April 5, 2005
Brad Vanneman has seen a lot of change in the Washington football program in his more than four years in the system. Now a senior, Vanneman has experienced three different head coaches and four different offensive line coaches in his Husky career.
"It gets to a point where you have to adjust," said the center. "Football is football - blocking, tackling, running with the ball - that doesn't change from coach to coach. You have to work on your fundamentals and try to buy into the system no matter who's the coach."
Washington's fourth offensive line coach in four years, Mike Denbrock, has experience that UW's linemen should find impressive. He has been with UW head coach, Tyrone Willingham, for the past four seasons, one at Stanford and then three at Notre Dame. In 2001 at Stanford, Denbrock's line helped the Cardinal to a running attack that was ranked 23rd in the nation. Stanford averaged more than 200 yards per game and scored 27 rushing touchdowns that season.
"He's knowledgeable," said Vanneman. "I have complete faith that he knows what he's talking about which is always important for a coach. He'll get in your face when he needs to, but he'll also tell you when you're doing something good. He's honest to say the least."
As expected, Denbrock brings his own philosophy to coaching, something that Vanneman has become accustomed to in the ever-changing coaches he has interacted with at Washington.
"Coach Denbrock emphasizes footwork and technique," explained Vanneman. "He wants us to master our fundamentals and he doesn't let us slide. The discipline is definitely there in the program, so we're going in the right direction."
Another new addition to the offensive front five is Joe Toledo who is making a position move from tight end to offensive tackle. At 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, Toledo, a senior from Encinitas, Calif., has the size to be successful at the position and everyone seems encouraged by his progress so far.
"Toledo has moved over and is showing some great promise," said Vanneman. "He's certainly a good enough athlete to play. He played tight end and he's enormous."
Vanneman knows that with time, this group of players can become a very reliable unit for the Huskies.
"A great offensive line takes time to gel. We're going to need some time. We're not anywhere close to where we need to be, but with more work on technique, learning the system and getting the offense down, I think we'll be alright."
Noting the Huskies
Today's session was the fifth of Washington's 15 scheduled practices. The team takes Wednesday off before practicing Thursday and Saturday this week.
Looking for the Leaders
"Right now the real focus is on trying to learn and understand the system," said head coach Tyrone Willingham. "That has been the priority of everyone, coaches included. When we talk about teaching to them, it is making sure they understand the system. Sometimes when you are immersed in that process, it makes it difficult to really show all of your leadership qualities. So, that's not something of concern right now. Do you always look for leadership? Absolutely. But at the same time, what's most important now is that they get a handle on the system and start to play it without giving it thought."
Establishing a Comfort Level in a New System
"The third or fourth day you do something you become a little bit more familiar," Willingham said. "It becomes easier for you to work in that environment. By the third or fourth day you've been around your coaches, it becomes a little more commonplace and you understand them a little better. You know what you can do and what you can't do. That process will be continuing. With that, I'll label it growth, it allows you to be a little more enthusiastic, to have a little bit more of your personality and imprint as a player onto what is going on."
The Demanding Schedule
The Huskies have had five practices in just six days. Willingham said the schedule was set up in part to test the players under pressure.
"It makes it even harder, but that's what you want to find out," Willingham said. "If you don't know your football team, you want to figure out how they respond to stress. How they respond to a different situation. You want to learn that. You don't learn people until you are in a pressure and stress situation. I think I best knew my wife after we lived together for a few years. You learn how someone does things. It's not just a dating situation. It's a lot different. You put a team under the pressure and stress of doing things then you have a chance to learn about them.
"It was planned that way. We (the coaches) have to learn each other. It's part of the process. Until you are in live competition, how does one perform? That's how you find out."
Willingham said it is important to factor in the performance of the receiving corps when evaluating the quarterback position.
"I try to make the quarterbacks understand this fact," Willingham said. "There have only been a few times in the history of the game that a quarterback has thrown and caught his own pass. I don't expect them to worry about catching it. There responsibility is to throw it and execute in our system. If they throw it in the right spot, and it's not caught, we cannot do anything about that from their perspective. From a receiver's perspective, we can make some adjustments there. The play of the receivers is critical because that fits it all together. There are certain aspects of it that can be independent."
The most recent issue of The Sporting News attributed a comment to Willingham about his desire to see his offensive linemen lose weight. He shed some light on the topic.
"It is never a consideration necessarily about weight," Willingham said. "It is about ability to perform and conditioning. When we reach that peak point, for some it may mean to lose a few pounds. For some it may not be. It is all based on the individual. The whole thing is about conditioning and about being at the right spot to be able to play at a high level. I would not make that mandate yet anyway because I have not seen them play."