Offensive Skill Development Critical For UW

Playmakers are difference-makers. They do most of your scoring to begin with and also make the plays that most excite the crowds. They operate at the highest creative levels in the game and receive most of the media attention.

Quarterback is obviously the most important skill position in the sport.  Jake Locker is the quarterback.  He will be the quarterback unless he gets hurt again. He is still rough around the edges as a passer and is now learning a completely different system. With two good quarterback minds to learn from in Steve Sarkisian and Doug Nussmeier, he is only going to get better.

  Locker's development as a passer is as critical as any with regard to improving the overall offensive skill of this team.  He knows that and he is more than willing to put the time and intensity into becoming a championship level quarterback and leader. 

  His throwing development has been slowed simply because of the injury to his hand. He is working hard on all his underneath throws to tight ends and backs as well as when he is throwing on the run.  I think Jake has shown noticeable improvement on most of these touch throws. About once a practice he unloads with an unwise throw but seems to always acknowledge the error by the time his coach gets to him.

  Locker is very coachable and he is a winner and will prove it over the next two years. Ronnie Fouch has really stepped up of late, and although he struggled last season is certainly capable of providing ample back-up. The sophomore is also quite valuable as the team's holder on extra points and field goals.

  The receiver corps is no longer the kiddie corps because all the kids have grown up and gotten invaluable game experience.  In college football you want to travel seven or eight receivers, or roughly four-deep in a rotation. 

    D'Andre Goodwin has been slowed this spring by a hamstring injury, but will be ready come fall and he will be stronger. The Huskies' leading returning receiver has already proven he can play at this level. Because the redshirt junior from Antelope Valley, Calif. is the oldest, he will play a lot, catch a lot and hopefully eliminate his drops, a problem that plagued the whole receiver group last fall. There is no denying Goodwin's speed and experience, and he and Jake already have a connection.

    Alvin Logan has been on the mend the whole spring and has yet to compete, although at 6-foot-2 and close to 220 pounds he is still the most physical presence of all the receivers. He is a solid blocker and a big body at that spot.

    Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar have been working a lot with the ones this spring and although both are still really young, they appear to be potentially big-time receivers. Hopefully whatever held Aguilar out Wednesday will be short-lived and he can get back out onto the field, because he was having a really strong spring up to that point. I think that once their bodies fully mature in the weight room and they have played for another year that these two will be really special.

  They both will be sophomores, as will Cody Bruns and Jordan Polk, who continue to impress this spring with Bruns' hands and Polk's quickness. In fact, Polk has really jumped up the last few practices and really putting his best foot forward.

  All four receivers played as true freshmen, and at times it showed. Regardless, that's six kids at receiver who are experienced, are working as hard as they can and appear to be responding well to Jimmie Dougherty, the new receivers coach.

   The next four are red-shirt freshmen. Anthony Boyles has had a strong spring, while Vince Taylor looks to have taken a setback with an ankle injury. Luther Leonard is a recently-converted 6-foot-2 quarterback who was offered by Boise State out of high school to play receiver, and the ever-steady Tony Chidiac, a red-shirt junior walk-on from Skyline High School.

  So there are 10 receivers right there, not counting incoming frosh James Johnson, who caught 57 balls for 17 touchdowns in high school and just might be the most athletic kid in the incoming class, regardless of position.

    The running back position is the one that is most up for grabs and presents the most competition on the team.  The fullback spot is well manned by Paul Homer and Austin Sylvester, a converted linebacker.  Both are solid blockers and are getting to show their receiving ability this spring. Homer is ranked as one of the better fullbacks in the nation by some NFL draft services and Sylvester, who is bigger, shows he is at least tough enough to challenge. Compared to the tailback spot, the fullback spot is as solidified as any on the team.

   Running Backs coach, Joel Thomas, is a long way from naming a starter and probably won't do so until well into fall camp.  There is no shortage of competition, though, with no less than eight players (all on scholarship) hoping to be the guy, but not one back that you would consider to be a 'big' back in the mold of a Corey Dillon, because all of them are shorter than 6-feet.

   Of the eight, Chris Polk, Terrance Dailey and Brandon Yakaboski have really yet to do anything this spring because of injuries, so that leaves the other five to get most of the work done. They did not sign a back in their incoming class but didn't need to because Kentwood High's Demitrius Bronson delayed his enrollment and is participating this spring. He will be a true freshman with five years to play four starting this fall.

    Bronson brings a totally different dimension to the running back position in that he weighs in at 210 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame and seems to move the pile on contact. He is just learning to block, however, and that is holding him back a little but he hits the hole hard and has put himself right in the middle of the competition. Of all the new kids on the team he is one of the most impressive half-way through spring.

    Sophomore Willie Griffin has gotten a lot of the work, and that's understandable considering he was the most durable back last season.  He is also tough and shows up every day for work. Durability is a critical dimension at running back, because you can't play unless you're suited up. Expect Griffin to keep himself in the competition until the very end because he is a lunch-bucket guy.

David Freeman, a back whose quickness can't be denied, has come back from his ankle problems and shows flashes of good vision when he runs. He is probably the smallest back but likely the quickest.

   The elder statesman of the group, junior Brandon Johnson, looked like he had really worked hard over the winter and started spring looking as good as ever. Then he got hit by the injury bug and has done little to help his chances simply because he hasn't been available.  Wednesday he was one of two players to take off a red injury jersey (the other being cornerback Matt Mosley)

That means of the eight contenders, half have been iffy at best to even suit up, much less prove they can handle the position.  That factor alone makes that position the most unsettled one on the team.  Consequently, the development at tailback looms as the most important position need on this team, next to the quarterback, of course.

    Last August I thought that Chris Polk showed a special quality as a back and a second gear when hitting the hole that seemed to separate him from the others. He got blown up early in the season, however, and never got a chance to show what he can do.  Of course when you open against Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma with a true freshman at tailback you are running on thin ice.

Polk never made it past the line of scrimmage, much less past the second game, but I still feel he has a great future in the Husky backfield. In hindsight, it appears he was promised the position during his recruitment, and although talented enough he was too young at the time to be the guy.  We won't know for sure until August, as he still hasn't taken a snap this spring.

    Curtis Shaw's return has likewise been slowed because of 'spring dings' and although he brings great speed to the table you can't show what you can do unless you stay healthy. He has sprinter speed and he and Polk both have the benefit of receiver experience which should add to their chances of getting on the field. Shaw has been getting some touches of late, so hopefully he can build on that.

    Brandon Yakaboski is the biggest of the backs but also the biggest dilemma for the coaches. He has soft hands and a bigger frame but has done nothing since he came to Washington outside of a touchdown against Oklahoma because of constant injury.

Terrance Dailey ended up playing last fall and had one great run and a number of flashes but likewise got broken down because he too was asked to play as an 18-year old when he probably wasn't physically ready to handle Pac-10 defenses.

    It would be tremendous if all eight were healthy and competing this spring but unfortunately that isn't the case.  That is precisely why this skill position remains the biggest mystery and challenge for the coaches.

   When you have a good quarterback and a good running back you are almost always a good football team.  They are the two most important skill positions in football. Right now both positions are still developing but at least we know who the quarterback is.  We may not know who the tailback will be until after the last scrimmage of fall camp.

Right now that remains one of the biggest questions about this team.

 

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