A few days ago, I wrote about the probable starters and depth on the Huskies offense. Today, we move over to the defense.
Defensive Overview: Heading into 2012, expectations weren’t exactly high for the defense. They had just come off one of the worst seasons in school history (statistically) and even a decent jump in performance wouldn’t put them at average. The change of the defensive coaching staff was sure to be an upgrade but how much was hard to predict.
The season started, and the offense sputtered. Thankfully, Wilcox, and staff, performed a minor miracle and transformed the Husky defense to slightly above-average and in the top half of Pac-12 defenses. They led the team to wins against San Diego State, Stanford and Oregon State. The defense was led by a lockdown corner in Desmond Trufant and a slew of young linebackers in Travis Feeney, Shaq Thompson, and John Timu.
Heading into 2013, it’s still a little strange to think of the defense as a strength but it appears to be just that. I don’t know if the unit as a whole will be way ahead of the offense but they should at least be equals to the other side of the ball. While the offenses switch to a hurry-up offense was to benefit themselves, I do think the defense will reap benefits, as well. The defense has struggled against fast-paced spread teams for the last 10 years. Practicing against the fast-paced can not hurt. Also, the coaching staff has recruited a different type of athlete that’s leaning towards a longer, faster player (just look at the linebackers).
There are certainly questions on this side of the ball, but for now the positives outweigh them. The D is young, fast, and physical and I’m excited to see what they could do this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the best defense Washington has had in over a decade.
On to the positions.
Starters – DE Andrew Hudson (RJr.), DT Danny Shelton (Jr.), DE Evan Hudson (RJr.), RE Josh Shirley (RJr.)/Corey Littleton (So.)/Hau’oli Kikaha (RJr.)
Andrew Hudson and Shelton have been mainstays on the line for the last few years and have performed admirably. Andrew is more of your typical D. end in that he’s a little longer, isn’t quite as heavy and excels in rushing the passer. Shelton probably has the most potential of any guy on the line (especially if you don’t consider the true freshmen). He was solid last season in his starting spot but has had the breakout that fans and coaches have hoped for. He should be a force in the middle and his penetration will be a key in stop the run game. Evan Hudson is a converted tight end who looks like he’s set to start next to Shelton. The position is listed as a defensive end because the team runs a bit of a 3-4 defense but really Hudson is almost like a defensive tackle as well. He’s another tall guy who weighs in at 280. Maybe the defensive line was in such bad shape that they need Evan to start or maybe he truly is that talented on this side of the ball. I’m guessing it’s a mix of both but I do feel a bit uneasy about him coming in and starting right away. The rush end spot is up for grabs with Josh Shirley, Corey Littleton, and Hau’oli Kikaha (formerly Hau’oli Jamora) all battling for the starting spot. Shirley has been a very one-dimensional player in the past in always just trying to speed rush right past the tackle. With that being said, he is probably the best pass rusher the Huskies have and could challenge for double-digit sacks this year. Littleton saw a few games last season as a true freshman and played about how you’d expect a freshman on the line to play. He’s said to be much improved in practice and may have been playing in front of Shirley at times during the camp. Hau’oli has suffered 2 straight ACL tears in the last 2 seasons and has battled back to have an impressive Fall Camp. Before the tears, he was one of the Huskies best defensive players. If he can get to that level, the Huskies pass rush will definitely be a much stronger force. The rush end position is one of the more intriguing spots on the team with three talented guys at one position. I will be excited to watch it play out over the season
The Depth – DE Joe Mathis (Fr.), DT Sione Potoa’e (Sr.), Lawrence Lagafuaina (RJr.), DT Josh Banks (Sr.), DT Drew Schultz (RJr.), DE Connor Cree (RSo.), DE Jarrett Finau (RSo.), DT Elijah Qualls (Fr.), Damion Turpin (RFr.), DT Taniela Tupou (RSo.), DE Marcus Farria (Fr.)
The depth on the D-line is slowly improving during Sark’s tenure. This group of players could look really good in a year or two but for now there are a few decent guys and then question marks. Joe Mathis, a freshman, is challenging for a starting spot and will probably play this year. If he doesn’t redshirt, which is highly unlikely, expect to see him on the field quite a bit. Potoa’e, Banks, and Schultz have all played enough defensive tackle to feel okay about. Potoa’e was a very impressive recruit but has never reached his, thought to be, potential. Lagafuaina tore his ACL last year and is still getting up to speed, but when he’s in the game he takes up a lot of space in the middle. Cree and Finau saw limited action last year and provide decent depth. Qualls may or may not redshirt but he was a heralded recruit. The other guys might get some action in the game but have figured in to the rotation as prominently as the guys I have listed above them. Farria will probably redshirt.
Starters – OLB Shaq Thompson (So.), MLB John Timu (Jr.), OLB Travis Feeney (RSo.)
On paper, this is easily the best position group on the team. They are quick, young and physical. They close fast to the ball and could be the best position group the team has had in years. In my last post, I said ASJ was the best player the Huskies have had in at least a decade. By the end of Thompson’s career here, he could hold that title. Shaq is incredibly talented, bringing a mix of speed and size that you don’t see often. He could be an All-American by the end of the season. Timu continues to grow and improve. He was very impressive in a few games last year draws rave reviews from the coaching staff for his intelligence. Timu did struggle against power teams last year and I wonder if that has improved this season. As good as the other two were last year, Feeney may have been the best linebacker on the team. He also has great speed and loves to hit people. All of these guys were safeties in high school and you can see that athleticism in their linebacking. The only concern is against the power teams of the world.
The Depth: Princeton Fuimaono (Sr.), Thomas Tutogi (Sr.), Jamaal Kearse (RJr.), Scott Lawyer (RSo.), Connor O’Brien (Fr.), Azeem Victor (Fr.), Keishawn Bierria (Fr.), Sean Constantine (Fr.)
The depth helps make this position the best on the team. Fuimaono has been challenging Feeney for his starting spot and will be the first guy off the bench as a linebacker. Princeton can probably play both outside linebacker positions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a package where the three starting linebackers are on the field with Fuimaono. This coaching staff is pretty good at getting their best players on the field. Tutogi proved to be a valuable piece of the puzzle last year at middle linebacker. He played quite a bit against the power teams and was a very physical force. I’m curious to see if he’ll play in Timu’s spot against power teams on running downs. I expect to see a lot of Tutogi and Fuimaono on the field plenty this year. Kearse has had an interesting career and is a very capable backup. He’s started a few games in his career and come up with some big plays. Lawyer has impressed people in camp and will start to see a lot of time come next year. He’ll play on special teams quite a bit this year. I’m hoping all of the freshmen get to redshirt but some may have to be used on special teams. They’re an impressive group with a lot of size. Continue reading