Addressing Concerns After One Week

Earlier this summer I wrote about some areas of concern going into this coming season. I thought the tempo and pace of practice not only would help condition the team but that it would also slow the game down for them once it started. We will find that out soon enough, but more importantly - how are they addressing some of the more obvious areas of concern?

Like who will be the specialists in the kicking game? Who will be the ball carriers? How will the offensive line develop as run blockers? Will the defense tackle better and create more turnovers?

And most importantly: How will they develop a winning attitude?

   The personnel issues are all working themselves out, and there will be no final decisions made on who will be doing what until game week itself, outside of the obvious - like Jake Locker.  Right now the key word is competition, and unfortunately due to depth constraints, competition is lacking in certain areas.

The specialists in the kicking game are probably going to be snapper Danny Morovick, kicker Nick Folk, and punter Will Mahan. There are walk-on specialists in camp but right now it appears that these three will be doing the bulk of the work unless of course there are injuries or a complete flame out by one of the starters. We saw on Tuesday that the coaches are not going to take any chances, so when Folk had a sore knee they didn't hesitate to use Eric Guttorp. The want to make sure Folk is fresh for LSU.

Mahan, who transferred in via the JC route, is clearly winning his job and shows all the promise of being a solid punter.  He has the complete package, including a quick get off time, sure hands, and a strong leg. He also has a knack for dropping the ball on sky punts and is working on his direction and placement, which will both be critical for the first game when he faces the fastest punt returner in the nation in LSU's Trindon Holliday.

Morovick will be the snapper for both punts and field goals and for good reason, he is clearly the most experienced and obviously the best, having handled all the snapping duties for the Huskies' past 37 games.

Right now Folk is the enigma in the kicking game, in that he has been terribly inconsistent since he has been at Washington.  A lot of that can be contributed to his health, as he suffered from a back injury early into his first year at UW, and has had to battle back since. He is better than he was, but like Mahan still has not done it in a game in front of 70,000.  I would guess his effective range to be 40 and in, and if he can hit all of those he will be fine. But just when he looks good he seems to shank another one. 

Right now I think it is a crap shoot as to how he will perform on game day but wouldn't it be great if he is the hero in the first game and nails every attempt?

Washington will be better in the kicking game because they are putting more starters on the kickoff and punt teams and have a number of exciting kick returners scrambling for those jobs, whether it's Vonzell McDowell, Devin Aguilar, Cody Bruns and Johri Fogerson for punts or Chris Polk, Jordan Polk, Curtis Shaw and Quinton Richardson for kickoffs. The competition is keen for the returners' jobs and that will only make it better. I expect Washington to be much improved in the kicking game simply due to the influx of better athletes into the system.

The concern over who will be the running back sorted itself out this summer when David Freeman and Brandon Johnson both left the program following the earlier departure of Terrance Dailey. The remaining group of backs was bolstered by the move of Fogerson from safety to tailback.  Fogerson has shown some flashes of his old form when he prepped at O'Dea and has filled the void caused by attrition. The competition is definitely there and ball leverage is critical, so fumbles should be prevented. There weren't any during Tuesday's scrimmage, and that was a big plus.

Even though fullback Paul Homer has been slowed by a hamstring injury this fall, the backs as a whole have really been making steady progress.  Austin Sylvester and Tobias Togi have really improved as both blockers and pass-catchers, but I would suspect that Homer will return in time for the first game.

All of the backs have been working hard on their pass protection, and because the competition is so even they have all been getting equal reps.  The exact order has not been set and it is obvious the coaches are just going to let the competition decide who gets into the first game.  

The next major concern has to do with how the offensive line develops as run blockers. Right now the OL is still a work in progress simply because everyone is playing a new spot.  Right tackle Cody Habben has moved to left tackle, while left tackle Ben Ossai has moved from left tackle to left guard. Ryan Tolar has moved from left guard to center, and before Tuesday there were two red-shirt freshmen starting on the right side in guard Senio Kelemete and tackle Drew Schaefer.  Schaefer is now locked in battle with transfer Nick Scott. Essentially there is not one starting offensive lineman who is not new to his position.

I think offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto is really working his kids hard. I think they will be better run blockers because they are all adapting well to the zone blocking scheme.  Of course there will be a great learning curve once the games start, but these kids all look to be in better shape then they have been and that alone should really help them.  They are also all stronger and more mobile as well and those two things alone should make for a better running game.  It started to show up a little bit Tuesday during their first scrimmage, as the running backs were able to find daylight. Still, it will be what they do up front in the O-line that will determine much of the success of this year's team.

Coach Cozzetto is really working to improve his depth and the competition is a daily process.  It should be fun to see the Schaefer-Scott battle develop over the rest of camp. I expect they will be bringing in at least 5-6 new kids with this next recruiting class, as it is obvious the offensive line is one of the biggest personnel needs on this team.

On the defensive side of the ball the Huskies are working daily on turnovers and tackling, and an improvement in those two team areas of the defense will be just as critical as the development of the O-line. They are really ball-conscious on the defensive side of the ball and creating fumbles and interceptions are a big emphasis with the defensive staff. That's why it was disappointing to not see any turnovers created during the scrimmage.

The fact that there are two secondary coaches has made an obvious impact in the development of the back end of the defense.  Both Jeff Mills, the safety coach, and corner coach Demetrice Martin have great competition going in their respective groups.

Mills has no less than eight or nine kids to pick from (at least until Jason Wells re-injured his achilles. I hope he can come back soon!), and Martin has almost the same number of corners.  Considering that three springs ago there were only seven kids on scholarship, this is another area where competition has greatly increased.

The Huskies are working daily on open field tackling, as well as stripping the ball from running backs and receivers. As a position area the secondary is now two separate entities and the coaching emphasis and specialization has really improved these kids fundamentally.

My last area of concern had to do with the development of a winning attitude, and Coach Sarkisian has personally taken on the task of reshaping the thinking of this team.  He is pushing hard on the expectation of winning and the kids are responding.  They believe they are going to beat LSU, as well they should.

They don't want to be just competitive, they want to win.

Of course, none of the improvements are as important as simply winning games. They will still have to do it on game day but they are practicing with purpose and with great attitude and enthusiasm. The coaches are addressing all the obvious areas where this team simply has to get better, but it will still come down to performance. And that only happens on game day. Top Stories