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

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August 20, 2008 7:17 PM

Ducks heading into bunker

Posted by Bob Condotta

With just 10 days left until kickoff, Oregon is joining the Huskies in the cloak of secrecy, beginning to close off practices to the media and public.

Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard reports on the news of Oregon's scrimmage tomorrow being closed. The Oregon sports information department also explains the closures in this blog post here.

Posting this will lead to inevitable questions about open and closed practices at UW, some of which I've already gotten in recent days, so I'll address the topic here.

What Oregon is doing is actually what I think most of us who cover UW would like the Huskies to do --- be open, or pretty close to open, during spring practice and the beginning of fall camp, when there is really very little gameplanning going on, but maybe get more restrictive once the season nears.

As a reporter, I would always like more openness, and I could always point out that USC is essentially open all year to everybody and that hasn't seemed to hurt them a whole lot the last few years.

But given the reality that some closure is to be expected by most programs anymore, I think what most of us who cover the Huskies would like is simply a few more opportunities during the spring and early camp to watch the team, especially the new players who may not see the field for a few years and who you'll never see otherwise until then. UW has been pretty much closed the past year, opening up a couple of practices in the spring and only one during fall camp --- the first day, which by rule has to be a no-pads practice and by nature features little other than basic drills.

The Huskies are also closing things down as game time nears more than they have in past years, closing all of tomorrow's practice (not even opening up for 25 minutes) as well as next Wednesday and Thursday. I think all of us who cover the team understand the importance of the opening game and maybe that's all this is --- a reaction to the importance of the first game.

All those of us in the media really want is a little better understanding of the team to pass along to fans, though I get it that a lot of fans may see us as simply wanting to spill all the team's secrets.

There's a famous story out there about Don James closing practice after a reporter went against his wishes in disclosing an injury to QB Cary Conklin in 1989 (I'm not sure it's really ever been accurately portrayed, but that's for another day). Left untold are a lot of other times reporters went along with wishes of Husky coaches of past (including Jim Lambright and Rick Neuheisel during times I covered the team) and didn't write about things we saw that might have affected the game plan.

Receiver Charles Frederick, for instance, practiced at cornerback the entire week before the 2002 game at Arizona State when Roc Alexander was suddenly lost for the season. Neuheisel, who had met with the regular beat guys before taking over to discuss his media policies, pointed out that we wouldn't have seen it if practice hadn't been open and asked if we could just leave that out until after the game had been played. We all did, though it didn't matter much as Arizona State beat UW 27-16 and Neuheisel ultimately turned to another young player --- some guy named Nate Robinson --- to fill in for Alexander, with Frederick never seeing the field on defense that night and never again trying his hand at defense. It ended up being a tiny note in this story here on the day after the game.

Obviously, the nature of the beast has changed, as Moseley points out in his post, and you really can't compare eras due to the advances in technology which have altered the ways all of us communicate. Still, seems like there's a happy medium that can be reached, and it's worth noting that every other school in the Pac-10 has at least some spring or fall practices open to the public and media.

UW's increasingly closed-down ways of the last few years have led to some questions of comparisons between Husky teams past and present. Having not been around for the James era, I don't have any personal experience to bring to that topic.

I do have many Husky media guides dating back to the '70s and I can say that James' home number was included in the media guide as late as 1988, as were the home numbers for every other coach on the staff and virtually every other member of the athletic department, with the media apparently invited to call whenever they needed. And as far as I know, until the Conklin incident in 1989, most everything the team did was essentially open. Even at that, the 1991 media guide gives the times for all practices throughout the season and a method for media to obtain passes to watch practice as well as noting that players would be available before and after practice from Monday-to-Thursday for interviews. The 1991 media guide also states that James had one hour of every weekday set aside for interviews by appointment. I doubt he did that many, but he was apparently available as needed during that time.

I can state that Neuheisel was mostly open, as well, during his UW tenure, and while Keith Gilbertson closed things down a little more during his reign (initially saying that he thought the 2003 team needed some privacy given the controversy of that summer) the team's practices then were mostly open during the spring and fall camp, closing after the first 30 minutes once the season began.

As for Oregon and UW this year, sounds as if each hopes the other finds out as little about the other as possible. I still have a feeling the Ducks are probably preparing for Jake Locker at quarterback and the Huskies are probably thinking the Ducks may run a few plays out of the spread.

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August 20, 2008 3:08 PM

Alumni update

Posted by Bob Condotta

With the Huskies taking the afternoon off, time to catch up on a few former players:

--- Roy Lewis continues to impress in the Steelers' camp, witness this story headlined "Lewis is turning corner as a safety.''

--- Reggie Williams returned to practice with Jacksonville today for the first time since knee surgery a few weeks ago (the link also apparently includes video of Williams).

--- A Raiders blogger wonders when Louis Rankin will get a chance to return kicks.

--- More ex-Husky kick return stories, this one on Isaiah Stanback, saying the job isn't really that complicated.

--- Finally, an injury to Miles Austin could mean more reps for Stanback in his attempt to win a job as a receiver for the Cowboys.

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August 20, 2008 12:36 PM

Afternoon notes

Posted by Bob Condotta

The Huskies had been scheduled for two practices today but instead cancelled the afternoon workout after going hard this morning.

Coaches explained that they felt it was time to give the players a little break after a long camp.

"You can tell, as long as most of us have done this, when to let up a little bit,'' said UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano adding that he had "noticed a little lack of overall speed'' from some of the players in recent days.

The afternoon practice was apparently scheduled to be more of a walk-through, or what coach Tyrone Willingham termed "a mock game for the coaches'' to prepare them for game-like conditions. Willingham said an additional practice could be added later --- teams are allowed 29 in the pre-season --- but that probably not one specifically replacing what was to take place today. "No, I think we are fine there,'' he said.

Willingham added that he expects both coordinators --- Lappano and Ed Donatell --- to work down on the field this year. Kent Baer spent part of last season upstairs before moving to the field.

As for personnel updates, Willingham said center Juan Garcia missed practice this morning due to a death in the family but could be back tomorrow, when the team is expected to hold its final pre-season scrimmage. Lappano said Garcia had a little scare with his foot in practice on Tuesday but that it was simply that --- "more of a scare than anything. He's fine.'' Asked if Garcia could start against Oregon, Willingham said that would be the preference but that "it's still too early to say.''

He said S Nate Williams sat out practice with "a bruise'' that "just caught up to him a little bit.''

In other notes:

--- Willingham said that QB Jake Locker "has been fine'' with Lappano adding that Locker has had two good days throwing the ball the last two days and doesn't think he really lost much in that area during his time off.

--- Willingham said the running back situation still remains a little uncertain and that "it was nice'' to see Brandon Johnson back out there, adding another body to the mix. Lappano said decisions on the depth chart will begin to be made Friday.

--- Both Willingham and Lappano praised the play of true freshman center Mykenna Ikehara, who has been one of the freshman standouts of camp. Lappano said it was too early to say whether Ikehara will play this season and the preference would be to redshirt him, but that he could be "on red alert'' this year to play if needed.

--- Willingham said the defensive line is "still shaky'' in terms of personnel asserting itself.

--- Willingham said he was glad to see the return of TE Michael Gottlieb and that he is "fairly confident'' Gottlieb will be able to start against Oregon after missing more than a week with a hamstring injury.

--- Willingham said the team is still sorting out the return game, as well, saying "if we could fine a couple of return guys to give us a spark, we could have an above-average return game.'' He said Jordan Polk could handle some of those responsibilities but that "we haven't made any decisions.''

With practice done for the day there doesn't figure to be any more news from Montlake, but I may add a post or two later.

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August 20, 2008 9:37 AM

Wednesday A.M practice report

Posted by Bob Condotta

With the weather being unpredictable and fall-like, the Huskies moved indoors this morning for the first time during camp.

Players were in full pads, and there was an increasing number of them with a few guys returning, most notably TE Michael Gottlieb, who had been out since last Monday with a hamstring strain.

Gottlieb ran onto the field late after stretching had already begun to a hearty cry of "Hey Gotti'' from one teammate.

Also back were DT Cameron Elisara, out the last two days while tending to an academic issue, and WRs Devin Aguilar and Charles Hawkins, limited of late with injuries.

And also back was RB Brandon Johnson, who had been out on Tuesday afternoon for an unknown reason after saying during the lunch media period that he had made it through Monday's practice just fine.

The Huskies had their full complement of running backs for one of the few times in the last week or so with Brandon Yakaboski also back.

The only players not there appeared to be C Juan Garcia (who has said he is sitting out one practice on days there are two), safeties Nate Williams and Jason Wells and CB Byron Davenport. Wells and Davenport are each battling lingering injuries while Williams appeared to be a little slowed during Tuesday's practice. We may get more detailed word on his issue later.

With Wells and Williams out and Victor Aiyewa in uniform but still apparently limited, the starting safeties when the team went into a defensive drill to begin practice were Darin Harris and Tripper Johnson. New defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was quite animated as he ran the players through the drill (essentially, teaching them a formation that I won't go into here), further evidence of his hands-on coaching ability that players and observers alike since his arrival.


--- My story for the paper today focused on Jake Locker's return.

--- Also in our paper today was this look at UCLA from Bud Withers as he continues his preview of the Pac-10.

--- Ted Miller has his usual array of links from around the conference. Included is this updated ranking of the Pac-10 from Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, who sees a gloomy season ahead for the Huskies.

All for now.

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