Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham wasn't the only Husky to address the media Monday, as UDubSports caught up with the likes Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano, Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell and sophomore quarterback Jake Locker among others.
The Huskies' offensive skill positions will be very young this year after losing the majority of the receiving corp and 1,000-yard running back Louis Rankin to graduation. And while Lappano understands that his offensive weapons are very young, he also understands they are very dangerous.
"Sometimes talent is better than experience, and we all hope that that's going to be the case with our receiver situation. Even though they haven't played a lot, they are a talented group who will get that experience and should get better every game," explained Lappano. "The critical thing for us when we go down to Oregon, because we don't have that much time, is how much is too much and how much is not enough for those kids, because they do have talent."
One of the young Huskies Lappano spoke of was freshman wide receiver Chris Polk, who's also getting some work at running back.
"I think Chris Polk, after the first week of spring ball, did some things, especially in a red zone scrimmage that we had, that was pretty impressive. I think that he has a lot of talent and a lot of ability," expressed Lappano. "We're going to evaluate that further, but he's obviously a quality football player that can run the football, catch the football, do a lot of things."
Locker also had great things to say about Polk.
"Yeah, definitely, I don't see how he couldn't have," exclaimed Locker when asked if Polk stood out to him. "He's an amazing athlete that brings a lot to the table. He's a guy that you see as a hybrid. He catches the ball, runs good routes, and can also do things out of the backfield. He's a guy that would be really tough to game plan for, and will cause a lot of problems for opposing defenses. I'm sure he's a guy that will find his way into the game plan every week."
The receiver that has impressed the most so far this year, according to his coaches and his peers, seems to be sophomore D'Andre Goodwin.
"D'Andre Goodwin had a really good spring, played big in every scrimmage and came up big in the spring game. We may have played him early starting with the Syracuse game - he wasn't as consistent as we wanted throughout the season," explained Lappano. "But he's really grown up. When you see the light at the end of the tunnel, he knew that it was his time and he knows he's the veteran guys out there."
Locker shared in Lappano's sentiments.
"I think D'Andre Goodwin had a very good spring and I think you guys witnessed that as well. He was a playmaker, and established himself as that type of guy," expressed Locker. "He's a guy that I could go to when I didn't see anything else, and he found a way to make a play."
Goodwin is taking the leadership role in stride, and feels this group of receivers not only brings all elements of the position to the Huskies, but really embraces the team mentality.
"It changes it a little bit, but I'm going to always treat it the same," responded Goodwin when asked if being viewed as the leader of the receiving corp changes his mindset. "I'm going to work hard and push the other guys around me to do the same. We have a lot of people that can make plays after the catch with pure instinct and athleticism. We have guys that can flat go up and get it, and I feel like we all can bring a different element to the game. We have guys that can catch the deep ball. We have guys that can turn a short route into a 60-yard gain. Plus, no one thinks they are better than anyone else, and we are all just working hard and having fun."
Of course, receivers can't do much without a solid quarterback, and Locker surely isn't soft. Locker had a decent freshman season, and feels he has greatly improved in the off-season.
"A lot more and I noticed it during the spring," replied Locker when asked if the speed of the game has slowed down. "To be honest, I can't tell you what happened, I was just more comfortable. It felt like being a senior in high school. I saw things better and just felt more comfortable. I didn't have to think about things, I could just play. It was a lot less thinking, and just more playing. I think it helped me complete more passes, and allowed me to be more comfortable in the pocket."
Locker also feels that he has gained a level of confidence from his teammates.
"After playing a year, things do change with the guys in the huddle and on the team. I can take more of a vocal leadership role, having the credibility of playing a year," explained Locker. "You know what the game is like, and players will listen to you about that. That has changed and allowed me to be more of a vocal leader and be more outspoken."
First year Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell is looking to right a ship that veered way off course. Donatell, who spent 18 straight seasons in the NFL before taking over the reigns of the Husky defense, will be in charge of improving a defense that ranked as the worst in Washington's history. However, Donatell doesn't look at the situation as a grim one, rather a fun one.
"To me, it's like it happened 10 years ago. We don't spend a lot of time talking about it, but what we did, was evaluate it and assessed it. All of my thinking is forward and all that we want to do is learn from the past, then leave it," explained Donatell. "Anything that was unpleasant, we don't have to think about that. We want to have fun, and my attitude is that we are building a defense, and we're going to have fun doing it. This is college and they should enjoy it. Our goal is to build a defense that people are proud to watch, and to have fun doing it - that should come out in their play."
Washington's secondary, which was sketchy last season to say the least, may prove to be the backbone of the Husky defense this season. And the starting secondary has some pretty good size to boot, with 6-foot-2, 202-pound Mesphin Forrester, 6-foot-0, 205-pound Quinton Richardson, 6-foot-1, 215-pound Nate Williams and 6-foot-1, 210-pound Victor Aiyewa. Donatell feels the Huskies are simply keeping pace with the size of other Pac-10 teams.
"When you're bigger, you match up better with big people. Oregon has big people and USC has big people," explained Donatell. "Guys are willing and on a proper path of development. You can't just flip a switch, but they are improving. We have heard from our team leaders that they got some good reps in over the summer and that they have made yet another step."
Williams feels the secondary will use it's size to it's advantage.
"With the size in the secondary, we plan on hitting some people, and it should help because bigger receivers can't size us up," explained Williams. "But we have more than just size. Some players that look big are also very fast."
Williams has enjoyed learning under a new coordinator and echoed the feeling of fun that Donatell spoke of.
"It hasn't been hard at all," Williams said of switch in defensive coordinators. "I think last season was more difficult. Coach [Donatell] has actually taken the defense and made it more simple and easier to understand in terms of learning and understanding it. That has actually made it more fun. Fun is our favorite word and we hope it helps us get more wins."
Arguably the weakest part of the Husky defense will be the defensive line, and junior defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim feels the need to be a leader the group.
"I'm going to need to be a leader both on and off the field," said Te'o-Nesheim. "Showing the younger players study habits and what it takes to play Husky football."
Losing sixth-year senior center Juan Garcia to a possible season-ending injury hurt the Huskies' offensive line, but the boys up front should still be the strongest part of the offense in 2008. However, sophomore offensive tackle Cody Habben knows the line will feel the absence of Garcia.
"It really sucks not having Juan there. He's a great leader on the offensive line, and he really anchors us down," said Habben. "It was hard when he first went down. We just have to pick up our game even more, because he was a big part of our offensive line. He did a lot for us, so hopefully we can do a lot for him by playing harder."
Willingham's future at Washington hinges on the Huskies' 2008 season. However, Locker doesn't feel any added pressure to perform at a high level.
"I don't think it's any different than in the past. We all have the same common goal that we've had since Willingham has been here, and that's to win games," explained Locker. "That hasn't changed and it never will. We will do everything to the best of our ability to make that happen. It's not a distraction or even something we talk about. Our focus is to win games, and I believe his is too. We're all on the same page here."