I have been trying to approach the 2008 season with the glass half full method as far as Husky football is concerned. On offense I've written about how Jake Locker walks on water, how the veteran offensive line will blast holes for inexperienced running backs, and why I think the current group of inexperienced wide receivers are better than the experienced ones that graduated.
On defense I have made the case that Washington has one of the best sets of LB's in the Pac Ten, and the defensive backfield finally has enough depth and talent to compete. I have also talked about how much I like DE Daniel Teo Nesheim and what a great year I anticipate him having. The interior of the defensive line is a concern, but we have some very large young guys that have the potential to come in and play right away.
If you ask the coaches the word is they feel they have the talent to win eight games this year which would be great improvement. If you ask me I feel the same way, but the coaches and I felt that way the last two seasons and watched it go up in smoke when Stanback was injured 2006. It happend again in 2007 when the defense couldn't stop anyone. Add to that the inability to pick up crucial yards to keep possession in the fourth quarter to put games away during both of those years.
Lets talk about what can go wrong in 2008. Plenty of things can go wrong and we setting down the half full glass and picking up the half empty one to talk about it.
1. We all have a big man crush on Jake Locker, but what if he gets injured? Behind him is RS Ronnie Fouch who has never taken a snap in a game and is pretty green, and behind him is one true frosh who may not ever end up playing QB at UW once everything shakes out. For Washington to do well Locker needs to be around for all twelve games, if he is injured the wheels are going to come off pretty quickly. If you lose Locker, and Fouch it will get 2007 UCLA ugly.
2. The schedule is rated as the toughest in the country. Washington starts off against Oregon, then they get BYU, and Oklahoma at home before they take their first bye week. what if they start off 0-3? Once again even with Jake Locker the wheels can come off pretty quickly for a program that hasn't had a winning season in four years. Instead of handing out just chocolate milk after practice Coach Willingham may have to lace it with Zoloft. Washington needs to beat BYU if they have any hope in 2008, and that won't be easy.
3. D'Andre Goodwin looked like the only receiver on the team ready for Pac Ten play this Spring. What happens if that continues to be the case this fall? What if none of the highly touted frosh, and redshirts are ready to play? What it means is Jake is going to be putting a lot more on his shoulders than he has to, and that can mean the risk of serious injury when he is forced to run the ball more than he should. We are all counting on Jake to improve his passing percentage this season, but it won't happen if guys don't get open, and when they do end up dropping the ball.
4. The offensive line is labeled as the strength but what if injuries happen at the tackle position? If that happens Washington would have to rely on two redshirts who haven't played a snap yet. That is never good even though Ossai, and Habben earned starting time as redshirts the previous two years. UW could always move a veteran to from the interior outside, but veteran depth at tackle is a concern. Garcia is progressing ahead of schedule, but how big of a talent drop off will it be if he is reinjured?
5. We all expect improvement at TE with RS Chris Izbicki, and Fr Kavario Middleton being added to the mix to help out Sr. Mike Gottleib. What if they aren't ready to contribute? You get a replay of last season with Gottleib, and Walt Winter acting mostly as blockers while the TE still goes missing from the Husky offense in 2008. Kavario is going to be more of a receiver than a blocker this year, rarely does a true frosh have the muscle, and technique to come through in the first year.
6. Brandon Johnson's claim to fame was the second half of the California game last season, other than that he didn't pick up any significant playing time. What if Washington can't establish a go to running back in 2008? What if for some reason Johnson doesn't come back 100% from his knee surgery? Well this would be quite serious because Griffin, and Yakaboski aren't in the same league as Brandon at this point. Curtis Shaw could be the answer along with Chris Polk, but who would pick up those long third and two's? This team needs a solid year from Brandon Johnson to get it done, or they have to look at Homer and Kravitz in short yardage situations.
7. The cornerbacks looked pretty good this spring. RS Quinton Richardson held his own at CB along with Sr Mesphin Forrester, and SR Byron Davenport. In addition to that they have an improved Vonzell McDowell, and Matt Mosley who also started some games in 2007. What happens if this spring was a mirage produced against the mediocre competition provided by Washington's green receivers? If that is the case it is a replay of the last four years with the exception of depth to insert when players get injured. Whatever happens back here we are not going to run out of CB's in 2008.
8. Nate Williams and Victor Aieyewa seemed to put the nasty back into the safety position at Washington this spring. They may even be able to hold off Sr. Jason Wells when he returns to full strength during camp. What happens if they aren't as good as we thought? Just like at CB it means a lot more pressure on the offense to score points to keep up. The best offense is a good defense, and in the Pac Ten it means pass defense. One thing for sure, the Huskies have plenty of experienced depth to rely on at safety.
9. Daniel Teo Nesheim, and Darion Jones look solid at defensive end. If Matthews can move back outside the Huskies will have a nice rotation at the positions. What happens if one of them is injured? This would be pretty serious because the depth behind them even with the addition of frosh Everette Thompson is non existant. Kelani Aldrich still needs another year to add weight.
10. What if DT Cameron Elisara doesn't have a breakthrough season, or if they can't find anyone to play beside him? The hope was either Kirton, Ta'amu, Kelemente, or Noble can be the answer at the other tackle spot. The coaches also hope that the hard working Elisara continues to improve because he wasn't there yet in the Spring. If there is no answer at tackle the undersized Matthews has to move over from DE which compromises the thin depth over there which also means the domino's start to tip over for this line.
Cameron Elisara was overpowered by a true frosh center in practice yesterday during the one on ones. Either Mykena Ikehara is the next coming of Bern Brostek, or Elisara still isn't ready. Kelemente, and Noble still have some academic hurdles to finish up before they hit the practice field. As every day passes those two kids become a good bet to miss the season and enroll in January. You better hope Ta'amu, and Kirton come through.
11. The kickers had a below average spring. The spring game was marked by missed field goals. What happens if Ryan Perkins continues to break down physically, and Erik Folk is unable to become accurate enough to take over? It means Washington will be going for it a lot more on fourth down rather than taking the points.
12. Jared Ballman had a very good year punting in 2007. That came after a spring when he didn't look very good. He had that kind of spring again in 2008. What happens if he doesn't snap out of it? Good punting is just huge for any defense. When you lengthen the field with a good punt it makes the opposing offense work harder. If Ballman regresses it puts extra strain on a young defense coming off it's worst performance in Husky history.
13. Louis Rankin ended up returning kicks because the true frosh in 2007 weren't as big of a return threat plus they had problems handling the ball. What if that doesn't change in 2008 since the same cast of characters return minus Rankin? A third of the game is special teams, and Washington has sucked at special teams every year since Willingham has been here. Give up points by not handling the ball and you end up losing games you should win.
14. The departed Anthony Russo returned punts the last three years. He wasn't a gamebreaker, and while he had ok hands, he still coughed it up on occasion. D'Andre Goodwin, Chris Polk, and Curtis Shaw will all fight for the position in 2008. What if they don't show an improvement over Russo? The one good thing about Russo is he didn't turn it over too much. The new guys have a lot more speed, but the lack of experience may result in some costly turnovers.
15. The LB position is being touted as an obvious strength, but the best LB on the team will be out the first 2-3 games, plus the coach is hinting that may be the least of his current problems if he does not get his academics in order. If EJ Savannah doesn't make it back it is a blow to a rebuilding defense. Overall health at LB, and EJ's return is key for helping this group meet its potential. As we saw in the spring game the defense is a lot better with EJ in there.