August 28, 2008

Not Your Average Opener


"The nature of the rivalry and the nature of the Pac-10 game heightens everything about your preparation. Therefore, the young men prepare a little differently then if it was another team not as noteworthy. I think this ball game has a lot of appeal to the teams and to our fans," was Tyrone Willingham's response to the impact of playing a Pac-10 rival to start the season.

TE Michael Gottlieb is still out with a sore hamstring and it appears he won't be available for the opening game. "It is safe to say he will not make it at this time."

Other players will have to step up in Gottlieb's absence, and like most of the skill positions it appears it could be a true freshman. "I think it's still emerging, but obviously Kavario Middleton is showing himself to be very productive in a lot of areas. As he continues to grow and get better he could be one of those players that gets the lion's share of the time."

Jason Wells has also been slowed by injury all fall and will not be available for Oregon. "Jason Wells will be one that won't make this trip. We have limited him and held him out for much of this camp and physically I don't think he is ready to take on a whole ball game yet."

T.J. Poe and Anthony Gobern are the only other two players that will not make the trip due to injury. However, many others will not make the trip because of the 65 man-traveling roster limitations, but Willingham wouldn't announce any names until he told his team first.

He did speak about a player that will make the roster because of his special teams play alone. "The value has yet to be determined and the ball games will do that, but I would say Fred Wiggs is one of those guys. When you look at him on the depth chart you don't see him at linebacker in the two deep. But the energy he brings on the kickoff is kind of special."


Willingham discussed Wednesday's practice and was again pleased with the results.

"Yesterday we finished our second major practice of the week and I was pleased with it - not as pleased as I was Tuesday. Wednesday is always our most difficult practice - our most challenging one for all of things we insert in the practice and what we require from them. I'm pleased it came out fairly well and I'm looking forward to today being a much stronger day as we prepare for our ballgame on Saturday."

Walk-on's have been a big part of the Husky program for a long time and this year will be no different as Joshua Gage prepares to start against Oregon.

"Joshua Gage and Nick Scott fits into that category [earning scholarship] and there may be others before we get to the start of the school year."

Oregon fans have built a reputation for the abuse they levy towards visitors. Willingham spoke briefly about his experiences.

"I'm not oblivious to it, but I get most of my stories from other people. I'm kind of tunnel vision, tunnel hearing and tunnel everything. If it's not on the field I couldn't really tell you what is happening. I block that out with hopefully the same focus and concentration our team will have and then half the stuff that's going on there they won't see. Willingham continued about things he had been told by other people, "Other than the stories of people getting their cars keyed and stuff like that, those are the memorable ones that I hear about."

The game against Oregon will mark many firsts for this young roster. One of those firsts will be veteran Johnie Kirton's transition from tight end to defensive tackle.

"I'm thinking and hoping that it will work pretty well. Obviously Johnie is extremely new to the position. But there are some natural things that he brings that are showing up in the last couple of practices that are exciting. His ability to push the pocket and do some things from a pass-rushing standpoint are really starting to show themselves. We need to do that, and then to grow in some of the other areas. I didn't think the transition would be easy - it never is when changing positions - but he's doing a fine job with it and just needs to keep improving."

Nate Costa was supposed to be the starting Duck quarterback on Satrurday. The dual-threat gunslinger was expected to pick up where graduated Dennis Dixon left off. However, after suffering a season ending knee injury, Justin Roper will start. Willingham discussed preparing for a different quarterback.

"I think now that you finally have someone identified at the position you start to look at the things much closer that they do. But I still believe that we are not going to see just one quarterback on Saturday - I think we will see more than that. I also believe we will see some things in place that doesn't even involve a quarterback."

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