Much like the climate of the province they play in, the Huskies’ offence in 2011 was sweltering hot one week and ice-cold the next.
While inconsistent, the new talent in the lineup showed significant promise. The offence finished third in the conference with 238 points scored, and was one touchdown shy of UBC’s prolific offence with 27. In spite of quarterbacks Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren and Trent Peterson trading starts and with injuries to key starters to start the season, the offence still averaged 372 yards per game (which is remarkable, when you consider they produced 177 and 74 net offensive yards in their games against the Calgary Dinos).
Turnovers cost the Huskies dearly last season, often setting the opposition up in immediate scoring position. They fumbled the ball 27 times, losing nine of those, while the recovered fumbles ended up costing yards and killing drives. They added 11 interceptions, for 20 turnovers on the season. While they only turned the ball over two more times than they did the previous season, the 2010 Huskies could afford it, as they were putting up nearly 500 yards of offence per game.
Youth was sprinkled throughout the offensive lineup, with Canada West rookie of the year Jordan Arkko starting all eight regular season games and the Canada West semi-final at offensive guard. Gilbert-Knorren and centre Brad Nehring were both in their second years, while running back Dexter Janke and receiver Jerit Lambert both participated in their first CIS seasons.
There are plenty of opportunities for players to join the roster this year, with the loss of veterans such as Peterson, running back Ben Coakwell, receivers Rory Kohlert, Garrett Bolen and Shayne Dueck, and offensive linemen Darren Hinds, Brandon Myre and Ben Heenan (who has eligibility remaining but will surely be playing professional football next season). As we continued our conversation, Coach Towriss made it clear which areas he’s concentrating his recruiting efforts on, and which have good remaining depth.
DC: Offensive line is obviously a key position for you this year, considering the veteran losses you’ve experienced over the past two offseasons. Are you concentrating on bringing in more depth for this position and building from within, or do you feel you need to bring in experienced, game-ready players who can contribute right away?
BT: Well, you can see by our recruiting board that that’s our longest list, by far. We’ve had three who have committed, at this point, and two others have been here for visits. The top two kids can come in and play right away and will make a huge difference if one or both of them come. We have two of the better junior players in Western Canada coming out and we’ve got probably the best high school kid in Saskatchewan committed.
Beyond that, once we find out from the other three or four we have here for visits, we’ll start to move down the list. It all depends on who decides to commit, and we’ll see if the two American high school kids will come in and make a difference. The parents of both of these players are certainly very interested in them coming here to play.
DC: Is there a possibility of getting Cam Redl (who started the previous two seasons at right tackle before sitting out last season while recovering from knee surgery) back in?
BT: Redl is working out with us and looks like he’s ready to go. He’s about 30 to 35 pounds shy of what he played at, but the season’s still a long way away.
DC: Moving on to the second greatest need, which is running back. Beyond Dexter, there isn’t a lot of game experience in the ranks.
BT: Well, yeah, it’s our second biggest area right now. We have one very good player committed and two more coming for visits this weekend. We’re hoping to get one or both of them and there’s another kid from BC who is also very good.
Will any of those young kids out of high school step in and play right away? We’re hoping they have that kind of ability, but realistically, from a physical perspective, for them to block and protect the way they will have to, it’s a bit of a stretch.
But Jeremy Andrew is back and he’ll be healthy. He was a pretty good player for us, as a freshman. Him and Dexter are probably the two leading guys, right now, and Alex (Balogun) has taken some reps there.
DC: I’m sure you’re emphasizing how much opportunity there is to these running backs who are coming in.
BT: Oh yeah. Obviously. For sure.
DC: At receiver, in spite of losing guys like Kohlert and Bolen, you still still return a pretty good group.
BT: Yeah, that area’s not an issue, right now. We’ve got the best Saskatchewan high school recruit committed, and we’re very close to getting the top junior receiver in the PFC to commit, as well. There are two or three others we’re working on, too.
We’ve only got room for three or four. If we get the top two, one of which we already have, then we’ll be happy.
DC: At quarterback…
BT: We have the best one committed, and we’re still going to talk to a couple more.
DC: Other than that, it looks like you’re going in with Jahlani as your first stringer while Drew (Burko, who looked very strong in practice last season leading the show-team offence) will challenge him.
BT: I would say it’s a wide-open competition based on what we see this spring.
Then again, and I keep emphasizing this, we have to be patient. Both of these kids will both be down playing in Texas next week (in preparation with the World Team, who will face the USA’s Under-19 National Team in USA Football’s International Bowl). So somebody else recognizes the fact that they’re pretty good players, too, or they wouldn’t be there. We don’t pick that team.
So, we have to develop these kids, and that’s going to take some time. But there’s great raw material there.
Check back Monday for the third part of the series, where we’ll discuss the needs on defence.