New Husky Coach, Chris Peterson, has definitely changed the way things are being done in Husky Football. It is especially noticeable when it comes to systematic things such as practice organization and staff management but also in areas such as player expectations and accountability. In short, there has been an overall fundamental change in how everything is done, and I for one, think this is going to result in improvements in all three phases of the game and this is in turn is going to result in the Huskies finally returning to the status as a constant contender for the Rose Bowl and a conference championship. Their emphasis on fundamentals is the fundamental change in the program.
Because of this disciplined and fundamental approach we are liable see less penalties, less missed tackles, less drops, and less breakdowns in the kicking game. In short, this Husky team will block and tackle better simply because they work on it more.
This is not intended as a comparison or as a contrast to the out-going system of Steve Sarkisian. It is, however, a proven system whereas Coach Sark’s was one that was in a constant state of development and change simply because it was his first head coaching job and he was implementing and changing it as he went. Coach Peterson already has a system that he believes in and he brought in 8 of his coaches to help him put in their way of doing things.
New rules, new terminology, new energy, and a new attitude all appear to be being well received and accepted by the current players simply because they too really want it to work and that means winning more games and ultimately a championship.
Obviously, I’m a hopelessly optimistic Husky fan who sees everything through “purple lenses” but I only missed a couple of the spring sessions and I’m convinced that these fundamental changes (together with a favorable opening schedule) should prepare this team well for their league opener against the Stanford Cardinal on September 27th, which is by far the most important game of the season. They have a whole training camp and pre-season to prepare for league play but based upon first impressions this Husky team looks like it could be really good once they get everyone back and healthy.
So let’s first look at the most important part of the equation, personnel development and analysis: First and foremost the signing class of 24 was by far the best transitional class over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, there have been 5 coaching transitional changes over that period of time and that alone has set back winning which always comes with continuity. I believe that Coach Peterson is here for the long haul and ten years from now I hope I am proven right. I would love it if he stays for 15-20 years because I know that means the Huskies would have won some championships along the way.
One of the best things that Coach Sark did for the program was building back the personnel. There are at least 4 future NFL players on the defense side of the ball alone. Danny Shelton, Hauoli Kikaha, Shaq Thompson and Marcus Peters will all end up playing the next level. Each is better right now then they have ever been since they entered the program.
Up front is where most of the improvement is noticeable with regard to personnel. The Huskies are two deep across both lines and that hasn’t been the case for over a decade. That, of course, is a tribute to Coach Sarkisian and the recruiting efforts of his staff.
Unfortunately, some of the very best players on the offense were not participating in the spring drills but with Kasen Williams, Dexter Charles, and Micah Hatchie all returning and with quarterback, Cyler Myles, joining them, the offense will likewise have some outstanding high level talent to complement those who have benefited from their absences.
With Williams and Myles returning the Huskies will also be entirely different at the skill positions. Right now (4.28 in the 40), John Ross, and (4.4) Jaydon Mickens are two of the quickest kids ever to play for Washington. They are simply “make you miss” players and have the burst to take it the distance anytime on any play. They need to be complemented by the size of Williams and the tight ends and hopefully that works itself out.
The running back situation had been up and down most of the spring due to injuries and with the obvious departure of Bishop Sankey. Jesse Callier and Dwayne Washington were both slowed with injury this spring but Deontae Cooper was obviously getting better and better with more and more reps. He was running without a knee brace and appeared to have his burst returning. He is bigger and probably faster than Sankey was and with Callier and Washington injured it allowed for the emergence of red-shirt freshman, Lavon Coleman, who at close to 220, appears to offer a completely different dimension to the position. But, it is the ability and power of Shaq Thompson that completely changes the position because Shaq brings a “Corey Dillon” type back into the equation. This is by far the deepest group of backs (5) and when all are well, it appears the position will still be solid in spite of losing a great one like Sankey.
Charles and Hatchie are easily two of the most athletic players in the offensive line and their absence, likewise due to rehab, really allowed new OL coach, Chris Strausser, to develop his depth. In particular, seniors, Ben Riva, Mike Criste and Colin Tanagawa along with junior, Siosifa Tufunga are all playing their best football right now and as they should because of their experience. Youngsters like Jake Eldrenkamp and Dane Crane are also adapting well to Straussser’s emphasis on more knee bend and a lower striking base which is the direct result of repeating drills over and over and over.
There was simply been more emphasis on fundamental drills than there ever has been at Washington in a long, long time. Of course that is what spring practices are all about but the emphasis on fundamental footwork, hand placement, and overall body position and leverage was apparent since practice one. Nothing has been being taken for granted when it comes to the simplest of body movements and you could look around the practice field and literally see as many as seven different fundamental drills taking place at the same time.
The practice “efficiency” and time use was markedly noticeable and that applied to all positions and all three phases of the game. Right now, the kicking game alone is better organized and structured with regard to drills and fundamentals than it has ever been at Washington going back to when Jim Lambright brought back Al Roberts from the NFL to put in the exact same fundamentals. There is a reason why Coach Peterson’s teams have regularly been one of the best in the nation in kick-off and punt returns. They work at it and drill it as much as any system I have watched here at Washington. Special team’s coordinator, Jeff Choate, is also as detailed and experienced as any special teams coach we’ve had at Washington. An ex-high school coach, Choate, has coordinated kicking at Utah State, Eastern Illinois, Boise State, and Florida. He will also assist along the defensive front with defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski who served in that role for Coach Peterson at Boise State where he was also a Hall of Fame player for Skip Hall back in the 80’s.
The Huskies appear solid at the specialist positions but that won’t be entirely decided until the incoming signee, Tristan Vizcaino, joins the competition for both the punting and kicker jobs. Still, snapper, Ryan Mosel, is a two year starter and Coach Peterson personally coaches the returners so you can tell there is tremendous emphasis in all phases of the kicking game. With Ross, Mickens, Marvin Hall, and Shaq, Coach Peterson has multiple options as to who will do the returning.
Many fans worry about how the kids have responded to yet another coaching turnover but I’ve always felt that kids are way more resilient than adults and they want to adapt to and embrace change more heartedly than do those of us set in our ways. From my perspective I think these Huskies know that they are the ones who will determine the outcome of the games and after the way they rallied together in their bowl win against BYU, they are more than eager to embrace these new coaches and the system they are attempting to implement.
As impressive as the coaching and effort it is, it is the overall structure of the program that is so noticeable. The new weight and strength coach, Tim Socha, is nothing short of a force in his own right. He brings a wonderful combination of hard work and fun to the whole system. He and his staff have not missed a beat with these kids and the change in his area appears to have been readily accepted by the players. For years under Coach James and Lambright we always believed we beat our opponents in the weight room and with our conditioning. I see that in Socha’s approach and it was obvious by their efforts in the end-of-the-year “combine” tests that they are improving across the board in their physical preparations.
Coach Peterson likewise brought in his own recruiting system and the combination of Keith Bhonapha, running back/recruiting coordinator and Rich Rasmussen, recruiting director along with the background of the coaches in Peterson’s system gives the Huskies a well coordinated approach to finding “their kind of guys”.
Sure there are a lot of new things but football is still football and this guy knows what he’s doing and who is doing it for him. When everyone who missed spring returns this week this could be a really good team but for now they will simply be getting better on a daily basis. Last spring gave us a glimpse of the wonderful organization that Coach Peterson has brought to Washington football and hopefully it results in a championship run.