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Spring challenges
Richard Linde, March 26, 2008

The Huskies return 15 starters, 7 on offense, 6 on defense and 2 specialists.

Key losses: QB Carl Bonnell, RB Louis Rankin, WR Anthony Russo, OT Chad Macklin, WR Marcel Reece, DE Greyson Gunheim, DTs Jordan Reffett and Wilson Afoa, LB Dan Howell and CB Roy Lewis.

Spring practices begin April 3 and conclude on April 26 with the annual spring scrimmage. There are 15 practices, the maximum allowed in 23 days, and they are open to Tyee donors and members providing they obtain the necessary permission beforehand.

True freshman LB Kurt Magnum is expected to enroll in time for spring practices. Also, Quinton Richardson has been moved to CB. Because of surgery, FS Jason Wells will likely miss spring practice.

Click on spring roster here.

A rebuilding year: The Huskies were a Liz Franc injury away from going to a bowl in 2006, according to the coach last March in a talk to alumni. Going into 2007 (a 4-9 season), the Huskies had lost 26 seniors, mostly out of their 2002 and 2003 classes, classes that scout.com had ranked 23rd and 18th in the nation. Expectations were high at the beginning of last season, when they should have been lowered vis–à–vis  the graduation losses. This season, the Huskies must rebuild their team for another chance to go bowling, not this year but the next.

The Huskies look good on the offensive line, return Jake Locker at quarterback and return veterans at tight end and fullback. Rebuilding almost the entire wide receiver corps will present a challenge. The running backs are talented, but young and inexperienced.

Improving on the defensive statistics from last season -- some of them the worst in school history -- presents the most daunting challenge. Significant holes on the defensive line and at the cornerback positions must be filled.

Winning just two stats – but overlooked statistics: Turnover Margin and Time of Possession – means the Huskies likely will go to a bowl in 2008. (*)

The punting and kicking positions look solid, as does the long snapper position. Due to Carl Bonnell’s graduation, a new holder needs to step forward.

The following challenges must be met, starting this spring.

I. COACHING CHALLENGES

-- Three new assistant coaches must become acquainted with their material, and use them to the best possible advantage.

Two weeks ago, head coach Tyrone Willingham spoke highly of his three new assistant coaches: Ed Donatell (defensive coordinator), Brian White (special teams and tight ends) and Steve Gervais (offense and possibly running backs). 

Coach Willingham needs to cool his simmering hot seat, so he can finish out his contract, which expires in December 2009.

My personal druthers (warning I'm neither a former coach nor ex-player):

-- It would be nice to see Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano install a no-huddle offense to go along with the spread formation.

-- Some dink and dunks to young Chris Polk would be nice to see.

II. OFFENSIVE CHALLENGES

-- The Huskies need to find a backup for QB Jake Locker.

Backup QB Carl Bonnell finished last season with a passing efficiency of 118.54, a number that bested Locker’s stat of 105.0. Locker missed the Cal game last season, a game in which Carl Bonnell played a key role to ensure the win.

After the game Willingham said, "…Carl Bonnell did a masterful job of running and controlling our offense and not having any turnovers.”

The luxury of having a fifth-year senior quarterback on hand is gone for Willingham, as Bonnell has graduated.

Instead, redshirt freshman Ronnie Fouch and walkon Taylor Bean will vie for backup duties this spring. True freshmen Luther Leonard and Domonic Blackman will join them in the fall.

-- The Huskies need to find a replacement for RB Louis Rankin.

Rankin ran for 1294 yards last season, and finished second in the conference in all purpose yards with 2396 yards.

Brandon Johnson, JR Hasty, Jr., Chris Polk (RB/WR), Willie Griffin, and Brandon Yakaboski will attempt to fill Rankin’s shoes this spring. Johnson, a sophomore, is the only one with any appreciable experience, having rushed for 196 yards on 51 carries last season.  Hasty, a junior, garnered 18 yards on 3 carries last season.

The Huskies lack a power running back. Whoops, I almost forgot QB Jake Locker, who is also the Huskies’ power running back.

-- QB Jake Locker needs to improve his passing efficiency, having completed 47.3% of his passes last season.

Playing 12 games in all, Locker had an up and down season as far as his passing efficiency rating went. In six games, he had a PE of 134.6. The other six games his rating was 82.55. His rating of 105.0 for the season wasn’t good enough to rank him among the nation’s top 100 passers.

Three of his worst six statistical games were against USC (66.29), Ohio State (79.25) and Arizona State (82.96), all of whom ranked among the nation’s top 15 in pass efficiency defense. Going into the ASU game, the numbers doomed Jake from the start. Against Oregon State (52.46), Locker suffered an injury and had to leave the game. In the win against Stanford (83.39), Locker’s passing wasn’t needed because of a bulling running game; Against Washington State (86.05), Locker was coming off an injury.

Although Jake can boost his completion percentage by throwing more short passes, it is unlikely he’ll improve much on his passing efficiency rating because of Washington’s tough OOC schedule – which Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times rates as second hardest in the Pac-10. Also, an inexperienced wide receiver corps won’t help him in the statistical measure; however, more productivity at the tight end spot would give him, as well as the team, a significant boost.

Locker is the most exciting player to matriculate at Washington since the incomparable Hugh McElhenny. Locker and Rankin carried Washington’s offense last season, much like the duo of Don Heinrich and McElhenny did in the 1950 season. No quarterback in the conference is more valuable to his team than Locker.  None of them could adequately replace Locker if he were to play for the Dawgs.

This is not to say that Jake is a dead-on accurate passer; he is not. After last spring, he was supposed to have worked on his footwork during the summer to improve his accuracy. A high release point, inexperience and dropped passes have also been blamed for this short coming.

-- The Huskies must virtually replace their entire wide receiver corps.

The Huskies need to replace wide receivers Marcel Reece (761 receiving yards in 2007), Anthony Russo (766 yards), Corey Williams (201 yards), Cody Ellis (201 yards), and Quintin Daniels (87 yards). Add RB Louis Rankin (126 yards) to the mix.

D’Andre Goodwin (So., 29 yards) and Curtis Shaw (So., 47 yards) represent the squad’s entire experience level at WR. Freshmen Devin Aguilar and Anthony Boyles will join them this spring, along with redshirt freshman Alvin Logan. Walkons Tony Chidiac and Charles Hawkins (may get a scholarship) will be on hand, as will true freshman Chris Polk (WR/RB), of whom big things are expected.

Chris Polk is to the 2008 recruiting class as Locker was to the 2006 class.

III. DEFENSIVE CHALLENGES

Incoming defensive coordinator Ed Donatell must rebuild a defense that allowed a school-record worst of 446.4 yards per game, the Dawgs finishing 103rd in the nation in total defense.

The linebacker corps is the strength of the defense; however, the corner back and defensive line positions pose some big questions that will require innovative answers.

-- Short of a supernova explosion, the Huskies must develop some young stars on the defensive line.

To compound his problem, five of the six top spots on the defensive line are gone. Maybe that is a good thing considering the defensive numbers from 2007. For example, the Huskies’ rushing defense in 2006 allowed 139.2 yards per game; in 2007, that number grew to 184.5 yards per game, which was the worst in the Pac-10.

Three varsity letters in total attest to the inexperience of the eight candidates below. With two letters, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is considered the best of the lot. One of them didn’t pass my sight test last Picture Day. On that day, Jovon O’Connor (#56), who passed my sight test, had the best smile of the lot, although Te’o-Nesheim (#66) bears a striking resemblance to the late Herman Wedemeyer. (See photo immediately above and the one at the top of this article).

Supernova remnants, hopefully, are: Kalani Aldrich (DE, RSfr); Tryone Duncan (DT, RSfr); Cameron Elisira (DT, RSso); Darion Jones (DE; RSjr, 1v); De’Shon Mathews (DE, RSso); Jovon O’Conner (DT, RSsr); Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (DE, RSjr, 2V); Nick Wood (DT, RSfr)

Clearly, this bunch will need some help from the incoming freshmen in the fall. I’m thinking 4-star recruits Alameda Ta’amu and Kavario Middleton here. Middleton is listed as a tight end on scout.com.

At the DE spots, Te’o-Nesheim and Mathews are the likely starters, while O’Conner and Elisara will fill the middle.

If Donatell opts for a 3-4 defense, a whole set of new issues arise. It’s not clear that the Huskies have the bulls up the middle needed to clog the running lanes, which is an essential ingredient necessary for a 3-4.

-- The Huskies must replace Roy Lewis at cornerback.

Lewis finished second last year in solo tackles, accounting for 71 of them.

Expect Bryan Davenport (Sr., 1V) and Jordan Murchison (Sr., SQ) to start at cornerback. They’ll be backed up by Matt Mosely (RSso; SQ) and Vonzell McDowell (So., 1V).

Quinton Richardson (RSfr) adds some speculation to that mix. Reportedly, the coaches are high on him.

IV. SPECIAL TEAMS CHALLENGES

-- The Huskies must replace special teams’ players Tony Russo and Louis Rankin. Kickoffs pose a dilemma.

Russo finished third in the conference in punt return average; the Huskies led the conference in punt returns. Louis Rankin (976 yards on 40 returns) finished fifth in the conference in kick return average.

The Huskies finished ninth in the conference in kickoff coverage, with a net average of 36.4 yards -- which means that after a kickoff, the opposition was starting near its 34-yard line on average.

The Dawgs had just one touchback on the year. Arizona had 22 touchbacks, USC had 18. 

Hopefully, either Erik Folk or Ryan Perkins can spell Jared Ballman's leg by helping on kickoffs. Ballman handled both kickoff and punting chores last year. Perkins dealt with the place kicking, while Folk sat out the year with back problems.

----------------

(*) Actually, USC, Arizona State, and Stanford were the only teams in the Pac-10 to win those two statistics last season. Stanford? There is an exception to every rule. ;-) The last time the Huskies won both Time of Possession and Turnover Margin was in 2002, the last year they went bowling. While it might not be for other teams in the Pac-10, winning TOP is critical for the Dawgs since they like to run the ball.

 

Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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