies with 111 tackles in 2007, was working his way back into the coaches' good graces toward the end of spring ball and he'll have the entire summer and all of fall camp to get back into the starting lineup next to Foster and Butler. Count on this group to be the big playmakers in 2008.

3) The secondary is loaded with talented players: Victor Aiyewa was the breakout player of the spring, taking advantage of an injury to Darin Harris. He now appears to have a strangle-hold on the position and looks to be the man that J.D. Williams will turn to as the enforcer in the secondary.

With S Jason Wells out, Nate Williams took his place at free safety and he too appears to have a lock on the position. When Wells returns, it will be interesting to see what happens, but regardless, the Huskies have some heavy hitters at safety.

Outside, there is a battle being waged for the starting corner positions that won't be settled until fall camp gets underway.

Byron Davenport has the most experience, while Matt Mosley, Quinton Richardson, Vonzell McDowell and Mesphin Forrester, who made the switch to corner so the team could get Aiyewa and Williams on the field on a more regular basis, bring size and athleticism.

Davenport plays bigger than his size would indicate and he has a chip on his shoulder because he didn't like being demoted to the second team. However, head coach Tyrone Willingham said that it wasn't because of anything he did or didn't do, but more a statement of the excellent play of the players who were ahead of him.

Richardson is big and strong and he showed during the spring he's got excellent ball skills, nabbing interceptions in the final scrimmage as well as the spring game.

McDowell looks to be settling in as the nickel corner at this point. He's got the quickness and awareness to be a real asset inside while continuing to hone his skills in coverage. He lost some confidence last year when he got burned by Ohio State WR Brian Robiskie, but with two interceptions during Washington's first scrimmage, he appears to have regained some of that swagger.

Forrester and Mosley both have the size to play safety, but the Huskies like their fluidity and both re-route receivers well. Where they need to continue to work is in reading routes and being better tacklers. The whole secondary is better in that aspect, but continued improvement would really help mask some of the issues stopping the run that this team could have this fall with the inexperienced and smaller defensive front-four.

4) Washington has plenty of options in the backfield: Brandon Johnson is the odds-on-favorite to get the start versus Oregon on August 30th, but don't hand him the ball just yet.

Brandon Yakaboski and Willie Griffin both showed the coaches they are ready to challenge Johnson for the starting spot.

Johnson looked excellent carrying the ball most of the spring, but a leg injury the final full-week of practice slowed him down. He appeared tentative during the spring game and he danced a bit, but that isn't the way he normally runs so fans shouldn't be too concerned about that. He should be 100% by the middle of summer and raring to go when fall camp kicks off.

Yakaboski is a big, physical runner who doesn't go down with the first hit. According to offensive coordinator Tim Lappano he's got the best hands of all the backs so the Huskies will figure out ways to get the ball in his hands in space.

Griffin isn't a burner, but he's got great vision and he's got great feet in the hole. He's tough to bring down and he's able to make guys miss in the open field because of his quickness.

We haven't even talked about the fullbacks either.

Luke Kravitz, Paul Homer and Austin Sylvester are a solid trio of blockers and runners and all three will get carries in different situations this fall. Sylvester is a big-time special teams player and Homer could get some All-Conference honors this fall if he performs at the level most expect.

5) Ronnie Fouch is ready to lead this team when/if the need arises: The image is still fresh in many Husky fans' memories. Seeing Jake Locker carted off the field against Oregon State with a neck injury and the Dawgs being led by senior QB Carl Bonnell for the remainder of the game and the following week as Locker healed up from his injury.

The reality of the game of football is that you need at least two quarterbacks to complete a season and this spring the Huskies' worries were eased as Fouch showed he's ready to take the reigns as the number two quarterback option.

He isn't the athlete that Locker is, but few are. What he brings to the table is an excellent understanding of the passing game and a new throwing motion that has allowed his release to be that much quicker.

Lappano mentioned that, if Fouch had to go in for whatever reason, he's confident the Huskies could win with the redshirt freshman at the controls.

During the spring game, Fouch showed off his arm and his accuracy on several occasions. Now that the Huskies have two quarterbacks they can start to focus their attention to developing the incoming freshman – Luther Leonard and Dominique Blackman.

Some additional things to be excited about: The overall talent of the team, Chris Polk's playmaking abilities, Michael Gottlieb and Chris Izbicki look solid at tight end and the offensive line has depth for the first time in years.


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