2011 Washington Preview – Defense
Washington DT Alameda Ta'amu
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Washington Husky Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What you need to know:
The Huskies defense was significantly better at the end of the 2010 season than at the start, holding Nebraska to seven points in the Holiday Bowl. That was the same Huskers team that hung 56 on U-Dub earlier in the year. The improvement along the defensive line and in the secondary was noticeable, but the Huskies lose a great deal at linebacker. Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa led the conference in tackles and tackles for loss, respectively, and if the Huskies can't find suitable replacements it'll be hard to see the defense being much better than a year ago. However, Washington's pass rush should be much improved, which will take some pressure off the much-maligned secondary, allowing the program to finally feature a decent pass defense.
Star of the defense: Senior DT Alameda Ta'amu
Tackles: Cort Dennison, 92
Sacks: Hau'oli Jamora, 3
Interceptions: Nate Fellner, 5
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Cort Dennison
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Sean Parker
Best pro prospect: Ta'amu
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ta'amu, 2) Dennison, 3) Sophomore DE Hau'oli Jamora
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, safety depth, pass rush
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, run defense, third down defense
State of the Unit: One of the handful of true freshmen to play for the Huskies last season was DE Hau'oli Jamora . While the 6-3, 238-pound sophomore is a little light for a lineman, he makes up for it with great speed. Playing more as the season progressed, Jamora amassed eight tackles for loss on the season and showed an ability to contain the edge that was far beyond his years.
A Husky who always seems to be on the verge of a breakout season is 6-6, 244-pound senior Everrette Thompson . He has the ability to play either inside or outside, and has the athleticism to get off the snap and into the backfield in a hurry. The coaches like to move him around on the line since he's big enough to disrupt a pocket while fast enough to contain running backs.
The player opponents will be looking to contain this fall is senior DT Alameda Ta'amu . A prototypical nose tackle, he's slimmed down to a sturdy 330 pounds carried on his 6-3 frame. Ta'amu showed the ability to be dominant at times, commanding double teams and single-handedly collapsing pockets. In the Holiday Bowl, he was magnificent, forcing a holding call in the end zone, which resulted in a safety. If he can consistently put forth the kind of effort he played with at the end of the year, it will make the entire Huskies' defense more formidable.
Supporting Ta'amu will likely be junior Semisi Tokolahi, assuming he recovers from the broken ankle he suffered in the Apple Cup. Rather than go with a three-technique to complement Ta'amu, the 6-2, 297 pound Tokolahi is another nose tackle. While he won't generate much pressure, he can occupy blockers and be a stalwart in run defense.
On the post-spring depth chart, Josh Shirley is listed as a starter at "rush" position, and it's easy to see why. At 6-3 and 225 pounds, he's built like a linebacker, and moves like one as well. While the coaches often talked about integrating some 3-4 work in with their 4-3 base defensive scheme, it's really more of a 5-2, with Shirley and Jamora playing as rush ends. While he may not start, Shirley will be disruptive on passing downs, with Sarkisian hinting he's close to being ready to play on every down.
The first true defensive end off the bench will be junior Talia Crichton, who was a starter last year before an injury knocked him out for the season. The 6-3, 246-pounder has good quickness for his size, and is better than most at chasing running backs.
Backing up the defensive tackles will be former U.S. Army All-American Sione Potoa'e . The sophomore started against Stanford and Oregon last year as a true freshman, and took some licks. However, he had some bright moments, too, including an eight-yard sack against Syracuse. With a full year in a college weight program, the 6-2, 285-pound riser should be closer to handling the rigors of playing in the trenches in the Pac-12.
Watch Out For … a much better pass rush. Jamora emerged last season as someone who could put pressure on a quarterback, and Shirley will really add in that department. The Huskies' new 5-2 look should give opposing quarterbacks trouble, especially if Ta'amu can continue to collapse the pocket and occupy blockers.
Strength: The inside. Ta'amu and Tokolahi are both very good, and the latter will be playing on Sundays in the near future. Potoa'e has done nothing to imply he won't live up to his star billing coming out of high school, and 6-0, 344 pound redshirt freshman Lawrence Lagafuaina is a bowling ball who could provide an intriguing option.
Weakness: Injury history. Crichton, Thompson, and Tokolahi have all had significant injuries at some point in their careers. If those problems flare up, the Huskies' depth will take a major hit in 2011.
Outlook: The defensive line is riding a wave of momentum following its dominant performance in the Holiday Bowl. Expectations will be huge for a unit that returns everyone and adds some impressive pieces. It'll need to live up to that billing to allow the rest of the defense time to get its act together.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: For the past two years the Huskies have had a senior leader step up at linebacker. First it was Donald Butler, then it was star Mason Foster, and now it's up to Cort Dennison. The 6-1, 236-pounder has always been a solid defender for the Huskies, but he's never needed to be "the guy" at linebacker. He's a versatile player, who's started at outside and inside linebacker. While not a particularly big hitter, he is a leader who plays with a lot of emotion. His ability to lead and provide an example for the young Husky linebackers will be as important as the plays he makes on the field.
At weakside, Garrett Gilliland appears to have edged ahead for the starting role heading in to fall camp. The 6-0, 215-pound sophomore has some game experience, starting in place of the injured Dennison against Nebraska. He's fast enough to provide decent coverage and appears to have put on enough muscle this spring to lay a hit. As a junior in high school, he was named Co-MVP of his high school league along with USC starting QB Matt Barkley.
Strongside is up for grabs. The battle involves 6-2, 230-pound redshirt freshman Jamaal Kearse, 6-0, 201-pound sophomore Princeton Fuimaono, 6-1, 225-pound rookie John Timu, and 6-3, 221-pound sophomore Cooper Pelluer . One of the quartet will need to rise above the pack or else the spot is going to be an Achilles' heel.
The Huskies won a fierce recruiting battle with USC for junior college linebacker Thomas Tutogi . The 6-1, 251-pound sophomore made it to campus in time for spring practice, and while he understandably struggled early on, proved that he's one of the biggest hitters on the team.
Watch Out For … someone to emerge at strongside linebacker. None of the four listed players has been in the program for longer than a year, so none of them is particularly experienced. Sarkisian and staff will hope their "compete" mantra forces one to rise above the rest.
Strength: Dennison. He's started 17 career games and has played both inside and outside. While not a star, he's always reliable and will need to pick up the slack this year to allow the younger players time to grow.
Weakness: Everyone else. Apart from Dennison, there isn't a single linebacker who the Huskies will be able to count on. There's youth and uncertainty up and down the depth chart, which will have to play out as the season develops.
Outlook: The linebacker corps is what's keeping this team from having a pretty good defense on paper. Unless a couple of players emerge from the group of young outside linebackers, Dennison will have to take on an even bigger load than Foster did last year, a tall order for any player.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: The younger brother of the Seattle Seahawks' star Marcus Trufant, CB Desmond Trufant has been a starter since the final nine games of his freshman year. While he didn't have a bad sophomore season, it wasn't as good as expected after a sensational freshman campaign. The 6-0, 177-pound junior had a good spring, however, and will provide the Huskies with at least a solid, and potentially dominant cornerback on one side of the field.
Senior CB Quinton Richardson has a chance to rewrite his legacy in his final season at Washington. For much of his career, he's been a frequent target of Washington fans' ire. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, and blessed with great athleticism, Richardson has the body to compete in the NFL someday. However, he always seemed to be out of place or taking the wrong angle. He did play well down the stretch, lending hope for 2011. However, if he reverts back to his old habits, then Washington will continue to have one of the conference's weaker pass defenses.
Departed senior Nate Williams was a rock for the Huskies over the past two years and replacing him will be no easy task. However, Sean Parker was one of Sarkisian's biggest recruiting successes at Washington and he should be more than prepared to take over for Williams at strong safety. The 5-10, 200-pounder draws glowing reviews from his coaches for his instincts and anticipation, something the program values highly in its safeties. He spent much of last year as the primary nickel back, playing in nine games before suffering a season-ending stinger.
At free safety, Nate Fellner returns after starting all 13 games last season. Despite struggling at times with dropped interceptions, he led the team with five picks. He loves to go for the big hit, and often wallops the opposing team's receivers. This sometimes comes at Fellner's expense, as he's had a few self-inflicted concussions during his time at Washington. Still, the 6-1, 200-pound junior has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and with a full year of starting under his belt should be one of the Huskies' leaders on defense.
Sophomore Greg Ducre showed incredible instincts as a true freshman last year. Often times, his enthusiasm and athleticism would get him into trouble. An instance of which was when he ran into BYU's punter while blocking a punt in the season opener, but it was obvious that most other player's wouldn't even have the skills to have been in that position. The 5-10, 170-pounder will be the Huskies' primary backup at cornerback for the second year in-a-row.
It was obvious how much the coaches love 6-0, 198-pound sophomore Taz Stevenson by how badly they wanted to get him on the field last year. As a true freshman, he played safety, special teams and was even given practice time at running back. During the Apple Cup, he had to switch back and forth between jerseys because the coaches had him playing so many positions.
Watch Out For … Richardson and Parker to emerge as big-time players. Richardson has an NFL body, and showed last season that he's starting to get the other parts of the game as well. Meanwhile, Parker showed why he was so highly recruited coming out of high school. Now, with a year under his belt, he's ready to take ownership of the defensive backfield.
Strength: Safety depth. Sophomore Will Shamburger gave Fellner a real battle for the starting job last fall, and he, Stevenson and Justin Glenn are all capable backups.
Weakness: Cornerback depth. Richardson and Trufant really need to stay healthy this fall. Ducre is the only backup who's seen decent minutes, and they'll need him just to give the starters a breather. If one of Washington's cornerbacks goes down, the Huskies could be in big trouble.
Outlook: The group has some real talent and depth, particularly at safety. While the starting cornerbacks could be fantastic, there's too little cornerback depth for the coaches to feel comfortable. However, the coaches consider the safeties to be arguably the most important position in their defense, because they're entrusted with making the defensive calls. This group of safeties is talented, deep and experienced, which is something that hasn't been said about the group in a long time.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: Senior Erik Folk has earned the rep of "USC Killer" around Seattle after hitting game-winners against the Trojans in consecutive years. He's 68-68 on extra points for his career, needing just six more in-a-row to become the school's all-time record-holder. After hitting on 18-of-21 field goals as a sophomore, Folk connected on just 13-of-20 last year. He has power, kicking a 52-yarder last year at Oregon.
Senior Will Mahan was given an extra year of eligibility after missing all of last season except the BYU game. In that game, he punted six times for a 45.2-yard average. The season before he punted 52 times with a 40.6 yard average. Mahan has a good leg and can place his punts accurately.
While Mahan should be an obvious starter, muddying the waters is senior Kiel Rasp . When Mahan went down last year, many feared the Huskies' already dubious special teams were about to become abysmal. Rasp had recently rejoined the team after quitting to focus on his biochemistry major and was being asked to become the starter for an entire season. All Rasp did was set the school punting record with an average of 43.7 yards, complete a 30-yard fourth-down pass in the Apple Cup and a pair of touchdown-saving tackles against Oregon and Syracuse.
Watch Out For … the punting battle. Washington now has two seniors who could both make a great case to start. While it's an enviable position to be in, a worthy punter is going to have to ride the bench.
Strength: The punters. Many teams don't have one reliable punter at their disposal. The Huskies have two, which provides the program with insurance and enough competition to bring out the best in Mahan and Rasp.
Weakness: The coverage units. While Sarkisian has done his best to increase team speed and athleticism, it hasn't shown up on punt or kickoff coverage. The Huskies are forced to play their starters on special teams, and still ranked 102nd in kickoff coverage and 87th in punt return defense.
Outlook: While punting and kicking are solid, the coverage and return teams are a mess. While Washington has some pretty decent returners to choose from, it has yet to prove it can block well enough to get some big returns, or tackle well enough to prevent big returns from the other team.
Unit Rating: 6
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2011 Washington Defense |
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