Coach's Corner - Offense Observations

Spring football is already half over, but team reps have gone up, hitting has increased a little bit. Progress has been made across all three phases of the game as they continually add new parts to their attack on all sides of the ball. The offense appears to be further ahead of the defense and defense appears to be further ahead of the kicking game.

The quarterback situation will play itself out with regard to who will be the immediate backup to Jake Locker, and both Keith Price and Nick Montana are showing steady improvement. Price's best feature in his game is his running ability, which is nullified by the "QB off-limits" contact rule. He is very elusive and a threat to pull it down and run, as well as giving himself extra time to throw. Montana is progressing daily and there is no reason to believe that he won't develop into a really fine quarterback after he has been here for a couple of years.

That's really the case with both back-ups; they simply need to grow and gain about 15 pounds and learn as much as they can from Jake and the coaches. In just two weeks time, both are already better passers and will continue to prepare like they are an ankle injury away from being the starter. Both know they are backing up Jake and the competition between the two won't really be decided until this time next year, and probably the year after that.

This is Jake Locker's team, and this will be his best year ever at Washington. Talk about going on a limb! He is easily the most gifted athlete to ever play the position for Washington, and may be one of the best in the conference as well. Now he simply needs to go out and prove it his senior year.

He is having a super spring, and if the receivers were a little more sure-handed he would be off the charts. He is firmly in control and they are developing his throws in simulated team periods. For example, they spent considerable time working on goal-line offense Tuesday, and his familiarity with the core receivers - Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar and James Johnson - was obvious from the start. The two new kids on the block - freshman running backs Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier - also show very soft hands and are proving to both be excellent receivers out of the backfield.

Cooper and Callier are easily the best one-two punch at running back to come into Washington since Napoleon Kaufman and Leon Neal signed together in the early 90's. These kids are the real deal and both show unbelievable burst and confidence considering they should both still be in high school. It's become a daily occurrence to see one or the other break a long run in scrimmage, so they obviously have speed to burn. In Tuesday's scrimmage section, Cooper broke about his fourth long run of the spring, only to be run down in a great hustle play by corner Quinton Richardson, who I think is also having an excellent spring (in truth, he did get a little help from coach Martin).

Both returning RB lettermen, Johri Fogerson and Demitrius Bronson, have been solid so far - although not spectacular. Both have obviously worked hard in the weight room and are considerably stronger and Bronson's strength has gotten him some looks at fullback, where there is a log jam of about five players, led by senior Austin Sylvester.

Everyone knows that last year's leading rusher, Chris Polk, will return next fall and he too looks like he spent some serious time in the weight room. He easily looks to be 215, and considering he is a contact runner then those extra pounds of muscle will only make him better.

Big plays come from your playmakers and Washington's offense compliments Jake Locker with a stable of five tailbacks and you can expect those true freshmen to be in the rotation and getting playing time right out of the blocks.

You can add a now veteran receiver corps, and you have threats coming from lots of different angles. The top three receivers will joined by Cody Bruns and Jordan Polk, who have both missed parts of spring to injury. Walk-on William Chandler has made some nice catches this spring, but look for incoming freshman Kevin Smith to press immediately for playing time.

Another impressive pass catcher is tight end Marlion Barnett, who looks like a cross between a tight end and a slot. He and the other tight ends, Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki have all looked better this spring at both blocking and route running. Walk-on Marek Domanski is the only other tight end in the mix until next fall, when freshman Michael Hartvigson joins in. Hartvigson may fit in immediately if he can pick up the blocking. I think this position is really close for competition but wouldn't be surprised to see them bring in two with the 2011 signing class.

The offensive line has only 10 warm bodies to work with and the most obvious thing to me is how different the kids up front look. Gone are the big bellies and overweight bodies. All of the guys look more fit and mobile than they have in years. The move of Senio Kelemete to left tackle next to Ryan Tolar is proving to be an excellent move. The left side appears as solid has it has been in a while. Both are much better on their feet and look fit enough to go the distance in any game. With Cody Habben coming back in the fall to his old spot at right tackle the Husky offensive line will be their best in a number of years.

Kids like Skyler Fancher, Mark Armelin, Scott Shugert and Drew Schaefer, who have all been here for three years now, are finally getting the quality reps to develop along with Greg Christine, Mykenna Ikehara, and Nick Wood, all of whom played considerably last year. That gives UW Offensive Line Coach Dan Cozzetto about 8-9 veteran linemen with lots of flexibility position-wise.

Schaefer looks good at center and Tolar, Christine and Ikehara have all played there at one time or another. With seven new linemen set to arrive in the fall that will take them back to 18 or so linemen and I wouldn't expect any of the new kids to make an immediate impact, other than contending for second string work. But that won't stop freshmen like Erik Kohler and Colin Porter from trying to compete for spots in the depth.

I was impressed by the OL "board" drill, in which an offensive lineman is on one end of a board versus a defensive linemen on the other and then they just slam into each other in a one on one blocking drill, trying to keep their block in line with the length of the board. The offensive linemen won a number of the battles, but it was really hard for any of them to knock Alameda Ta'amu or Semisi Tokolahi off the board. Still there were a number of times when an offensive lineman rolled over his front knee and simply drove the defender off the board. It was positive from both sides.

Considering that Washington has 9-10 returning starters on the offense, it is easy to see why they look so good this spring, but they should be even better come September. Of course, they will have to be better in order to beat teams like BYU, Syracuse and Nebraska in their pre-conference schedule.

Based upon this week's count there were 10 offensive linemen, three quarterbacks, five running backs, five fullbacks, four tight ends, and 10 receivers practicing. That's only 37 bodies to work with and I counted 4-5 injured or rehab offensive players including two starters. I am confident they will address the need at quarterback and have already done so in the offensive line. Still it would be nice to end up with about 55-60 by fall practices. I have them bringing in 12-13 more scholarship offensive players and if they could pick up a half dozen walk-ons this summer they will look pretty well stocked on the offensive side of the ball.

At this stage of spring I think this is the best-looking offense we have had in the past eight years. Of course that has a lot to do with the man behind the center, and in this case he happens to be a pretty good player.


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