Plenty of questions to answer

SEATTLE — Washington football fans coming to today’s spring game at Husky Stadium will no doubt have a long list of things they’re looking to see out of Huskies.

Will Jake Locker be more accurate? How do the new defensive linemen look? How ‘bout those new receivers?

But for Washington coach Tyrone Willingham, the biggest goal, one that takes priority over showing improvement, is keeping his team healthy. That’s something every football team and coach hope for, but it’s a topic that will feel more relevant for the Huskies today in light of last week’s season-threatening injury to center Juan Garcia.

“That’s No. 1 for the coach,” Willingham said. “All of us cried on Friday when Juan went down. You don’t want to see those kinds of things happen. Not just to a starter, but any player. You don’t like that. You don’t like the part of the game that has injuries and doesn’t allow a young man to perform in a fourth year, a fifth year, a sixth year, that’s very difficult. So we want to be healthy.”

The spring game, which is free and kicks off at 12:45 p.m., features 15 minutes with a running clock that only will be stopped by timeouts and out of bounds situations. Willingham didn’t specify how his team would be divided, but indicated that the first- and second-string units could be mixed up to increase competition. As usual, quarterbacks, kickers and punters will be off limits to contact.

And while Willingham is most concerned with his players’ health, there are plenty of other interesting things for fans to watch for today.

How will Jake Locker look throwing the ball? As spectacular as Locker was as a runner last year, he struggled with his accuracy, completing just 47 percent of his passes. So far this spring in what limited amount of practice has been open to the media, Locker has looked more accurate than last fall, and hasn’t been sailing passes over receivers, something he struggled with last year.

How will the new skill position players look? Other than Locker and tailback Brandon Johnson, almost everyone touching the ball today will be a relative unknown to fans. Receivers D’Andre Goodwin and Curtis Shaw had a few catches last year, but will be expected to do more, much more, this season. So far this spring, Goodwin has looked like the go-to target for Locker. Chris Polk, a 2008 recruit who graduated early to attend spring practice, has been wowing coaches and teammates at slotback, and receivers Anthony Boyles and Devin Aguilar are looking forward for a chance to play in front of Husky fans after a long wait. Both were signed in the 2007 recruiting class but failed to qualify academically.

At tailback, Johnson returns with some experience, most notably a 121-yard performance against California, but Willie Griffin and Brandon Yakaboski both redshirted last season.

Can an inexperienced defensive line get the job done? Other than end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, a starter last season, the Huskies’ defensive linemen have almost no game experience. The likely first string will consist of Darrion Jones at the other end position and tackles Cameron Elisara and De’Shon Matthews, a recent convert from defensive end. Also worth watching will be tackle Johnie Kirton, who moved from tight end to the D-line this spring.

“They’ve got to be good,” defensive line coach Randy Hart said. “They don’t have a choice. They’ll be OK. They’re getting better each practice and as long as that trend continues, we’ll be fine.”

How will Matt Sedillo fit in with the first-string offensive line? Sedillo, who played only one play at center last season, will join the first unit with Garcia out. Locker said he feels comfortable with Sedillo, one of his housemates, despite the center’s limited game-time experience.

Will the Huskies bring a new, more physical defense? Don’t expect to see much new from a scheme standpoint out of new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell today. If any big changes are coming, the Huskies aren’t likely to tip off their opponents by showing those changes in April. What could look different this spring, however, are the hits dished out by the defense.

Coaches have raved all spring about the hard hitting of several players, most notably safety Victor Aiyewa and linebackers Donald Butler and Trenton Tuiasosopo. The secondary in particular could be more physical this year with Quinton Richardson and Mesphin Forrester moving from safety to cornerback. Forrester, a starter at safety in all 13 games last season, only moved to cornerback recently but has already earned reps with the first team.

“We think it’s been a positive addition for us,” Willingham said. “Anytime you’ve got a corner like Mesphin, if he has the good size and the good feet, that really adds something, because then he can become a force in terms of being an up corner, playing some of our defense that allow us to play the corner in the flat that really kind of beat on receivers, that’s a real plus. We’re just looking to get our best players on the field and try to line up so we can get to be as physical, as good, and as talented as possible on the field.”

Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at For more on University of Washington sports, check out the Huskies blog at /huskiesblog

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