UW Huskies Defensive Preview

In 2009, the Husky defense was frustratingly inconsistent.  Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and Donald Butler, possibly its two best players, both graduated, but there is a lot of hope the defense will be greatly improved in 2010.  This is due partly to a dominating end to last season, holding WSU and Cal to 10 points in the final two games, but it’s also based on the potential maturation of a young group.

Defensive End

Starters:

Everette Thompson:  Thompson sounds like he’s recovered from an offseason achilles injury just in time, and stands to be one of the most important pieces of the defense.  A highly touted recruit, he’s spent time at tackle as well.  He’s bigger than most Husky D ends in recent memory, which will hopefully aid in the run defense.  It’s even more vital that he contribute in replacing some of Te’o-Nesheim’s record-number sacks.

Talia Crichton:  A true sophomore, Crichton played more than anyone likely anticipated last year, with decent results.  Hard to say what to expect from him, but coaches have been impressed with his improvement this fall.  He seems to be more of a pass rusher, which this defense desperately needs.

Depth: Kalani Aldrich, De’shon Matthews, Hau’oli Jamora, Josh Shirley.  Aldrich is trying to recover from knee surgery, but has decent potential if he can get back all the way.  He’d have contended for a starting spot if not for the injury.  Matthews is a former big time recruit who’s never really made an impact.  He has one last shot and is in position for a lot of minutes as the number one back-up.  Jamora and Shirley are true freshman.  Jamora is in the two-deeps and will play.  Shirley is more heralded, but joined the team late and seems to be having a tough transition to end from high school linebacker.  He’s likely to redshirt, but if he progresses and they’re needing a speed rusher, who knows.

Analysis:  This is one of the toughest positions on the team to call.  There’s potential, to be sure, but the only one who inspires real confidence is Thompson, and he’s coming off major surgery.  This group has to get pressure on the quarterback this year.  Hopefully they’ll be aided in that by an improved interior of the line.

Defensive Tackle

Starters:

Alameda Ta’amu:  Ta’amu has been the talk of camp after dropping 30 pounds in the offseason (he’s still about 330) and dominating practices.  He was an elite recruit out of high school and seems to have figured out what it takes to succeed at this level.  The coaches seem to be expecting an all Pac-10 season out of him.

Cameron Elisara:  Elisara, now a senior, has been a steady contributor, but he needs to take a step toward at least occasionally dominating.  He spent a lot of time in the spring at end, and might slide out there again, depending on situations and how the ends are playing.

Depth:  Semisi Tokolahi, Chris Robinson, Sione Potoa’e.  Tokolahi and Robinson are both in their second year, but Semisi played last year while Chris redshirted.  Tokolahi weighs about 300 pounds after dropping a huge amount of weight (something like 50 pounds).  Robinson is smaller at 258, but coaches have sounded pleased and comfortable with both of them this fall.  Potoa’e was one of the top recruits this spring, but is in a situation similar to Josh Shirley, likely to redshirt.

Analysis:  This group has a solid, talented, and potentially dominating first four.  There’s little depth behind them however.  Ta’amu’s improvement, if he can carry it into the season, could be the difference between 7 wins and challenging for the conference title.

Linebacker

Starters:

Mason Foster:  The star of the defense at the weakside spot, Foster is athletic, powerful, and instinctive.  He seems to be continually in the middle of big plays and is versatile enough to be an asset in every aspect of the defense.  As an all-around ‘backer, there aren’t many in the conference who can match him.

Cort Dennison:  A junior who started most of the second half of 2009, Dennison is a smart and steady player who should fill in ably for Donald Butler.  It remains to be seen whether he can match Butler’s big plays, but Dennison is one of the top players on the defense.

Victor Aiyewa:  Aiyewa is moving from safety into the strong side role that Foster held last year.  As a safety, Aiyewa played more like a linebacker.  He delivered a lot of big hits, but seemed to match them too often with a big mistake or blown coverage.  He has a lot of potential at linebacker, probably more than at safety, but he’ll be a question mark until he shows something on the field.  He’s also had a hard time staying healthy in the past.

Depth: Matt Houston, Garret Gilliland, Tim Tucker, Jordan Wallace.  Houston is a senior who is a solid but unspectacular back-up.  Gilliland and Tucker are backing up the middle currently.  Gilliland is a true freshman who came out of nowhere to ensure some playing time, while Tucker, a redshirt freshman, steadily worked his way onto the depth chart by the end of camp.  Wallace is backing up Foster, and seems to be in a similar position to Dennison last year, as a talented back-up who’s slated to replace Foster next year.

Analysis:  Foster and Dennison are the heart of the defense, and it wouldn’t surprise if Foster challenged for Pac-10 defensive player of the year.  Aiyewa or one of the others should be solid at least at the other starting spot.  The depth is young and/or inexperienced, but it’s also plentiful, with several true freshman trying to fight their way into games.  This is likely the strongest group on the defense.

Cornerback

Starters:

Desmond Trufant:  As a true freshman, Trufant started the majority of 2009.  All the tools are there for him to be one of the best corners Washington has had in a long time.  He’s probably the best NFL prospect on the defense.  If he can continue to improve, he has the talent to shut down one side of the field.

Quinton Richardson:  After a promising freshman year, Richardson battled some injuries and possibly attitude issues in what was essentially a lost 2009.  This fall, he’s reclaimed the starting job.  He has the most size of the corners, and has shown good speed and cover skills.

Depth: Adam Long, Vonzell McDowell, Greg Ducre.  Adam Long started a good share of 2009, and could do so this year if either guy in front of him slips at all.  He has great speed and made tremendous strides last year.  McDowell is finally a senior and has turned into a solid back-up.  He’s still short and gives up some plays, but he seemed to finally regain some of the confidence he lost after being burned repeatedly in his early years.  The coaches seem to love true frosh Ducre, comparing him to Trufant at times.  He’ll play, but how much depends more on the guys in front of him.

Analysis:  This is suddenly a talented and deep group.  The top four guys all have starting experience, and Trufant, Richardson, Long, and Ducre all have the potential to be impact players.  Keeping with the theme of the defense, there’s still a lot to prove, but this is the most promising group of cornerbacks the Huskies have had in a very long time.

Safety

Starters:

Nate Williams:  Williams is entering his senior season, and indications are he might have turned the corner from an okay starter to impact player.  He’s taken on the roll of quarterbacking the defense and seems to be playing with more confidence.  He’s always had good tools, but something seemed to be missing.  Judging by spring practices, he might have put it all together.

Nathan Fellner:  You don’t have to be named Nate to start at safety for UW, but it certainly seems to help.  Fellner got thrown into the fire as a freshman last year and held his own, but to keep the starting job he’ll have to play much more consistently.  He can deliver the big hit, which has been missing from the defense in recent years.

Depth:  Will Shamburger, Sean Parker, Justin Glenn.  Shamburger is slated to get almost equal time with Fellner, and seems to fit the same profile.  He’s a redshirt freshman who made a quick dash up the depth chart after spending last year rehabbing an injury.  Parker is the gem of the recruiting class.  He’s Williams’ back-up and should play a lot before stepping in as the 2011 starter.  He’s a little on the small side, but has all the other tools.  Glenn was maybe the most impressive of last year’s non-Williams safeties, but he’s still recovering from the broken leg that ended his 2009 season at Notre Dame.

Analysis:  This unit didn’t come together last year until the since-departed Jason Wells took over beside Williams.  Once he did, the defense improved dramatically.  The hope is that a year of improvement and experience can replace Wells.  It’s a good looking group of safeties, but as always, they’re a question mark until they show it on the field.

-Matthew

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