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Times reporter Bob Condotta keeps the news coming about the Montlake Dawgs.

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August 26, 2006 1:04 PM

Analyze this

Posted by Bob Condotta

So I was taken to task a few days ago by Vince Grippi for not providing enough analysis of the Huskies on this site -- it's a ways down the link.

I haven't done a lot of that to date because I find it difficult to analyze what I can't see.

Not another rant on that subject, just the reality of how covering this team has changed the past few years.

But after getting a chance to see a full scrimmage a week ago, about 15 minutes of another on Thursday, and talking to every coach on the staff at least once in the past 10 days, I feel I have a little firmer grip on this team as it enters the season.

So here, hopefully, is all the analysis that Vince -- and more importantly, you -- can handle.

The key question, obviously, is whether the Huskies are a better team now than they were a year ago. So in an attempt to try to answer that, I'll look at each position with a grade of better, worse or the same than last season.

QUARTERBACKS -- Better. For the first time since 2003, the Huskies have experienced QBs who also have experience in the current system. They also have depth, as Carl Bonnell looks like a more-than-capable backup for Isaiah Stanback. And then there is phenom-in-waiting Jake Locker. The key is Stanback, and while the skepticism on the outside is understandable given last season, there is also lots of reason to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he will be better this year than he has been before.

RUNNING BACK -- Better. Sure, depth is a real issue, and this could so south in a hurry with a few bad hits. But again, this is the most experienced this position has been in a while with three tailbacks who have each had 100-yard games in their career -- in fact, Kenny James, Louis Rankin and Shelton Sampson have a combined 2,338 yards in their career -- and two big fullbacks to lead the way.

WIDE RECEIVER -- Better. Obviously it would have been nice if there'd been a way to work things out with Craig Chambers, who is likely to put up big numbers at Montana every week that will be posted on message boards everywhere as proof that the Huskies blew it with him. But I'm not sure how well that relationship was ever going to work out. And this could still be a better unit than a year ago, especially if Corey Williams and/or Marcel Reece emerge as big-play receivers. Williams has had a solid camp and looked like a coming star in 2004 before getting hurt, and Reece obviously has all the physical tools. Then there are steady players like Anthony Russo and Sonny Shackelford who should only be better this year. Add to it a much-improved tight end position and this should be a net plus.

OFFENSIVE LINE -- Worse. It's hard to make up for the experience that left with the graduation of five seniors. Having just two combined career starts from the tackle position is the biggest concern -- the inside threesome should be OK. And depth is a huge issue as every spot gets real thin in a hurry. The question, obviously, is whether the youth here cancels out the experience everywhere else. This is a unit that has to get better in a hurry, and stay upright.

DEFENSIVE LINE -- Better. The Huskies return three of four starters from last year, losing only Manase Hopoi, and if the chronically injured players can hold up, UW should have more depth here than its had in years. Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano told a few of us Friday that he considers the defensive ends "the strength of our team'' and that he doesn't think the Huskies will face a faster group of defensive ends from any other team this season. And don't underrate how UW moved Donny Mateaki inside last spring to make way for Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. That was the kind of move the coaches made after having a season to evaluate their personnel and see who would best fit where, and now has this position looking like maybe the best on the team.

LINEBACKERS -- Same. Technically, UW could have three new starters with Dan Howell in place of Scott White. That experience may be hard to account for, especially early. But this seems like a quicker, faster, more athletic group than UW has had in a while and that may just as quickly make any lack of experience a moot point.

SECONDARY -- Better. Even if Dashon Goldson begins the year on the sideline, this should be an improved group. Matt Fountaine and Roy Lewis each have a full year of starting at CB in the Pac-10 under their belt, C.J. Wallace could be one of the best strong safeties in the conference, and free safety Jason Wells has been one of the revelations of fall camp, a big hitter who learned the defense quickly. Depth is a big issue here, especially as long as Goldson is ailing. UW coach Tyrone Willingham said Saturday he'd be "surprised'' if Goldson didn't play. But if the front-line guys stay up right, this should be a better unit. And don't discount the impact of new secondary coach J.D. Williams, who brings with him a solid track record of success.

SPECIAL TEAMS -- Better. They could hardly be worse, as every special team ranked near the bottom of the conference last season. But the punting game should be better with a full-time snapper in Danny Morovick in the fold, and the coverage and return units should be better as well, with some added athleticism in their ranks. Marlon Wood showed his potential as a returner last year and will be the guy from Day 1 this year. Kicker remains a question until Michael Braunstein proves he can do it, but there's reason for hope.

OVERALL --That's six "betters", one "worse" and one "the same" on our scorecard. Given that the one "worse'' is the offensive line, and a couple of the "betters'' could go south in a hurry if injury hits, it's still hard to see this as a seven-or-eight win team. And the schedule doesn't help. But four or five, and the arrow finally beginning to turn after two long years, appears more than realistic.

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