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The unvarnished truth
Richard Linde, 6 April 2009

Why do I feel like I've travelled back to the future and it is 1957 all over again?

Well, here are a couple of paragraphs from "The Montlake Boys" to take you back in time.

"After certain heated practices, to cool enmities built over time, players and coaches alike would brawl, participating, unknowingly, in a preview of the mud-soaked free-for-all that would follow years later in Clint Eastwood's movie, 'Heart Break Ridge.'

"During many of the practices, the youthful, raw-boned (Jim) Owens continued to lead his team in the sprints, running backwards with them as they navigated the field, in short bursts of sustained energy. Some of the men would fall flat on their faces, too weak and exhausted to continue. Taking the players to the point of where they think they can do no more is 'When you find out what guys really want to play ball,' Owens told a reporter.”

This time around, under head coach Steve Sarkisian, some fifty-two years later, although practices are not exactly reminiscent of the days of the “Death March," the players, by all reports, are certainly working harder than last year.

For example, Seattle Times’ beat writer, Bob Condotta, writes, "The 6-foot-6, 319-pound (Ben) Ossai, for instance, noted that he went from 31 percent body fat to 19 during the 10-week conditioning program that preceded spring drills, which began this week. ‘Honestly, we worked harder than we've ever worked before. New coach, going 0-12. You can say [the reason for working harder is] whatever you want. We just did it. We are tired of losing. We don't want to lose anymore. I don't want to go out pillow fighting again.'

"'Our coaches are athletic,' said running back Chris Polk of a staff that will likely rank as one of the younger in the Pac-10 this year. ’They are out there running with you.'"

In keeping, the "athletic" coaches are developing a more athletic offensive line. The number one offensive line has Cody Habben and Drew Schaefer at tackles, Ben Ossai and Senio Kelemete (moved from defense) at guard and Ryan Tolar at center. Ossai, a two-year starter at left tackle, is now inside and will face slower defensive players at that position.

The best things about the open practices are the reports from the fans, who report back the "truth" in an unvarnished manner. When I attended practices at Evergreen back in 2003, and then again in 2004, I had to be careful about what I had written because I knew the tattletale beat writers would be reading my stuff, along with at least one UW administrator. Those guys had Mr. Curmudgeon -- the always jovial Keith Gilbertson -- on their side, and I didn't.

But now anonymous fans are writing willy-nilly about practices they see, throwing caution to the wind. Former coach Tyrone Willingham would be horrified by their inputs to the conjecturing machine, called the Huskies fan base.

Most of the fans are saying quarterback Jake Locker is not throwing accurately. For example, one fan, who posted a message about one of the practices he attended, said, “At QB, who are we kidding, it's all about Jake. And he was not good. Not good at all.” He elaborated on some high passes and interceptions that Jake threw.

Over his 16 games at UW, Locker has completed 48.7% of his passes, and in four games last season, completed just 53.7% of his passes. Head Coach Steve Sarkisian says he wants Locker to complete over 60% of his passes this year.

The last thing we fans want this year, especially at the start of a game, is a formula made up of two woeful grunts plus a wobbly punt, the punt coming on the heels of a high drifting pass – that is, one of those three and outs that typified UW’s starts in its games last year. 

So Sarkisian’s inherited cadaver needs to reach zombie status by late August, the coroner's report (statistics) from last season notwithstanding.

It is way too early in the spring to draw any conclusions about Locker’s throwing, but – and this is a big "but" – if Jake’s accuracy doesn’t improve, Sarkisian could always implement the spread option, which would compensate for a generic arm deficiency -- and that is with his feet.

The last thing the coach needs at this time is for some fan, who attends a practice and reports back what he saw, to fuel wild speculation on my part, er hum. But...

In the 2007 season, Locker ran the spread to near perfection – I know the Dawgs finished 4-9 on the season – and rushed for 986 yards to go along with Louis Rankin’s 1294 yards on the ground. The Huskies finished second in the Pac-10 in rushing offense.

I’ll take four wins right now, especially after what Don James told me a couple weeks ago. The Huskies will win a couple of games, he said, with a worldly tone to his voice.

The argument for the spread option offense says that at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Locker is the power-running back Washington desperately needs, carrying a momentum of mass m traveling at speed v. Also, correcting deficiencies on the offensive line are better met with the spread.

To make up for the loss of speed that Rankin brought to the field, I’m thinking of Chris Polk and Curtis Shaw on the outside, with Locker inside. I’m adding incoming freshman Keith Price’s mobility to this scenario also, as remote and unlikely as that may seem.

Okay...It’s way too early in practices to be conjecturing about the spread offense and then turning around and sending in a play to the coach, like the "inside-shovel-pass-to-the-tight-end" play that Tim Tebow used in the BCS championship bowl.

In any offense brought to the field, Locker will need some capable receivers.

WR D’andre Goodwin continues to impress everyone this spring. Nick Daschel of Buster Sports lists him as the third best receiver in the Pac-10 this season, “Though smallish at 5-11, 175 pounds, Goodwin was about the only big thing in Washington’s offense last season. During his sophomore season, Goodwin caught 60 passes for 692 yards, and had at least five receptions in nine of UW’s 12 games,” Daschel writes.

Note that Goodwin is listed at 5-foot-11 and ½ inches over at dawgman.com, and is the only player on the roster getting a ½ inch boost in height.

Apparently, Erik Folk is getting off to a slow start with his place kicking this spring. The good news is that no one is reporting that Folk is having the back problems that have bothered him in the past.

The real good news -- the best of all -- is embodied in this quote lifted from Condotta’s blog, “Asked for players that have caught his eye through three practices, (DL coach) Johnny Nansen mentioned (Daniel) Te'o-Nesheim, and DTs Cameron Elisara and Alameda Ta'amu. But he also cautioned that it's really early.”

I noticed Elisara coming to the fore late last season, along with Ta’amu. Evidently, they are picking up where they left off at the tail end of last season.

There is a nice article on dawgman.com about Elisira this morning.  You have to pay to read it though.

But you can get the unvarnished truth about Elisira for free -- or the latest scoop on any other player for that matter -- from just about any fan who attends a practice.


That's Elisira in the photo above.


Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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