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Your 2014 UW Huskies Defensive Preview

Defense wins championships, I’ve heard. I’m not sure that’s always true, but should the Huskies win a championship, the defense will likely be the main reason why. This is the most loaded UW has been on this side of the ball in a long time. It does have some issues on the back end I’ll discuss below, but if they can sort those out, points could be few for UW opponents. Offense was covered here, if you missed it.

Defensive Line

With the coaching change, it’s hard to be sure what the defensive alignment is going to look like. Players and positions are being moved around a bit, but it’s unclear how that will actually look onfield. For my purposes, I’m considering players where they played last year. For example, and as a good place to start, Hauoli Kikaha was a defensive end last year, but they’re listing him at linebacker now. I imagine his new role will be similar to Wilcox’s Rush End, where he can be moved around some and plays in space and coverage a bit more. Whatever the specifics, Kikaha will be rushing the passer, and if last year was a starting point and not a peak, he will cause massive amounts of havoc. Kikaha overcame knee issues and lots of time off to turn in one of the better pass rushing seasons in UW history. He had the most sacks of any returning player in the nation, and if he builds on 2013 at all, he could be an All-American and 1st round pick.

While Kikaha gets more credit, big Danny Shelton is the true key to the defense. The massive tackle blossomed last year, eating up blockers for other guys to get into the backfield. At his best, Shelton occupies two or three blockers, clogging the inside of the line and preventing running plays from going whichever direction was planned. Shelton was extremely effective last year, but if he can find a bit more burst and get into the backfield with regularity, he’ll be in the discussion for the best D tackles in college football. It’ll be important to keep Shelton on the field, because the depth behind him is quite young. RS frosh Elijah Qualls has loads of potential, so it was surprising to see less heralded true freshman Greg Gaines listed above him on this week’s depth chart. That may be as much about Gaines having a bigger body as anything to do with their performance. Both have good to great potential, but there will be a noticeable drop-off when Shelton leaves the field.

Completing the line are the Hudson brothers (not really brothers) Evan and Andrew. Both are cool stories. Evan was a walk-on from Bothell who started out at TE. Last year they moved him to the line, and he started most of the year as a big end/smallish tackle. I kind of think of him as playing a similar role to what Red Bryant did for the Seahawks, where he did more to hold the edge or occupy guys than make plays in the backfield. That said, I have no idea what his role will be this year, or what kind of upside he still has in him. He could become a star or lose his job to a younger guy and I wouldn’t be surprised. Andrew Hudson was a starter early in his career before rarely seeing the field last year, leading the old staff to decide it was time for him to move on. Peterson had other thoughts and invited him back, and now he’s slated to start. He never showed a huge amount of explosiveness, but he used to be a serviceable starter. No idea what he’ll do this year. LIke at tackle, the depth here is talented but young. I’d feel better about guys like Jojo Mathis, Jarrett Finau and Psalm Wooching seeing the field, though. They’ve at least gotten their feet wet, and there are some interesting skills there.


This could be as good as any backer group in the conference. John Timu is finally a senior and has developed into a dependable leader in the middle. He’s not an elite athlete, but he makes up for it with great instincts and a nose for the ball. Shaq Thompson has not quite delivered on his talent and athleticism, which isn’t to say he hasn’t been excellent. He has. He just has so much potential, that anything short of a dominant year would be a bit of a disappointment. Maybe that’s not fair, but he’s capable. The third spot is a bit undecided, but it’s not for a lack of good options. At times, Travis Feeney has looked like the best backer on the roster. He’s listed as a co-starter with RS freshman Keishawn Bierria. Both are lighter guys who can cover ground and be effective in pass protection. Bierria’s fellow RS freshmen Azeem Victor and Sean Constantine are in the depth and should see time. Victor in particular is developing a rep as a big hitter and could become a fan favorite before long. Scott Lawyer is the long experienced reserve besides Cory Littleton, who’s become a bit of a forgotten man with some minor injuries in camp. I don’t know if he’ll serve as more a linebacker or a rusher, but he should make his presence felt at some point.


If there’s one area that could hold the team back (other than QB), it could be the secondary. UW is replacing 3 of 4 starters along with some key reserves, and all of the contenders for those spots are young. Luckily, the one returning starter is CB Marcus Peters, and he’s one of the best in the country. Peters is the latest and maybe the best in the Dawgs’ recent run of excellent corners. If he has the season everyone expects, he’ll likely go pro and be picked in the top round or two. Opposite him, RSFr. Jermaine Kelly looks to be the guy. He’s a tremendous athlete who’s received nothing but raves since he showed up on the recruiting radar. He’ll likely have some growing pains at times, but I expect him to look like the Huskies’ next star corner by the end of the year. Depth will come from senior Travell Dixon, who seems to have responded well to the coaching change, and some true freshman. Naijiel Hale and Sidney Jones are first up, and both have the talent to excel. Whether they can do so this year is the question.

Safety is replacing both spots, but it has a bit more returning talent. Of course, the guy turning heads is true freshman Budda Baker from Bellevue. He brings a small body but elite speed and football instincts. He’s slated to start opening night, and he should be the most exciting Husky freshman since Shaq. Opposite him at strong safety is Brandon Beaver. He was a touted recruit who didn’t play much last season, but he’s still only a sophomore. Behind him are two sophomores who saw lots of time as true freshman last year, Kevin King and Trevor Walker. Both played well at time last year. Expect to see all four of these guys on the field in different coverages and as the coaches try to find the right combinations.

Special Teams

UW lost do-everything kicker Travis Coons, so these spots are a little unsettled. Cameron Van Winkle has recovered from back issues to take the lead for field goal duty, and he and Tristan Vizcaino will handle kick-offs. Kory Durkee gets first crack at punter. He has a huge leg but has struggled previously with consistency and getting his kicks off.

John Ross returns as the kick returner, where he’s a threat to break one every time. Budda backs him up and has similar potential. Jaydon Mickens gets the call to return punts. UW hasn’t received much production there, but Mickens and others have the skills to be effective.

Go Dawgs!



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Who Are These Dawgs? (Defense)

2014 signing day has come and gone and went surprisingly according to plan for the Washington Huskies.  Coach Petersen had about 2 months to put together a class (although almost a whole month of that was a quiet period).  In those 2 months, Coach Pete brought in 24 players.  All but 3 of those were not committed under the old staff.

The 2014 class was ranked 35 by Scout.com and 7th in the Pac-12.  As far as transitioning from coach to coach goes, this was a very strong class.  It addressed needs in the secondary and provided quality depth to an already talented team.

Later in the week, Matthew is going to look at the recruits who will be on the offensive side of the ball but we’re going to start off by looking at the defense.

Before I get into specific players, I’ll try to break it down by positions.  On the defensive line the Huskies signed 5 guys who will start there.  There are 3 guys who will definitely start as ends (maybe 4) and 1 that is destined to be a tackle.  After signing 4 linebackers last year, the Huskies only added 1 this year.  The secondary is really where the Huskies added guys.  They signed 7 guys who will be in the secondary, 3 at safety and 4 at corner (probably).  The secondary class was ranked in the top 5 in the country.  The Huskies could run a 4-2-5 (5 secondary guys) in the future, and this class lends itself to that.  It also fills a huge hole in what was a position group that lacked depth.

I’ll take a quick look at each player on the defensive side.  If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I will get to them.  I’ll list the players by position group.  Along with a short profile of the commit, I’ll give a percentage chance that he plays as a true freshman.  This is my guess.  I don’t know that much.  Please don’t take it too seriously, I just thought it’d be a fun exercise to add.  Here we go!

DT Greg Gaines – Gaines is a big 300 pounder out of California.  While he’s 300 pounds, he’s only 6’1″ so he’s very large.  I’ve often wondered if a huge defensive guy like that may benefit from being shorter because the offensive linemen have a harder time getting under their pads.  The old staff was recruiting taller guys, and really seemed to push for that type of body type.  The new staff may do the same, but there wasn’t quite the emphasis on it this time.  Gaines was rated as a 3-star prospect and had offers from Colorado, Iowa State, Boise State, and Fresno State (as well as some smaller schools) according to Scout.  Gaines has a chance to play right away because there aren’t a ton of guys similar to him on the roster.   Chance he plays as a true freshman:  40%

DE Jaylen Johnson – Johnson also comes from California and is a defensive end.  Jaylen was long committed to Boise State but is one of the players Coach Petersen persuaded to come to Washington.  Johnson may have been one of the most hotly recruited prospects that decommitted from Boise.  Johnson is listed at 6’3″, 240 lbs.  He is reported to have offers from most Pac-12 schools including Oregon and ASU, as well as TCU Vanderbilt and Northwestern.  Johnson may be the furthest along of any of the defensive ends.  That alone may be reason why he plays this coming season.  Chance he plays as a true freshman:  40%

DE Kaleb McGary – McGary is 1 of 4 four-star recruits to sign with UW.  As last as 2 weeks ago, it didn’t look good for the Huskies but the allure of being close to home proved to be a huge factor for McGary, as he lives in Fife.  McGary is full of potential.  At 6’8″, 280 lbs., McGary could easily become a left tackle.  He’s going to start out on the defensive side of the ball, per his own request.  McGary obviously has the type of body you want on your football team.  He’s a great athlete and, if coached up, could become a star.  While he is fairly raw right now, McGary was a huge get for Coach Pete and staff.  He chose UW over Wisconsin, WSU, and OSU but could have gone anywhere in the Pac-12 (Nebraska also offered).  Because of his body type, he could play right away.  He could really develop during a redshirt season though, especially if he switches to the offensive line.  Chance he plays as a true freshman:  60%

DE  Shane Bowman – Upon his arrival, Coach Petersen made Bellevue High School a priority.  Most Husky fans couldn’t agree more with this decision.  Bowman was a commit to Oregon State before he flipped to UW.  He was one of Bellevue’s most important players on their state championship team.  Bowman has a high motor and comes in at 6-4, 240.  He will probably add some weight to that but may be more of rush-end than the others mentioned thus far.  Because he isn’t that big, Bowman will probably need a season to redshirt.  The hope is that he turns into the next Scott Chrichton.  Chance he plays as a true freshman:  15%

DE Will Dissly – The last of the defensive ends comes from Bozeman, Montana.  Dissly is an under the radar kid, but he dominated in his High School league and has some impressive film.  He was named as an honorable mention on the Parade All-American team.  Dissly could possibly see time as tight end, but I imagine that he’ll stick on the defensive side of the ball.  Dissly is seen as a project but, then again, so was Mason Foster.  Dissly lives in a portion of America where there isn’t a lot of scouting so it’s harder to know what you have.  From what I know, I would guess that he needs a year of seasoning before he breaks on to the field.  Never underestimate Montanians though.  Chance he plays as a true freshman:  10%

LB Drew Lewis – Drew is another one of the Washington prospects that signed, in what was a down year for in-state talent.  Lewis played safety in high school but will start out as a linebacker at UW.  He played as Eastlake High School (and has a little brother who could be just as good, if not better).  Lewis was listed as a three-star prospect with offers from ASU, Pittsburg and Oregon State.  Lewis visited USC a few weeks before Signing Day but never received an offer.  The old staff loved him but couldn’t find a way to work around their limits at USC to offer him.  While Lewis looks like an exciting prospect, he is pretty raw, as well.  The team has lots of depth at linebacker so I don’t think Lewis will probably see the field this year, despite being a very good athlete.  Chance he plays as a true freshman:  15%

S Budda Baker – I think most people know the story of Budda.  I was entirely serious when I wrote that sentence and read it again and laughed.  Budda was the top-rated prospect in Washington and is an incredible talent.  He’s explosive and strong.  His frame is often compared to Earl Thomas, as he is 5-10, 180.  He is a sure tackler and his speed plays really well at the safety position.  We will probably also see him on the field on offense from time to time.  When he committed to UW (after decomitting from Oregon) he said the coaches had talked to him about having an offensive package for him.  Offensive package is another one of those terms that could have a very strange meaning.  Budda is the crown jewel of this class and is the highest profile recruit the Huskies have landed since Shaq Thompson.  He could have gone anywhere in the country.  Budda is likely to play as a true freshman, as the team is low on safeties and Budda is a top-end talent.  Chance he plays as a true freshman: 95%

S Jojo McIntosh – Jojo is another one of the DB’s who could play right away.  He’s from California and was a commit to the UCLA before the two sides parted ways.  McIntosh didn’t waste much time before committing to the Dawgs there after.  He’s a 3-star prospect and is projected to be a safety.  He had offers from Boise and Wazzu, as well.  I’m excited to see what Jojo will bring to the team.  He’s also the second player named Jojo on this team.  That’s pretty exciting.  I think he stands a pretty good chance of playing right away because of the depth at his position.  The same goes with all of the safety prospects.  Chance he plays as a true freshman:  45%

S Lavon Washington – Washington is the lowest rated safety of all the prospects (again, according to Scout) but he may have the most impressive offer sheet with offers from ASU, Cal, Fresno, and OSU. aside from Budda.  Lavon committed to the old staff at UW but seems to be one of those rare kids who actually commits to the school.  Washington is 5-11, 180 and was also a receiver in high school.  Chance he plays as a true freshman:  40%

CB Darren Gardenhire – Like McIntosh, Gardenhire was a long-time commit to a school before turning to UW.  Gardenhire was committed to WSU for about a month before changing his mind.  He was also offered by Boise State and Utah.  He’s 6-1, 190 and from Long Beach, California.  He’s not quite as high-profile recruit as the other secondary commits but still one to be excited about.  He’s pretty funny on Twitter too.  Gardenhire was a safety in high school and is listed as that on recruiting services but UW announced him as a CB so that’s what we’ll put him as.  Chance he plays as a true freshman:  35%

CB Naijel Hale – Naijel is the son of the late, legendary rapper, Nate Dogg.  He was a surprise late in the process as a long time commit to Arizona before tripping to UW and changing his decision to Washington.  Hale is another of the four-star commits.  He had offers from all up and down the west coast and is a physical corner.  He likes to hit people and that shows in his film.  Hale has a chance to play right away, especially as a nickel corner.  He is currently 5-11, 170.  He comes from California.  Chance he plays as a true freshman: 70%

CB Brandon Lewis – Brandon Lewis committed to Boise State last April and was seen as an up and coming prospect.  He then struggled with injuries in his last year of High School (after doing the same his junior year).  He was still committed to Boise State when offered by Coach Pete and then shortly switched.  If Lewis comes back healthy, he could be a steal for UW.  He’s 5-10, 170 and also played some running back in High School.  With the injury history, I would expect Lewis to redshirt so that he is healthy when he sees the field.  Chance he plays as a true freshman:  15%

CB Sidney Jones – Add one more to the list of guys who flipped to UW.  Jones was committed to Utah for about a month before flipping to UW.  He also had an offer from Colorado and some offers from lower conference schools.  Jones is an intriguing prospect.  We in Seattle love tall corners and Jones fits that bill at 6-1.  He may have to put on some weight but his film was very impressive.  He is my 3rd favorite player in this secondary (in this class) and I think he is a pretty strong contender to play early.  Chance he plays as a true freshman:  60%

Well, that’s all of them!  A pretty interesting group of players who could see the field fairly soon.  I think the class filled holes, added some potential stars, and stayed away from JC players.  That’s a good check list to follow, especially for a transition class.  I’m excited by the future of this team, and specifically the recruiting.  Next year’s in-state class is phenomenal and this staff has made in-state a priority.  Everything seems to be happening at the right time and I’m excited to see what happens.  We’ll have a post on the offensive guys from this class pretty soon.  Go Dawgs!


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