2004 Washington Football Outlook
July 27, 2004
After posting a disappointing 6-6 record in 2003, the Washington football team will rely on 13 returning starters and 49 lettermen to get the Husky program back on the winning track. The task will be difficult with the loss of several key players, including the all-time passer-receiver combination; the team's top overall tackler and the defense's sack leader.
Washington's offense will be built around six returning starters. For the first time since the 2000 season, a quarterback besides Cody Pickett will direct the team. Who that will be will not be determined until the fall. The team has a solid crop of young receivers and running backs to fuel a new offense. The challenge will be to solidify an offensive line that is small in numbers and been wracked by injuries.
The Husky defense also returns six starters, including all four players who made up the secondary last season. A relatively inexperienced defensive front will be asked to try and do a better job of stopping the rush and putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Linebacker is another position with a host of young players looking to make an impact on the team.
Washington will face an ambitious schedule in 2004. After opening with home dates against Fresno State and UCLA, the Huskies hit the road for Notre Dame and Stanford. The second half of the schedule includes road games at USC, Oregon and Washington State. With a young squad featuring inexperience at quarterback, it will be important for the Huskies to start the season on a successful note.
'I think we have to play more as a team than we did a year ago,' says second-year head coach Keith Gilbertson. 'I think we learned some hard lessons about not preparing for every game as we should.'
A trio of contenders, including junior Casey Paus, sophomore Isaiah Stanback and redshirt freshman Carl Bonnell, will attempt to fill the void at quarterback created by the departure of Cody Pickett. A three-year starter, Pickett finished his career as Washington's all-time leading passer with 9,946 yards. Pickett's run at the Husky record book left little playing time for his backups.
Despite a heated battle in the spring, the job remains open heading into the fall. Gilbertson listed Paus as the top quarterback entering spring drills and declared the competition for the starting position would not be decided until the team's fall practice period.
Paus has a slight advantage in game experience. As a sophomore he appeared in six games, completing 10 of 23 passes for 151 yards and two scores. He compiled most of those statistics in Washington's 42-10 victory against Oregon. Pressed into action when Pickett sustained a first-half concussion, Paus looked like a long-time veteran in guiding Washington to the victory.
'Casey is a guy that is improving himself as an athlete all the time,' Gilbertson says. 'He had some very good moments playing for us last year. He's very bright and knows our system. He has an edge that way.'
Stanback spent the majority of his redshirt freshman year playing receiver while also practicing with the quarterbacks. Gilbertson deemed that Stanback's skills were too great to simply have him stand on the sideline and chart plays. Stanback played in 11 games, earning his first letter, and caught 10 passes for 143 yards. He completed both of his pass attempts when playing quarterback.
'Isaiah is a fine athlete - big and fast,' Gilbertson says. 'He needs to make some improvement in his throwing and he needs to get on the field as a quarterback since he spent most of last year at wide receiever.'
Bonnell sat out the 2003 season after transferring from Washington State. As a prep signalcaller, he guided Kentwood (Wash.) High School to back-to-back state 4A state championships. He grayshirted the 2002 season at Washington State and never enrolled as a full-time student. When Mike Price left the Cougar program, Bonnell opted to transfer to Washington.
'Carl is pretty big, pretty fast and has a good throwing arm. He had some great moments in the spring,' Coach Gilbertson says. 'He's the youngest of the group but is certainly blessed with some talent.'
With three solid contenders for the starting quarterback job, Gilbertson has a lot of options to consider. Among those options is the possibility of using more than one quarterback during the course of the year. 'In my career, I've used more than one quarterback,' Gilbertson notes. 'I have no problem doing that. I think it helps to get more than one guy involved.'
Unlike the quarterback position, the Huskies return a number of veterans at the tailback and fullback positions. Sophomores Kenny James and Shelton Sampson figure to get the majority of the carries. James averaged 4.3 yards per carry while rushing for 530 yards and two scores last season. He cracked the 100-yard mark for the first time when he rushed for 104 yards on 18 carries against Oregon. James gives the Huskies a solid between-the-tackles runner who can also take the ball outside.
Sampson garnered just 60 carries in 2003 but led the team with eight touchdowns. He averaged 4.6 yards per rush, gaining a total of 274 yards during the season. A former state sprint champion, he was especially effective at running the option and taking the ball outside.
Junior Chris Singleton will return in the fall after missing the 2003 season due to a broken foot. The biggest of the tailbacks, he rushed for 224 yards during his sophomore season, when he ran for 92 yards in a start vs. UCLA. Louis Rankin, a redshirt freshman, also impressed the coaches during spring drills with his hard-charging style.
'They all have really good speed,' Gilbertson says. 'Shelton and Singleton would be the fastest, seeing as they've both sprinted on the track team. I think Kenny James has the ability to make people miss. He's a good open-field runner that reminds me a little of Greg Lewis. Rankin is a very speedy, quick, deceptive runner.'
Fullback should be one of Washington's best positions. Senior Zach Tuiasosopo is a triple threat as a rusher, blocker and pass catcher. He had 29 carries for 87 yards last season while also catching 11 passes for 132 yards.
'We think Zach is a very, very good player at fullback,' Gilbertson says. 'He's very experienced as a third-year starter at that position. Zach is a really big, powerful athlete, and he's tough.'
James Sims' switch from safety to fullback gives Washington another gifted athlete in the backfield. While a bit undersized for the position, he has tremendous speed and is a solid pass catcher. He was one of several players Gilbertson cited after spring drills as a standout player. Walkons Dan Foafoa and Matt Coombs give the Huskies great depth at the position.
Washington returns senior flanker Charles Frederick and a number of talented underclassmen to help offset the loss of Reggie Williams, a first-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft. Williams left Washington after three seasons as the most productive receiver in school history and one of the best pass catchers in the history of the Pac-10. Williams had 238 receptions during his career, including 89 last season.
Somewhat overshadowed by Williams, Frederick has quietly developed into a very reliable receiver. He enters his senior season with 104 career receptions to rank seventh on Washington's all-time list. Last year Frederick was second on the team with 59 catches for 831 yards and five scores. His per-catch average of 14.1 yards was actually better than Williams' mark of 12.5. He had the longest catch of the year, an 87-yard effort that ranks as the second longest reception in school history.
Frederick's speed, quickness and shifty broken field moves commands respect from defenders. Last year against Oregon State he broke Hugh McElhenny's 53-year-old school record with 371 all-purpose yards against the Beavers. He was voted a first-team all-Pac-10 selection in 2003 as a special teams player.
'Charles does a lot of other things too,' Gilbertson says. 'He's a different type of receiver than Reggie, but he's had big games, caught deep balls, made big plays.'
Redshirt freshman Charles Smith enters fall as Frederick's backup at flanker. While he did not play last year, he was impressive enough in spring drills to earn the team's most improved receiver award from the coaching staff.
At split end, sophomores Corey Williams and Quintin Daniels have the task of trying to replace Reggie Williams' productivity. Last year the two combined to catch nine passes for 83 yards and two scores as true freshmen. Corey Williams etched his way into Husky history thanks to his dramatic 21-yard game-winning touchdown catch to beat Washington State in the Apple Cup.
Sonny Shackelford and Bobby Whithorne were two other true freshmen who saw playing time last season. Shackelford led all of the newcomers with seven catches for 92 yards. Whithorne played early in the year before an injury forced him to redshirt the season. Those two, along with redshirt freshman Anthony Russo will fill the slotback role.
Sophomore Jordan Slye, who started three times as a redshirt freshman, also returns after making four catches last year. Redshirt freshman Craig Chambers, a highly touted prep prospect, will see his first playing time this season. Among the walkons at the position, senior Clayton Ramsey has earned one letter in limited playing time.
'I think the key thing is that we have some balance,' Gilbertson says, 'and that the other receivers are people that you have to defend so that you can't just focus on Charles and take our 'A' receiver out of the game.
Washington's reputation for producing top-flight tight ends is almost unsurpassed in college football. While there is no marquee player at the position, a handful of veterans gives the Huskies one of the deepest tight-end groups in the nation.
Back from a back injury that sidelined him for most of the 2003 season and spring ball, Joe Toledo is the only two-time letterwinner among the returnees. At 6-6 and 285 pounds, he is an effective blocker who is also a solid route runner with good hands. Toledo only has eight receptions during his career, but figures to be a key weapon for the Huskies if he can stay healthy.
With Toledo out of the lineup last year, junior college transfer Jon Lyon and redshirt freshman Ben Bandel earned their first letters and proved to be solid offensive contributors. Lyon finished third on the team with 17 receptions, averaging a hefty 13.6 yards per catch. Bandel caught 11 passes for 82 yards.
'They've all played,' Gilbertson says of his corps of tight ends. 'Toledo is a pretty experienced guy, but he's battled some injuries. So has Bandel. We'll probably play a little bit more by committee at that position. They're all big, they're all good blockers and they all catch well. They're not the vertical threats that we've had, but they're all certainly big, powerful people.'
Sophomores Dash Crutchley and Jason Benn add even more depth to the position. Benn earned a letter last year for his play on special teams as a deep snapper while Crutchley will be looking for his first playing time. During spring drills Robert Lewis moved to tight end from linebacker. He redshirted the 2003 season.
The Huskies return three starters from last year's offensive line. Due to a shortage of players, several veterans from the defensive line switched sides during spring drills to give the Huskies more options on the line. The Huskies must replace tackle Nick Newton and center Todd Bachert, who both started all 12 games last season. Also gone is guard Dan Dicks. His career ended prematurely due to chronic knee problems.
Headlining the group of returners is senior left tackle Khalif Barnes. At 6-5, 310, Barnes is not only gifted physically, he brings good speed to the position. Barnes will be a rare four-year starter on the offensive line at Washington. He enters the 2004 season with 37 career starts. Redshirt freshman Chad Macklin enters fall camp as Barnes' backup.
Senior Ryan Brooks, a three-time letterwinner, should man the right tackle spot. A pair of defensive linemen who moved to the offense during spring drills, Graham Lasee and Tui Alailefaleula, will make their debuts as blockers this fall.
Also back on the offensive line are guards Tusi Sa'au and Clay Walker. Both players started six games last year. Sa'au was knocked out of the lineup due to a back injury but is expected back for the fall. Walker can play both center and guard. Rob Meadow, who moved into a starting role early in 2003 before suffering a season-ending knee injury, will bolster the guard position. Sophomore Stanley Daniels shifted from the defensive line and should press for substantial playing time. Sophomore Juan Garcia and redshirt freshman Erik Berglund should also see their first playing time this year. Garcia, who can also play center, suffered a broken leg late in spring drills.
Junior Brad Vanneman, who started twice last year, will be the center working with Washington's inexperienced quarterbacks. A solid run blocker, he has lettered the past two seasons. While Walker or Garcia can backup Vanneman, walkon Brandon Leyritz is also a returning letterwinner at the position.
'In our situation where we don't have a lot of depth, somebody's going to have to know a guard and a tackle position, or a guard and center position,' Gilbertson explains. 'That's what we're doing with guys like Juan Garcia. Vanneman and Walker have also played more than one spot during their time here.'
Washington's defensive line returns just six letterwinners and features just one senior. The numbers are somewhat skewed because several veterans relocated to the offensive line during the spring. Senior Manase Hopoi, a two-year starter, anchors the line from his defensive end position. He managed 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last season. Expected to back up Hopoi is junior college transfer Mike Mapu who redshirted the 2003 season. Junior Ty Eriks is on the opposite side of the line. He switched to the position from fullback last year and worked his way into the starting lineup. Sophomore Brandon Ala was also a part-time starter at end last year.
The interior of the defensive line features sophomore Donny Mateaki. He started four of the final six games in 2003. Redshirt freshman Casey Tyler will be a contender to start at the other tackle position. Sophomore Dan Milsten, who had his spring cut short due to a knee injury, will battle with redshirt freshmen Jordan Reffett and Wilson Afoa for playing time. Junior Andy Heater, who moved to the line from tight end, should also see playing time after recovering from a knee injury he sustained during spring drills.
Gilbertson also says that several incoming players will also get a long look at the defensive line spots. He also notes that the Huskies' defensive line play could be crucial to the team's success. 'There's no question that we need to get some more pass rush,' he says.
Senior Tim Galloway, junior Joe Lobendahn and sophomore Scott White are the three veteran linebackers who will anchor the middle of the Husky defense. Junior Evan Benjamin, a converted safety, moves into the outside linebacker spot and gives the Huskies a great coverage player against pass-oriented teams.
Galloway shares the title as the team's top returning tackler. A three-time letterwinner, he was second on the team last season with 84 stops. Lobendahn entered the 2003 season as a starter at inside linebacker but a knee injury early in the campaign forced him to the sideline. Lobendahn, like Galloway, is a solid and reliable tackler. White played in all 12 games and notched 24 tackles. Durell Moss and Kyle Trew, a pair of redshirt freshmen, are likely reserves to the returning veterans.
Benjamin was impressive in making the move from safety to linebacker. He brings great speed to the position and was one of the team's top tacklers last year with 71 stops. The coaches selected him the most improved linebacker during the spring. Tahj Bomar, one of nine true freshmen to play last year, is his likely backup entering fall camp.
'We feel like Evan plays very well up at the line of scrimmage,' Gilbertson says. 'He looks promising at that position as does Scott White. We have also high hopes for our younger returners and for the incoming freshmen linebackers. We've recruited very well at linebacker. It should make for some good competition.'
Washington's secondary includes nine letterwinners, highlighted by returning starters Derrick Johnson and Jimmy Newell. Johnson has started 27 games at cornerback and was a second-team All-Pac-10 selection in 2003. He enters his senior season with 11 career interceptions to rank sixth on Washington's career list. Last season he led the team with seven pass defenses. Senior Sam Cunningham also returns as a starter at cornerback. That duo is backed up by sophomores Matt Fountaine and Dre Simpson. Both of those players earned letters last season. Josh Okoebor, a junior college transfer and redshirt freshman Cody Ellis are also available.
'We feel very good about our corners. Derrick Johnson, Sam Cunningham and Matt Fountaine give us three very good, quick cover people there,' Gilbertson says. 'I feel like we've recruited some good depth at that position. There will be a battle for the fourth spot with Cody Ellis, Josh Okoebor and Dre Simpson.'
Newell will direct the defense from free safety. Last season Newell was finally able to remain healthy for an entire season and he finished tied for second on the team with 84 tackles and three interceptions. Junior college transfer Dashon Goldson, who missed the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, should provide solid depth at the position along with Kim Taylor, a sophomore letterwinner.
Sophomore C.J. Wallace emerged from spring drills as the probable starter at strong safety. He played in 11 games last season and was the team's most improved defensive back during the spring. Chris Hemphill, a 6-6 redshirt freshman, provides Washington an unusually tall player at the position. He is another young player who showed a lot of promise during spring ball.
'We thought our safety play improved in the spring,' Gilbertson says. 'Jimmy Newell was healthy, bigger and stronger. I'm excited about Dashon Goldson. Then, with C.J. Wallace and Chris Hemphill, I feel like we have some depth.
'I'm also excited about the youngsters coming in,' he continues. 'The thing is that we're young. We don't have a lot of veteran players, but we like how athletic they are.'
Junior walkon Evan Knudson, who handled the field goal and PAT conversion duties in 2003, returns as the incumbent at place kicker. He made 10 of 17 field goal attempts and led the team in scoring with 63 points. Redshirt freshman Michael Braunstein will battle Knudson for the starting spot.
Sophomore Sean Douglas, who was Washington's kickoff specialist last season, will take over the vacated role of punter. Gifted with a strong leg, Douglas just needs to improve his consistency. Knudson is capable of also helping with the punting duties.
Frederick gives Washington the Pac-10's top punt return specialist. Last year he topped the conference with 11.7 yards per return on 29 attempts. He was second on the team in kickoff returns with 11. Several other players, including Derrick Johnson, have proven themselves to be solid kick returners. Galloway and Jason Benn return as the special teams snappers. Mapu can also help out on special teams in that capacity.