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Searching for some playmakers
Who will don the purple cape?
Malamute, 22 March 2006

Now that the Mage of Montlake has taken Husky hoops to the Sweet Sixteen -- and maybe the final four -- it’s almost time to turn our attention to football. Spring football starts on March 30 and ends April 22, with the spring game.

In the 2005 spring game, the Purple won 3-0, in what some might call a defensive battle. That game, along with the loss to the Air Force in the first game of the regular season, presaged Washington’s 2-9 season. The Huskies averaged just over 21 points per game, a pitiable amount in the “pass-happy" Pac-10. To put more points on the board, the Huskies need somebody to scrunch into a phone booth (or a Porta-Potty), don a purple cape and come out shouting, “Coach Ty, I’m a playmaker.”

"Hey, buddy, what's the letter P on your letterman's jacket stand for, Pittsburgh?"

"Er, ah, no, it stands for 'Prayer-maker,' I mean, 'Playmaker.'"

Here are my leading candidates:

QB Isaiah Stanback:

In the Pac-10 last season, Stanback, who will be a senior this year, finished sixth in each of three categories: Total Offense, Passing Average per Game, and Pass Efficiency. As one of three senior quarterbacks in the conference, he will be joined by Sam Keller of ASU and Matt Moore of OSU. Over the last decade or so having a senior quarterback seems to be a prerequisite for winning the conference championship.

Stanback will be pushed by backups Carl Bonnell, Johnny DuRocher and incoming freshman Jake Locker, who may opt out of his commitment and play professional baseball. Coach Willingham replaced Stanback with DuRocher in the second half of the OSU game last season (an 18-10 loss), momentarily appeasing a camp that a Seattle columnist calls, “The DeRanged DeCriers of DuRocher's DuRance;” however, the result was the same as in the first half: a gutless, sputtering UW offense that couldn’t put points on the board, especially inside of the red zone. DuRocher’s pass efficiency on the game was 69.8, shades of an "immobile" QB from 2004, whose name escapes me. In all fairness, Coach Willingham owes DuRocher a fair shot on a fair weather day -- maybe, ahem, when the Dawgs have a decent running game.

However, barring an unforeseen event, Stanback will likely start at quarterback in the opener against San Jose State, solely for his athleticism if for nothing else. With his running threat, he gives defenses something to mull over, and could morph into the purple-caper UW sorely needs.

TE Johnie Kirton:

Kirton passes the sight test at 6-foot-3, 280 pounds. At the 2004 Picture Day, I asked then-coach Keith Gilbertson where he recruited his freshman behemoths from, the San Francisco 49ers?  Beaming like a new papa, he told me that he had landed a 280-pound running back, Johnie Kirton.

During fall practice at Olympia, Kirton said he wanted to play tailback, but maybe needed to lose some weight to become a bit faster. He redshirted that season, and last season played tight end, starting out brilliantly and then tailing off at the end of the season.

Kirton has the potential of being a playmaker, for his eclectic potential, sheer size, durability and positive attitude. But he needs to be on the field big time: maybe at tight end, fullback, defensive end, you name it. It’s a shame that Washington didn’t bring in a tight end this recruiting season, freeing up Kirton for a position best suited for purple-capedom.

RB Kenny James:

Washington has three scholarship athletes at running back, Kenny James (Sr.), J. R. Hasty  (RS freshman) and Louis Rankin (Junior). If one or more of them go down, the failure to sign Parade All-American James Montgomery, who orally committed to Washington in the early going of the recruiting rush, but signed with Cal, could be the death knell for the season. Failing to sign Jonathan Stewart to the 2005 recruiting class adds to the frustration fans are feeling. Playing as a freshman at Oregon, the playmaking Stewart led the Pac-10 in Kick Return Average.

James has the potential for playmaking. For example, in the Apple Cup, he connected on a 65-yard touchdown pass with Sonny Shackelford. He needs to stay healthy, though.

The loss of four mainstays from the offensive line diminishes James’s chance to finish his career with some swagger -- but not as a popinjay.* According to realdawg.com, junior-college-transfer Brandon Jefferson (OL) will not be enrolling at Washington this upcoming season. Jefferson was expected to get immediate playing time.

WR Marcel Reese

Junior college transfer Marcel Reese (6-3, 235, 4.4) fits the mold of a playmaker. With his speed and size, he could give the Huskies a quick fix at wide receiver, replacing Craig Chambers who left school prematurely.

Chambers’ is another frustrating story, since he was Washington’s only playmaker last season, as well as in the season before.

For example, in the 2004 Apple Cup, Chambers caught 4 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. With 4:04 remaining in the game, Chambers caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Isaiah Stanback and was on the receiving end of a two-point conversion, bringing Washington within 3 points of the lead in a 28-25 loss.

In Washington’s opener against the Air Force this last season, a game the Huskies should have won, Chambers caught just one pass for 19 yards, which came at a desperation moment on the penultimate play of the game. His heroics in the 2004 Apple Cup had been lost on his new coaches, except when they needed him, and he wasn't even on the two-deep depth chart for the game.

Chambers was on the receiving end of the Hail Mary pass that turned the Arizona game around this last season.

After the debacle against the Falcons, reportedly his mother, Susan, called a Seattle radio station to complain about Craig's playing time.

Allegedly, he wasn’t giving an all-out performance in practice and sometimes ran incorrect routes.

According to Ted Miller (espn.com, the Seattle P-I), former-WR Bobby Whithorne is “now a walk-on at UCLA and has caught his new program's attention. ‘From top to bottom this is a better program, and I want to win a championship. That's why I came here,’ Whithorne told the Los Angeles Daily News. ‘This is a much better experience.’"

Ouch.

WR Marlon Wood

Against USC in Seattle last season, Wood ran back a punt for 92 yards. He’s recovering from an injury and may not see action this spring. That's just a guess on my part, since I've heard nothing about his recovery process.

DT Cameron Elisara

This 4-star (6-foot-3, 275) incoming freshman has been likened to former defensive lineman Steve Emtman, who played on Washington’s 1991, co-national championship team. According to realdawg.com, Cameron “is on a tear this spring in track. He's already won a national invitational (shot put), and he's proving that he could be one of the most prolific defensive linemen Husky fans have seen since Steve Emtman.”

Cameron passes the sight test.

Other candidates for stardom are DE Greyson Gunheim, OL Stanley Daniels, DT Donny Mateaki, DE Brandon Ala, WR Chancelor Young, Punter Sean Douglas, WR Anthony Russo, WR Sonny Shackelford, LB Trenton Tuiasosopo (if healthy), OG Clay Walker, SS C. J. Wallace, NT Jordan-White Frisbee, WR Corey Williams, Safety Ashlee Palmer, DT De'Shon Mathews, LB Paul Homer, QB Carl Bonnell, QB Jake Locker, kicker Ryan Perkins, and LB Anthony Atkins. 

As of this spring, Washington’s chances for a successful season look worse than last year’s, when I predicted a 3-win season just before the fray began. But a lot could change during spring football and into the fall months, so hold your horses.

* Word of the day: Popinjay, which means a strutting, supercilious person.

Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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