Spring Preview – The Offense Part II

During the Jim Lambright era, although Jerome Pathon and Fred Coleman were pass catchers, Washington kind of grew the reputation of having limited skills at wide receiver. Those days are long since gone now, as the Huskies will feature two of the finest pass catchers in the Pac-10 on either side of the formation.

Receivers coach Bobby Kennedy is the real deal and he's getting great reviews and results from his charges. The Huskies lose five receivers from last year's team, and that is a great hit to the depth. Luckily the Neuheisel staff prepared for this and has the shelves stocked with talent that is green in terms of proven ability, but blue chip in terms of potential talent.

Even with the departures of Pat Reddick, Paul Arnold, and Wilbur Hooks to graduation and Eddie Jackson to transfer, the biggest loss that will need to be addressed will be at tight end. It will be up to Keith Gilbertson to get the most mileage out of four potential candidates that will vie to fill Kevin Ware's shoes.

That being said, let's talk about the tight end situation, shall we?

Mammoth sophomore Joe Toledo will be first in line this fall when it comes to competing for the staring job, but a shoulder surgery will cause him to miss all 15 spring practices. That could hurt Joe, but he has experience and has proven to be a solid blocker. He had key blocks in the Michigan and USC games that led to long gainers on the ground. He hasn't shown great route running ability yet, but to be fair, that wasn't his job. When Pickett wanted to throw to a big body, he went to Ware.

It will be very interesting to see how Ben Bandel responds to getting a lot of reps this spring. Bandel is a huge kid with long arms, and has a very laid back attitude. He definitely is of the surfing culture, which is fun and engaging. Steve Emtman is going to work this kid to the bone in the weight room, mark my words. I can't really tell you why, just call it a very informed hunch (grin). Bandel is very athletic and could provide the Huskies with a down field threat if he can show good hands.

I'm not sure if Andy Heater will get a look at tight end or not, as his versatility may earn him a shot at fullback as well. Heater likes to pop the pads and mix it up, and he's over 260 pounds now. If he does stick at tight end, he provides a nice second ground pounder in the two-TE sets, and in jumbo packages. I like this guy, he's a no-nonsense, bring your lunch pail to work player who is the son of a football coach. You'll always get 100% from Andy.

A guy that Dick Baird really liked as a tight end last year on scout team was Jason Benn. He isn't as big as Heater but he may have more experience with the ball. Benn is another versatile guy that could wind up at fullback or defensive end, but I expect him to get reps at tight end this spring.

The guy that everyone will be watching with a close eye from day one in April will be Jon Lyon, the JC transfer that has been in school since January. Lyon is faster than any other tight end, but also probably has the most to prove on his blocking. If he catches the ball well in spring and earns Pickett's confidence, look for Lyon to be a serious candidate to challenge Toledo for the starting job. Lyon looks a little bit light to be a Pac-10 tight end right now, but it's quite a few months until August rolls around. I want to see what he does the first time Manase Hopoi and Terry Johnson come at him at full throttle before I say much more. That is the test of a true tight end, just ask Jerramy Stevens what it was like the first time Larry Tripplett picked him up and threw him down by the neck. You pay your dues and then you go from there.

At wide out, Washington returns their finest receiver in history in Reggie Williams. Reginald Williams Jr. is the complete package. He is strong enough to fight through any jam, his hands are undeniably reliable, his body can take any punishment thrown its way, he's tough enough to play through pain, his heart doesn't allow him to be satisfied with mediocrity, and his school work is exemplary. He also gets inside the heads of cornerbacks that try to cover him. At field level, it's a joy to watch this guy in action. Corners fear the guy and get frustrated as Hell trying to stop him. The kid started against Michigan as a true freshman in the opening game, there isn't much more you can say about him, except to enjoy him in 2003 because it will surely be the last year you see him in Husky purple. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time during a fraternity party skirmish in February, but he was not accused or charged of any wrongdoing.

At flanker, Charles Frederick is set to have a breakout season. Frederick has done most of his damage on returns so far, but last year showed that he could be a deep threat. He is getting more and more comfortable with the system as well as being ove4 3000 miles from home, and he is smiling a lot more now. Charles one drawback may be upper body strength. When he got hit last year, he would disappear at times (See ASU). That has to stop, and it will this year. He needs to hit the weights a little bit more, and I think Bobby Kennedy will make sure that happens.

After two years of being on the shelf, Husky coaches will welcome back Justin Robbins. No one really knows how his surgically repaired ACL will hold up, but he's due for some good luck. Robbins earned the trust of Marques Tuiasosopo in 2000, so earning Pickett's trust shouldn't be difficult to do with his sharp, crisp routes. He's battle tested, now he just needs to show that he can stand up to punishment and that he's full speed.

As for experience, that's about it. Coach Kennedy will need to find receivers from other positions to fill out the spring until the freshman arrive in August.

Three intriguing prospects that I expect to get ample looks at flanker or split end are Isaiah Stanback, Jordan Slye, and Nate Robinson.

Stanback is in the hunt for the backup quarterback job to Cody Pickett, but you had to be blind to not see what this kid did on the scout team when he worked as a wide receiver. With 4.4 speed and 6-2, Stanback looked like one of the best athletes on that side of the ball. Husky coaches will have to ask themselves if Stanback is more valuable to them as a possible third string QB on the bench or a possible fourth wide out with great size, speed, and hands, and good knowledge of the offense. It certainly won't hinder his development to take a peek for just 15 practices, because he already knows Gilby's offensive playbook, and can work on his mechanics all summer if it doesn't work out. This seems like a no-brainer to me, and if (GOD FORBID) Pickett goes down, Stanback moves back and becomes the backup to Casey Paus.

Of course, all of this becomes moot it Stanback wins the backup quarterback job, but unless he wins it in a landslide, why keep an athlete with 4.4 speed and the reflexes of a cat off of the field? I'm convinced that if you put Stanback at safety, he'd be in the two deeps from day one. He's that type of athlete. Neither Miami nor Oklahoma would allow a guy like this to sit the bench for another year.

Slye looked very good at safety with the scouts, so projecting him at receiver here is a bit of a stretch on my part. I just love the way this kid runs around and makes plays. He has good vertical skills and it isn't hard to imagine him going up and taking the football away from small corners. Jordan is nearly 6-5 and he's the son of a football coach, so he is not out of his element if you move him around on the field.

What else can you say about Nate the great? Robinson will certainly get a shot on offense, and it will be either as a slot receiver or a tailback. I hope it's at receiver, because he has great hands and that thick body that isn't afraid to go across the middle. He is built like Pat Reddick was, but is much faster. This is a guy that believes he can do anything, and you know what? I'm not going to doubt him anymore. Put him in the slot, get him the ball, and then let his state-championship hurdling and 42-inch vertical leap skills take over and watch him explode.

Walk-on Matt Griffith should be mentioned because of what he brings to the scout team. He's tough, he'll do anything, and he lays out for any ball, even if it's thrown over cement. He's going to be a solid special teams contributor this year and has the heart of a lion.
Link to Part I: The Offensive Line

next up – the backfield

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