Spring Preview – The Offense part III

Washington has a Heisman candidate that will line up under center this fall in senior Cody Pickett. Last year in route to setting a bevy of school records, Pickett was brilliant at times and spotty at others, but he did it all without the benefit of a rushing attack, and coming off of a third-degree shoulder separation.

The running game issue will be addressed this spring, and with the exception of Pickett, all jobs will be up for grabs this spring and fall in the offensive backfield.

At tailback, there will be three main guys taking the rock from Pickett this spring.

Chris Singleton has been the forgotten man in the backfield. At 6-2 and just over 200 pounds, he's a load and has great straight ahead speed (4.41 in the 40). Still, in his two years as a Husky he has carried the ball very little. He is not as an accomplished of a pass blocker as Alexis, and when you threw the ball as many times as the Huskies did last year, that will keep you on the bench. It will be interesting to see if Chris gets more of a shot in his junior year if the Huskies commit more to running the ball under new offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto. Singleton has the physical tools to be a punishing runner.

Kenny James is the guy that everyone is excited to see this spring. James came highly touted out of Dos Palos High School, and his strength in his prep days were his vision, the ability to cut in the hole, and his attitude. James was redshirted last year so the restraining straps will be cut off this April and he'll be asked to challenge for the starting role. With Alexis out, James will be front and center with Singleton, vying for time. He'll remind Husky fans of Willie Hurst in the way that he wiggles through the line of scrimmage, but he's about 20 pounds heavier and a bit faster than Willie was.

The guy that might have been a little bit in James' shadow, but definitely not in terms of his scout team performance, was Shelton Sampson. The track sprinter from Clover Park showed breakaway speed and was very quick through the holes all year when he was running against the ones in practice. Sampson could really surprise people and jump up the depth chart because of his 4.3 speed. He doesn't appear to catch the ball very naturally yet, but he hasn't been asked to. His job will be to find open field and make people chase him. He's very good at that. He is the best home run threat on the roster from the backfield.

The fourth guy that could be in the mix is Nate Robinson. N-Rob wants a shot at offense and he'll get one. The only question will be at what position. He could use his 42-inch vertical leap from the slot receiver position effectively, but he may get a shot to play where his papa did - tailback.

Nate's got a thick body and changes directions faster than just about any Husky since Anthony Vontoure, so carrying the ball might is by no means a stretch. He's built low to the ground and he's cat-quick, and could be a Tyler Ebell type tailback if given the opportunity. Watch for #13 in the backfield this spring, if (or when) he's not lined up with the receivers or cornerbacks.

Rich Alexis will return for his senior season, but he's going to miss the spring due to injury. That couldn't have come at a worse time, but if he wants to out with a bang, he needs to be healthy. That has really been the main drawback to Alexis' career at Washington – a rash of injuries. He's missed the option pitch that allowed him to get outside the tackles immediately, and would greatly benefit if the Dawgs could get that play back into their arsenal. Alexis will be on the pine all spring so we'll have to wait until August to see what he'll bring to the table this fall. Rich has taken a lot of heat from fans for back-to-back sub par years after his true freshman campaign where he led the team in rushing. He'll be chomping at the bit to address that. An off-season altercation at a fraternity party has his status somewhat in limbo.

At fullback, Zach Tuiasosopo returns. Zach has played some defense as well, so he could get looks on either side of the football. He'd be a "REB" end if he is tried back on defense, but as of this article he is the returning starter at fullback. He hasn't proven to be a great threat running the ball yet, but in all fairness, no one was in 2002. Tuiasosopo put the ball on the ground a couple of times, a no-no for a fullback, but he also has made some nice gains on screen passes when he makes the catch. Consistency will be the buzz word in 2003.

Ty Eriks is an enigma to me. This is a guy that is 6-2, 229 pounds, and runs a 4.50 in the 40. He was mostly used in goal line situations last year, but he has ball skills that the other fullbacks don't. Eriks played fullback in high school and he gets his blocks more often than not. So why hasn't he played more? If the coaches decide to take another look at Tuiasosopo on defense, that would open the door for Eriks to move in and start at fullback. Eriks is going to be a sophomore in 2003, and it's time for Rick Neuheisel to find a place on the field for this under-utilized football player. He runs well, he's as smart as they come, and this guy is a football player.

Cory Jones could be a fine fullback prospect, but it's my hunch that they really like him as an outside linebacker. But if Zach does get some looks on defense, Jones could perhaps move over to fullback if required for depth.

Adam Seery is a converted quarterback/defensive back/linebacker, who has done everything that any coach has ever asked of him. This will be his senior season, so he's got the experience factor in his favor. Seery is a hard worker and doesn't make too many mistakes. He just isn't as gifted athletically as Eriks or Tuiasosopo.

At quarterback, it's pretty silly to even speculate that there will be any competition with Cody Pickett. This will be his team once again, only this time he'll be a senior. Pickett was recovering from shoulder surgery last year and threw for 4458 yards and 28 touchdowns, both records. He averaged over 342 yards passing per game and was asked to carry the entire offense. He had trouble connecting on the long ball last year, but that was mostly because teams knew that they could stop the Husky rushing attack and would drop so many guys into coverage that no one could get open in the deep third. Give Pickett a running game to lean on and he'll wipe out anyone. When he wasn't accurate last year, it was because he had to try to thread the ball to a receiver against an eight-man zone. Pickett got frustrated last year because of that, and it affected his game. He'll be a senior in 2003, and I'd expect him to become less bothered by things. Although he'll have to break in new quarterback coach John Pettas, the two know each other well.

It's the battle behind Pickett that everyone will be watching.

Casey Paus will be a sophomore. He has yet to throw a collegiate pass, but at 6-5 and over 200 pounds, he's a big, strong kid. He's been behind Taylor Barton for two years now, and this is the spring that he'll be asked to step up and show the coaches that he can back up Pickett. Paus has the arm strength to thread it in, but I haven't seen him on touch throws much. It will be interesting to watch how he and Pettas work together. This will be Paus' third year in the program, and may quarterbacks begin to break out in that third season.

Isaiah Stanback is the polar opposite of Paus. Stanback looks like Michael Vick in the way that he can escape any circumstance and still get the ball off with good velocity. He is raw, but the Garfield graduate redshirted last year so he remains a freshman. He was used as a receiver on scout team at times last year and he looked as good or better than most of the receivers that ran against the ones in practice. Stanback has a different kind of arm than Paus, and looks more comfortable outside the pocket. But he's still learning, and could develop into one of the most exciting quarterbacks to play at Washington. However, if he doesn't beat out Paus for the backup job, I sincerely hope that he'll be given a look at receiver, or possibly even safety. This guy is just too good to have sitting on your bench. He's that explosive, and one Husky coach has already intimated those same thoughts.

In the fall, expect Louis Rankin to get a very legitimate shot at tailback. He's a sprinter with good size and showed nice vision and decision making. At the very least, you'd love to get this kid on special teams, an area where the Huskies desperately need improvement and need to become more athletic. The other tailbacks in this year's recruiting class, Durrell Moss and Anthony Russo, may wind up playing other positions. Russo looks like he could be a nice corner if needed, and Moss most certainly looks like a fine safety and will likely start out on defense.
Link to Offensive preview part II: The receivers
Link to offensive preview part I: The offensive line

Next up: the defensive line

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