Lappano has his work cut out for him with Huskies
UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano might have a tougher time finding a running back than a quarterback in new offense.
Special to The Seattle Times
My guess is that Tim Lappano, the new offensive coordinator at Washington, will have more trouble finding a running back to suit his offense than he will a quarterback.
To show you how uncertain things are with spring practice six weeks away, Lappano is most familiar with the quarterback that we haven't seen than the ones we have.
"I like him," said Lappano of Johnny DuRocher, the transfer from Oregon. "We recruited him at Oregon State and I've already visited with him here. He's smart, he's fairly mobile, and he has a strong arm."
Lappano, 48, was hired last week by Tyrone Willingham, who cited Lappano's 14 years coaching in the Pac-10 and his knowledge of both the one-back spread offense, as created by Dennis Erickson and Mike Price, and his more recent involvement with the West Coast offense as a coach for the San Francisco 49ers.
Lappano thinks he can combine those offenses into something unique for Washington. He has a lot to do this spring — finding a quarterback among the ashes of college football's worst passing offense, while at the same time installing an offense that has never before been tried at UW.
He made it clear that he wants one quarterback, not a platoon of them. And he'd like the situation decided by the end of spring drills.
The day after he got here, he watched the Huskies work out in early morning drills. He was looking at the quarterbacks.
"I was surprised how athletic this one kid was," he said. "I asked who that was and they told me it was Carl Bonnell."
Then, in the next moment, you think he might go with experience and savvy, with Casey Paus.
"The quarterback doesn't have to take the team on his shoulders and do the whole thing," Lappano said. "If he will just understand where to go with the football, make smart decisions and be a leader, that's half the battle."
Lappano seems confident. He had success at Oregon State with a 5-foot-9 walk-on quarterback, Jonathan Smith. He looked around at Washington's athletes and thinks this will be easier than his first year at Purdue, when he worked for Joe Tiller.
"We inherited a team that had won three games using the wishbone, and the next year we spread the field, passed and ran the ball, went to a bowl game and won it," he said. "I'm used to adversity."
If DuRocher has an edge because he was recruited by Lappano and Paus because of his experience, then listen to Lappano talk about the possibility of having an athlete at quarterback.
"As fast as defenses are today," he said, "the days are almost over for the quarterback who can't escape. You're seeing more mobile quarterbacks make it in the NFL. If you spread the field and then have a quarterback who can pull the ball down and run, it can be devastating."
Lappano knows about Isaiah Stanback. He is learning about Bonnell. He thinks he can take advantage of their abilities to run without using the option.
So what kind of an offense is he talking about?
"Coach Willingham thinks defenses have caught up with the West Coast offense because everybody is running it," Lappano said.
Lappano, who was the 49ers' running backs coach, ran it last year even though he said his boss, Dennis Erickson, didn't want to.
"We were told what to do," he said. "It wasn't what we were familiar with. We had spread the field and thrown downfield. The West Coast offense was intermediate routes, 8 to 10 yards — we rarely threw downfield, and that was frustrating."
Lappano wants to spread the field with receivers, sometimes five of them. But in other situations he wants to use a fullback and tailback, making sure defenses aren't sure what he's up to.
Lappano also wants to run more formations, do more shifting out of them, and at times use the no-huddle approach.
"People say I'm pass, pass, pass," said Lappano, "but when we've been successful out of the spread it is because we have been able to run the football, whether it was with Steve Broussard or Ken Simonton or Steven Jackson.
"I don't want to be known as a finesse offense. We need to run the ball between the tackles."
He wants a running back who not only can run inside and outside, but who can line up at tailback and then shift to a five-receiver set, leaving defenses to make do with personnel designed to stop the run.
Maybe that will be J.R. Hasty, although he was never asked to catch the ball at Bellevue High.
Many questions, and no certain answers.
"This can't be a rebuilding thing," said Lappano. "I've seen enough athletes out there. We just have to get them in the right spots."
A spring to remember after a fall to forget.
Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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