March 28, 2003
2003 Husky Spring Outlook Huskies Seek to Add Balance to Offense
The goals Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel has established for the team's annual spring practice period are pretty well known. He wants to see the Huskies establish a better running game on offense and to improve its overall play on defense.
Neuheisel, who enters his fifth year as the Huskies head coach in 2003, feels the team has the talent to compete for a Pac-10 championship next season. Washington returns 52 lettermen from last year's squad that posted a 7-6 record and went 4-4 in conference play. That list includes eight starters on offense and eight starters on defense. The Huskies will look to fill both kicking positions next fall when a pair of scholarship freshmen report for fall camp.
"I think our guys are anxious to improve," Neuheisel says. "The attitude and the commitment in the offseason have been good and what you want to see from a team that does not want to go 7-6 again. As coaches, we have to make sure that the only guys who run down that tunnel on gameday are the ones who have paid the price to do so. I think that will provide some spirited competition this spring.
"Ultimately, those of us who are left in charge of this program, players and coaches alike, have to understand that we have a tremendous responsibility and a tremendous opportunity to what we all set out to do, which was to get ourselves back to the top. Now we just have to go about doing it, day by day. Implementing it is the next step and we have 15 practices to do that. So it is exciting. "We have enough talent to win," Neuheisel says. "It is a matter of putting the pieces together and making sure that everyone is committed as the next guy to getting it achieved."
Neuheisel would like to see the Huskies strike a better balance between running and passing the ball during the 2003 season. Last year the Huskies broke various school passing standards when they threw the ball 621 times during the season. Only Texas Tech (770) and Hawaii (731) threw the ball more, both playing 14-game seasons.
The Huskies return four starters on the offensive line, record-setting quarterback Cody Pickett, first-team All-American Reggie Williams at wide receiver and senior tailback Rich Alexis as the foundation of the offense. The Huskies have the veteran experience to once again be one of the most impressive offenses in the country. But this season, they would like to do it with more success running the ball.
"We need to run the ball more and for more yardage," Neuheisel says. "We played to our strength last year, but in so doing we exposed a weakness and we need to make sure we don't have a weakness as we go forward."
The old adage in the Pac-10 is that it takes a senior quarterback to lead a team to the Rose Bowl. That has been the case for nine of the last 11 teams to win the conference championship. Washington is fortunate to have veteran signalcaller Cody Pickett in that role.
The fifth-year senior will be a top preseason candidate for both the Davey O'Brien Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award which are presented to the nation's top quarterback. While Washington's more balanced approach may mean that Pickett will not duplicate the record number of passing feats he accomplished last season, his ability to lead the Huskies to victories could mean much more in terms of individual awards.
Pickett took full advantage of Washington's game plan to throw the ball in 2002. He passed for more yards than any player in Pac-10 history, including USC quarterback Carson Palmer, the Heisman Trophy winner. In the expanded 12-game season, Pickett threw for 4,458 yards, becoming the first Pac-10 signalcaller to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season. He also benefited by the NCAA's decision to count postseason results in season statistics for the first time.
As it turned out, Pickett did not need the extra games to eclipse the existing Pac-10 passing record set by Washington State's Ryan Leaf in 1997. He blew by Leaf's mark of 3,637 yards during the 11th game of the season.
Pickett finished the year ranked second nationally with 28.08 completions per game and was third in total offense at 328.7 yards per game. He is the leading returning player for the 2003 campaign in both categories. Only Hawaii's Timmy Chang returns with more total passing yards (4,474) than Pickett (4,458), but he racked up his impressive total in 14 games, one more than his Husky counterpart.
Already a four-time letterwinner, after being granted a medical redshirt for the 1999 season after playing in just one game, Pickett enters his final season at UW with 6,783 career passing yards. He needs to average 261 yards per game as a senior to join the exclusive 10,000-yard passing club.
An extremely competitive athlete, Pickett has demonstrated he has a vast array of passes in his repertoire. He can throw the deep ball - he has six pass completions of more than 70 yards in his career - and has the touch to lead running backs as they run screen patterns. Pickett's size and speed gives him great mobility in the pocket and he has been called on to run the option in the past. With 26 game appearances and 23 career starts, he has the game savvy and leadership to guide a veteran offense that includes 26 letterwinners.
Pickett really impressed Husky fans during his sophomore campaign when he suffered a painful shoulder separation at midseason. He only allowed the injury to keep him out of one game before returning to his starting role where he promptly set the school single-game passing record with 455 yards against Arizona.
While the numbers were impressive, Neuheisel knows the ultimate gauge for measuring the success of a quarterback is the final score.
"He needs to win and he knows that," Neuheisel says. "That's what quarterbacks are judged on. Cody has a lot of great attributes. One is that he is very competitive. When he says he would trade the stats for wins, he is very serious and sincere.
"We want Cody to become more consistent in his understanding of what we are trying to accomplish on offense," Neuheisel says. "What we want to do is average a certain amount of yards per attempt and not worry about how many throws we are getting. That shows more consistency and productivity than simply running up yards. We set all kinds of records for yardage and first downs, but they didn't necessary generate points. That's the key."
If the Huskies can generate a more productive running game, after averaging an all-time low average of 74.5 rushing yards per game last season, Neuheisel says that will benefit the passing game.
"If we can get a running game going, I think we'll have more big plays," Neuheisel says. "You can take advantage of people ganging up on your run. Big plays are hard to come by when everyone is backed up and just trying to play pass defense."
One area of emphasis during the spring will be to find a reliable backup to Pickett. Taylor Barton, who was the reserve signalcaller for the past two years, was a senior in 2002. There are no other quarterbacks on the roster that have played in a game. The two players who will get the repetitions in the backup spot will be sophomore Casey Paus and redshirt freshman Isiah Stanback. The duo gives the Husky coaches some variety at the position.
The 6-5 Paus is more of a classic dropback thrower while Stanback could be used as a conventional passer or an option quarterback. Stanback is considered such an outstanding athlete that he will divide his time during spring drills also working with the Husky wide receiving corps.
"This is a big year for Casey," says Neuheisel, a former college quarterback. "He will get the opportunity to prove he can play. He will have the chance to prove he is a guy who can take us to a championship. That's what we are looking for in the position here."
Neuheisel cautions that Stanback's role as a two-position player does not indicate a permanent move to wide receiver.
"With Cody returning as our senior quarterback, it does not make sense to have one of the best athletes on the team standing on the sidelines," Neuheisel says. "This is not a wholesale change, but we do want him to have some opportunities at wide receiver. I still want him to be a quarterback. He has some work ahead of him. He has to learn and dedicate himself to understanding how we are trying to play offense.
"We also have to come a little towards him in terms of highlighting his athletic ability. He has some unique abilities. It doesn't mean that he cannot drop back and throw and do all of the things that our offense currently calls for. He also has some unique features that we would like to highlight, like we did with Marques (Tuiasosopo). He gives you a lot of options."
The need to improve the Husky running game will draw the most attention this spring. The Huskies return two veterans and will look to a pair of redshirt freshmen to improve the productivity of the tailback position. Senior Rich Alexis, the most veteran player at the position, will miss spring drills while recuperating from off-season shoulder surgery.
The lone loss from last year's running back stable is Braxton Cleman. While battling a serious hamstring injury during the first half of the season, Cleman was second on the team with 228 yards on 74 carries. He completed his career with 936 rushing yards on 219 carries. Cleman was also an outstanding pass catcher, snaring 27 receptions for 138 yards last year. As a senior, he set a UW receiving record with 15 catches in a game with USC.
Alexis has appeared in 35 games, including eight starts last season. He has rushed for 1805 yards and 24 touchdowns during his career. Alexis has also proven to be an effective pass receiver. He had 27 of his career 44 receptions last year, including seven catches in a game against Wyoming.
Junior Chris Singleton was third on the team in rushing in 2002 with 224 yards on 64 carries. His top outing came against UCLA when he rushed 20 times for 92 yards. Singleton started against the Bruins and Oregon State and has carried the ball a total of 78 times during his career.
Two highly touted redshirt freshmen, Kenny James and Shelton Sampson, will get plenty of carries during the spring. James was regarded as one of the top prep running backs coming out of the high school ranks in 2001. He rushed for 2,900 yards and 49 touchdowns during his senior year.
Shelton Sampson brings impressive speed to the position. He won three consecutive state 110-meter high hurdle titles as a standout prep athlete. During the winter he competed for the Husky track team and ran an NCAA indoor qualifying time in the 200 meters.
"Rich has had lots of carries here, so we know what he brings to the position," Neuheisel says. "We probably don't need to see him in spring ball like we do Kenny James, Shelton Sampson and Chris Singleton. Those three guys will get a whole lot of work.
"They are certainly different athletes, but in terms of who gives us what in respect to our offense, we'll have to wait and see. We have to find out which one, or what combination, will make us successful. It will be a spirited competition."
Neuheisel does not plan on bringing the two young running backs along slowly.
"We need to develop an attitude in addition to a proficiency," he says. "In developing attitude you cannot be cautious. You have to go."
The Huskies return all of their fullbacks from last season. Heading that group is junior Zach Tuiasosopo, who moved to offense last spring after starting his career at outside linebacker. He carried the ball 15 times last season, the only player at the position to run the ball.
Also returning to the position are sophomore Ty Eriks and senior Adam Seery. Like Tuiasosopo, Eriks started at UW as an outside linebacker. Seery moved into the position last year after playing quarterback and safety earlier in his career.
"Zach and Ty will get the bulk of the work and we'll look to develop a third person at the position," Neuheisel says. "Developing this position will go a long way in helping us to run the ball better. We would also like to make sure the position is a good pass receiver because that helps the play-action game."
While the ranks are lacking the large number of returning veteran players from a year ago, the Husky wide receivers could be one of the top groups in the country thanks to returning first-team All-American Reggie Williams and rapidly developing junior Charles Frederick.
Washington lost four receivers who totaled 121 receptions last year. Add departed tight end Kevin Ware and that total grows to 163 catches. Williams and Frederick combined for 139 receptions.
Williams, who in two years has established himself as the top wideout in Washington history, will be a leading candidate for the 2003 Biletnikoff Award, presented to the nation's top receiver. He caught 94 passes for 1,454 yards as a sophomore and enters his junior season with 149 career catches good for 2,427 yards. His two-year total is the best ever among Pac-10 receivers. USC standout Keyshawn Johnson totaled 148 catches and 2,358 yards in the 1994 and 1995 seasons, his junior and senior seasons.
Last season Williams ranked eighth nationally with an average of 7.23 receptions per game and was ninth in reception yards per game at 111.85. His highlights included a school-record 89-yard touchdown catch against San Jose State, a last-minute 70-yard game-winning TD reception against Arizona and a 14-catch, 198-yard, three-touchdown performance on the road at Oregon.
Williams was at his best down the stretch as the Huskies played themselves back into the bowl picture. Dubbed "Mr. November," he caught 35 passes during Washington's final three regular season games. That included a 12-reception, 169-yard performance at Washington State while being defended by Cougar All-America cornerback Marcus Trufant.
A strong, physical player, Williams has drawn raves by the Husky coaches for his often overlooked blocking skills. He joined the ranks of the Husky track team during the winter quarter to work on his speed and will participate in the outdoor season this spring.
"Reggie can break a game open in a single play," Neuheisel says. "He has tremendous abilities and that is a credit to his work ethic. He is naturally gifted as a receiver, but it's the effort he makes to improve himself in all areas of the game that has made him an All-American.
"I think Reggie can become a much cleaner route runner and not rely on his physical dominance to get the ball. That's something we would like to see him improve upon."
Neuheisel wants to see his standout receiver take on the added role as a team leader this year.
"He is going to be a leader whether he wants to or not," Neuheisel says. "Reggie is a someone the other players will look to. There's no question he has a huge role on this team as a leader. If the younger players take note of his work ethic, that will be a real positive for us."
While Williams was grabbing most of the headlines last season, the development of Frederick as another reliable receiver is equally important to the Huskies' offensive plans. While he only started twice, Frederick caught 45 passes for 651 yards. He also acted as UW's top punt and kickoff returner last year.
Frederick's speed and elusiveness makes him a dangerous player in the open field. He had at least two catches in every game after spending his freshman year concentrating on special teams duties.
"I think he made some significant steps and I hope he can continue on that path," Neuheisel says of Frederick. "There is no question that he has raw ability. We would like to harness it and see how good he can be."
That maturation began during the Huskies' off-season workout program when Frederick elected not to return to the UW basketball team and instead concentrate on football conditioning.
To help fill the void at receiver, Neuheisel plans on giving redshirt freshman quarterback Isaiah Stanback some opportunities at the position.
"I still want him to be a quarterback," says Neuheisel who was pleased with Stanback's development last year while helping to guide the Husky scout squads. "With Cody returning as our senior quarterback, it does not make sense to have one of the best athletes on your team standing on the sidelines."
Neuheisel says another possibility is to try sophomore cornerback Nate Robinson at a slot receiver spot. He briefly played the position when he first reported to the Huskies last fall, but moved to defense when it became apparent there was an abundance of receivers on last year's team.
"Those two guys are good solutions for this team," Neuheisel says. "We put an emphasis on the position in our recruiting and we fill we have some freshmen coming he who we are optimistic about."
Justin Robbins, who caught 22 catches as a freshman in 2000, will rejoin the team this spring after missing most of the last two years due to injury. Also fitting into the position lineup are walkons Doug Clarke and Matt Griffith. Both players have appeared in games but never recorded a reception.
"Justin is a wonderful person and we hope he will be able to come back and be a factor," Neuheisel says. "I know he's a good football player. We just have to see what level he is able to perform."
Washington has developed a reputation as the best school in the country for tight ends since the early '90s. Who will be the next player to step into that spotlight is not clear. While sophomore Joe Toledo received a generous amount of playing time last year, primarily in two tight end sets, he will sit out the spring due to shoulder surgery.
Washington took the step of recruiting Jon Lyon, a top junior college tight end, to stabilize the position. Lyon enrolled at the University in January, went through the off-season conditioning program, and will likely work with the first-team offense during the spring
"Because there is not a lot of returning experience at the position, we decided to go to the junior college ranks to bring in Jon," Neuheisel says. "We think he will give us something. He is a very bright kid. How well he handles the line of scrimmage play and how soon he becomes a bonafide receiver is what we want to know."
Sophomore Andy Heater also returns after playing in three games last season. Redshirt freshmen Ben Bandel is another player the coaches are eager to see in action in addition to classmate Jason Benn and walkon Todd Jensen.
"Joe has that natural pass catching ability and is a real presence on the line," Neuheisel says. "It is unfortunate he will miss the spring."
The Huskies return 11 lettermen and four starters on its offensive line. Considering that junior Dan Dicks started six times last year when senior Elliot Zajac was out due to an injury, Washington can claim to return the entire starting quintet.
The list of starters includes weakside tackle Khalif Barnes, weakside guard Aaron Butler, center Todd Bachert and strongside tackle Nick Newton. Dicks returns at the weakside guard position. Bachert and Newton are seniors while the other three players are juniors. Barnes, Newton and Bachert will all be third-year starters.
Last year the group provided great security while Pickett was attempting a record 612 pass attempts. The Huskies surrendered 37 sacks during the season, or just once every 17.5 times the team tried to throw the ball. Run blocking was more problematic. The Huskies averaged just 74.5 yards per game, ranking ninth in the Pac-10.
"I would love to say that we are a great offensive line because we have experience," Neuheisel says. "The reality is we can play better in our front and we are going to play better in our front. I thought they did a very good job of pass protection. It is not as if we are coming back without any positive experiences. We have had those. Now we just need to put the whole package together."
With Bachert, a Rimington Trophy candidate in 2003, out of spring drills, the coaching staff will give redshirt freshman Clay Walker the opportunity to play center. Classmate Robin Kezirian and senior walkon Mike Thompson will also play the position.
Dicks and sophomore Rob Meadow will compete for the strongside guard position. Meadow started twice last season at strongside tackle. Senior Francisco Tipoti and junior Ryan Brooks are the returning backups at the tackle positions. Sophomore Brad Vanneman, a center, will also miss the spring due to a foot injury.
Neuheisel says the goal this spring will find the best combination of players. Even if that means shifting some positions on the line
"Whether it is with the four returning starters or some other group, we want to get the best players on the field," Neuheisel says. "
Neuheisel feels developing the backups and increased competition will help the unit to develop.
"That really is the cornerstone for all great football teams," he says. "You have to have great competition. The guys who are returning starters are certainly going to have the opportunity to maintain their starting status, but they are also going to get pressed. That is how we are going to get better as a football team. When they backups say, 'No, that's not good enough. I want to be a starter.'"
Washington will build its defense around eight returning starters and 26 returning lettermen. The Huskies will look to replace departed starters Jafar Williams at outside linebacker, Kai Ellis at defensive end and Ben Mahdavi and inside linebacker. Those three players all ranked among the top six tacklers on last year's team. Mahdavi tied for the team lead with 100 tackles.
Like the other Pac-10 schools, the Huskies could benefit by the fact so many talented senior quarterbacks graduated from conference schools last year. Washington's secondary, which has been riddled by injuries the past two seasons, returns 11 players who have earned at least one letter.
"We need to get better on the defensive side of the ball," Neuheisel says. "We played much better pass defense at the end of the regular season last year and I thought our front did a nice job against the run. If we can carry those things over, and add more pressure to the quarterback, we'll be on the right track."
The Husky defense ranked 11th nationally against the run, allowing just 97.7 yards per game. That was the best total since the 1991 National Championship season and the fifth-best total since the 1964 season. During the final five games of the regular season the Husky secondary allowed 210 passing yards per game and totaled nine interceptions while allowing only six touchdowns.
Three key starters on the Husky defensive line return in 2003. That group includes senior defensive tackle Terry Johnson, junior defensive tackle Josh Miller and junior defensive end Manase Hopoi. Senior tackle Jerome Stevens, a key reserve, is also back as well as a cast of reserve players who have all seen valuable playing time. Miller is not expected to practice during the spring due to a back injury.
"What we need are for those guys to improve," Neuheisel says. "We need to be a little stronger up there. Then we need our younger players to come along and be able to effectively get on the field for some plays so those starters can play one less play in a row and help to keep some fresh guys on the field.
In his first season of collegiate play, Hopoi made a solid debut by totaling 38 tackles, including 17 for lost yardage and seven sacks. He started all 13 games and managed to rack up four tackles for loss against both Arizona and Purdue in the Sun Bowl.
"Manase has great instincts to play the game and he has great hands," Neuheisel says. "He just has to get stronger and he will. He has not been blessed with blazing speed, so he needs to develop his technique to continue to improve."
Johnson, also a first-time starter last year, was not far behind Hopoi, sacking opponent quarterbacks five times and totaling 25 tackles. Miller, who started every game in 2002, had 33 total tackles, including seven for lost yards.
"Terry is an astonishing athlete," Neuheisel says. "You have to remember he was also recruited out of high school to play college volleyball. He has done some impressive things in the weightroom this year and he's run a 4.8 40, so we know he has the physical tools to get the job done. Josh has been very steady for us and I think we will continue to see him improve."
Several younger players will join one junior college transfer in competing for their first playing time.
Redshirt freshman Donny Mateaki, sophomore Mike Savicky and junior college transfer Mike Mapu will play behind Hopoi at defensive end. Redshirt freshmen Stanley Daniels and Dan Milsten will join true freshman Jordan Reffert as backups at tackle. Sophomores Graham Lasee and Will Conwell join redshirt freshmen Brandon Ala and Dash Crutchley at the end position that Ellis held down.
"There are a variety of young guys who have not had any experience who are going to be thrust into those situations," Neuheisel says. "We hope to get something out of them."
To help compensate for the loss of two key linebackers, Neuheisel has integrated a little bit of new and old in to the position. The new is Notre Dame transfer Cory Jones, who will compete for one the inside positions. The old is senior Greg Carothers, who moves into the SAM outside linebacker role after starting at safety the past two years. The move is not completely new territory for Carothers. He played the role during the Huskies' nickel package in the past.
"We feel that moving Greg Carothers into a linebacker role will help us to get our best players on the field," Neuheisel says. "He's been a very good player and gives us a great field leader. I think we are very athletic at linebacker and there will be some less experienced players getting a lot of opportunities this spring. We need to see some people step up so I'm eagerly anticipating the results."
Heading up the returning linebacking corps is senior Marquis Cooper. He tied Mahdavi last year for the team lead in total tackles with 100 after moving from an outside to inside position. Two veteran reserves expected to join him at the other inside linebacker position are juniors Tim Galloway and Joe Lobendahn. Galloway, who will miss spring drills due to shoulder surgery, had 26 tackles playing in all 13 games last year. Lobendahn started twice last year while playing in all 13 games and totaling 23 tackles. Junior Matt Lingley also returns and redshirt freshman Scott White will join the group of veterans.
Senior Tyler Krambrink is back at the outside linebacker spot after playing in nine games last season. Classmate Domynic Shaw, who has rotated among positions in the defensive backfield, is expected to move into the position this year.
Washington has 12 letterwinners returning to its four positions in the defensive backfield. Included in that group are nine players who started at some point last season. The only player not to return from last year's unit is Carothers, who will switch to outside linebacker. Sophomore Nate Robinson's possible move to wide receiver should not be missed with the return of senior Roc Alexander, who missed seven games last season due to a shoulder injury.
Sophomores Evan Benjamin and James Sims will compete for the strong safety spot. Benjamin started three times last year at safety while playing in all 13 games. He accounted for 46 tackles, and is the fourth leading returning tackler from last year's squad. Sims started a free safety five times to relieve Jimmy Newell when he was slowed by injuries. He accounted for 35 tackles before a sprained ankle kept him out of the final two regular-season contests. Senior Owen Biddle, who started the last three games of 2003 at free safety, could also play the position. He has appeared in 33 games during his Husky career.
Newell heads into spring practice as the starter at free safety. He battled several injuries the past two years that has limited him to appearances in 11 games during that period. Walkon B.J. Newberry and redshirt freshman Jordan Slye should also factor into the mix at the position.
"We have a lot of good athletes with a lot of experience at safety," Neuheisel says. "We would really like to see someone step up and make it a dominant position on the field. When the Huskies have had a Tony Parrish, Lawyer Milloy, Hakim Akbar, Curtis Williams type of player there in the past, it has been a good history. Sims and Benjamin really benefited by getting as much time as they did during their redshirt freshman seasons. That will help down the line."
Junior cornerback Derrick Johnson make a successful return to the defensive backfield last year after missing the entire 2001 campaign with a significant foot injury. Johnson started all 13 contests and came on strong late in the year, earning back-to-back Pac-10 defensive player of the week honors for his play against Oregon State and Oregon. He led the cornerbacks with 56 tackles and was first on the team with five interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Redshirt freshmen Eric Shyne and Matt Fontaine figure as his backups this spring.
The speedy Alexander gives the Huskies another solid veteran at cornerback. He had broken up 15 passes during his career and accounted for four interceptions. Robinson, who started the final six games in 2002 proved to be as sticky as flypaper in his coverage. He had 34 tackles in 13 games, broke up six passes and accounted for a pair of interceptions. Redshirt freshman Kim Taylor will also be developed at the position. Junior Sam Cunningham, who appeared in every game last year, also provides depth at cornerback, but will sit out spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery.
"Roc and D.J. gives us a lot of experience at cornerback," Neuheisel says. "It will be important to keep them healthy to allow our younger players to work their way into the lineup. Nate really provided a boost to the position last year. He has a lot of swagger and it takes that kind of attitude to play the position. We are just not sure how much time he will be there depending on his ability to play wide receiver. He could do both for us."
Washington loses both kickers and deep snappers from last season's team, but returns all of its top kick return specialists. Another player the Huskies will be pressed to replace is Wilbur Hooks, who was an excellent punt coverage specialist.
Gone from last year's team is four-year placekicker John Anderson and Derek McLaughlin, who handled the punting duties the past two seasons. McLaughlin left for a two-year church sponsored mission following the Huskies' appearance in the Sun Bowl.
Anderson finished his career as one of the most successful kickers in UW history. He booted 61 field goals during his tenure, the second most by a Husky. His 331 career points also ranks second all-time among UW players. McLaughlin averaged 38.5 yards per punt as a sophomore after posting a 41.2 yard average as a freshman.
To fill those positions, the Huskies recruited a pair of scholarship kickers. Michael Braunstein, a place kicker from Gilbert, Ariz. and Sean Douglas, a punter from Bellevue, Neb., will compete for the starting kicking openings during fall camp. The Husky roster includes a number of walkons kickers who will have the opportunity to display their abilities during the spring practice session. None of those returning players have ever kicked in a game.
While the kicking game side of Washington's special teams will feature some new faces, the return side has a solid inventory of veteran players.
Frederick returns as Washington's principal kick returner from last season. He was the only player to return a punt for the Huskies last season, averaging 8.1 yards per return on 18 attempts last season. Frederick had 13 punt returns as a freshman, averaging 14.6 yards per runback. Frederick accounted for 30 of Washington's 39 kickoff returns in 2002. He averaged an even 20 yards per return; up from his 16.5 average he had on 13 runbacks as a freshman.
Robinson, Washington's other deep returner on special teams, fielded six kickoffs and averaged 17.2 yards per return as a freshman. Alexander and Derrick Johnson are other players who have returned kicks for the Huskies. Johnson had a combined 36 kicks from his freshman season in 2000. He ranked 21st nationally with a 24.2 kickoff return average that season.
The speedy Alexander led the Pac-10 in kickoff returns and finished sixth nationally in 2001 with a 29.2 average. He recorded three of the top 10 kickoff returns in UW history that season, highlighted by a 95-yard runback for a touchdown against Idaho.
Both of Washington's' deep snappers, Ben Mahdavi (long) and Elliot Zajac (short) graduated. An injury prevented Zajac from snapping for half of the schedule allowing Galloway to gain some vaulable experience. Jason Benn, a redshirt freshman, is considered another skilled candidate to fill the deep snapping void.
Coaching Staff Changes
In addition to preparing the players for the upcoming season this spring, Neuheisel also welcomes three new highly regarded assistant coaches to the team. Following the conclusion of the 2002 season, Washington saw assistant head coach Steve Axman, the Huskies quarterbacks coach, accept a position at UCLA as offensive coordinator for first-year coach Karl Dorrell, a former Neuheisel assistant. Bobby Hauck, the Huskies' secondary coach, took over the head coaching position at Montana, his alma mater. Brent Myers, the UW offensive line coach, joined Urban Meyer's new staff at Utah as the assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
Three veterans of the Pac-10 coaching fraternity will fill those positions. Neuheisel named Phil Snow as Washington's co-defensive coordinator and the team's secondary coach. He was the defensive coordinator at UCLA the past two seasons. John Pettas, the offensive coordinator at Louisville in 2002, returns to Washington as the quarterbacks coach. Don Cozzetto takes over as the Huskies' offensive line coach after holding the same post at Oregon State the past three years. All three coached together at one time for Arizona State when Bruce Snyder headed up the Sun Devils' program.
"I think all three are really good coaches," Neuheisel says. "They have familiarity not only with us but with each other and I think that really helps smooth the transition. I think everybody understands the mission and it is really clear what we are trying to get done. I'm excited about watching it take place and being involved in our improvement."
Washington kicks off its 2003 schedule by playing defending national champion Ohio State in Columbus on August 30. The game will be televised nationally by ABC Sports.
In addition to its eight-game Pac-10 schedule, the Huskies will host Indiana, Idaho and Nevada in non-conference games at Husky Stadium. The Pac-10 schedule includes home dates with Stanford, USC, Oregon and Washington State. The Huskies will go on the road to face Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona and California. Under the Pac-10 scheduling formula, the Huskies will not face Arizona State this season.
"That Ohio State game will be a tremendous opportunity for us," Neuheisel says. "We will certainly have a good understanding of what type of football team we can be after that game. It is a great game to point toward as our team prepares for next season."