2012 Washington Preview – Defense
Washington S Sean Parker
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Washington Husky Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What you need to know:
After twice allowing 65 points in the final seven games of 2011, it had become obvious that the Huskies needed to make changes on defense. Enter coordinator Justin Wilcox, the crown jewel of the reshuffled staff. It's early in the process, but the coach's new disciples appear to be buying into his philosophy, showcasing noticeably more intensity and aggressiveness than recent squads. The hope is that the returning talent, many of whom were coveted high school recruits, can bloom into reliable playmakers. The new system will include three down linemen and a rush end handled by the explosive Josh Shirley. Fingers are crossed that DE Hau'oli Jamora, a breakout star in 2010, can return without incident from last year's season-ending knee injury. One of the revelations of the spring was the play of young NT Danny Shelton, who appears up to the challenge of replacing Alameda Ta'amu. The linebackers, who had played poorly in 2011, could be a liability again in 2012. S Nate Fellner is now the favorite at strongside, while John Timu looks capable of becoming a long-term fixture in the middle. The secondary has the pieces be the cornerstone of the D. All but one starter returns, and SS Sean Parker and CB Desmond Trufant will both contend for all-conference honors.
Star of the defense: Junior SS Sean Parker
Tackles: Sean Parker, 91
Sacks: Josh Shirley, 8.5
Interceptions: Sean Parker, 4
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB John Timu
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NT Danny Shelton
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Desmond Trufant
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Parker, 2) Sophomore DE Josh Shirley, 3) Trufant
Strength of the defense: The D-line, potential of the secondary, speed off the edge
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, linebackers, pass defense, yards after contact, third-down stops, red-zone D
The D-line is an awful lot like the backfield—a star has departed, but the program remains resolute that it has the troops to rebuild on the fly. While Alameda Ta'amu leaves a gaping hole at nose tackle, 6-1, 323-pound sophomore Danny Shelton is poised to fill it. He played in all 13 games as a true freshman, starting the Apple Cup, and finishing with 11 tackles. He's coming off a dominant spring session, commanding double-teams with his immense, nasty streak and intense will to succeed. This D requires a force in the middle, and Shelton appears to be up to the challenge very early in his career.
The Huskies will have a big—and experienced—body coming off the bench, 6-2, 339-pound senior Semisi Tokolahi. The space-eater has earned a letter in each of the last three years, starting 10 combined games in 2010 and 2011. While he's not going to make a lot of tackles, he will occupy more than one blocker, which supports those around him.
When Washington uses a second defensive tackle, 6-2, 280-pound junior Sione Potoa'e is likely to come off the sidelines. The one-time can't-miss recruit has played in 11 games in each of the last two seasons, with intermittent starts, topping out with seven tackles a year ago. Unlike Shelton and Tokolahi, Potoa'e is a smaller, quicker interior lineman capable of busting through gaps to make plays for minus yards.
The Huskies will continue to employ a hybrid at rush end, a position uniquely designed with Josh Shirley in mind. Steve Sarkisian took a chance on the 6-3, 235-pounder, now a sophomore, and so far has been reaping the dividends. Shirley was denied entry into UCLA because of off-field problems, but he has remained clean in Seattle, while taking his game to a new level. He is to Washington what current Seattle Seahawk Bruce Irvin was to West Virginia, an incendiary object coming off the edge. Shirley became increasingly tough to handle in space, finishing with 28 tackles, 12 stops for loss, 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Sophomore Andrew Hudson competed in the offseason as if he plans to win the hotly-contested other defensive end position. At worst, he proved that he belongs in the rotation. The 6-3, 240-pounder played with a hot motor throughout the spring, looking as if he can rush the passer as well as providing much-needed support against the run.
The undisputed graybeard among the defensive ends will be 6-3, 252-pound senior Talia Crichtonwho has played in 26 games throughout his career. While he certainly possesses the talent and the drive to succeed in his finale, will his health cooperate? Durability has not been one of his calling, raising concerns about how many snaps he'll be able to handle this fall.
Watch Out For … the health of 6-3, 256-pound sophomore Hau'oli Jamora . He was all set to build on a smashing debut, when a knee injury curtailed his season after just four games. If he can make it all the way back without any setbacks, Hudson and Crichton will be fighting for reps from off the bench. Jamora's recovery will be one of the front and center topics on defense in the summer.
Strength: The pass rush. Yeah, Jamora's health is a caveat, but if the sophomore can recapture his 2010 form, he and Shirley are going to form one of the most ferocious edge tandems in the entire Pac-12. With the addition of Hudson, Washington appears to be set at defensive end for at least the next three seasons.
Weakness: Stuffing the run. U-Dub's problems versus the run are a shared responsibility, and the D-line certainly shares some of the blame. An inability to win the line of scrimmage, or generate enough of a push, was a big reason that the Huskies yielded more than five yards on the ground in 2011. The ends are undersized, and as excited as the staff is about Shelton's future, he won't be Ta'amu in 2012.
Outlook: The line is capable of meeting new coordinator Justin Wilcox's demand for more aggressive play and tenacity off the snap. However, the unit will be judged by a multitude of different factors, including its ability to become a greater roadblock for opposing ground games. Remaining healthy, elusive in recent years, is a must for a unit that has ample depth when everyone is available.
Unit Rating: 7.5
No defensive group will be under more scrutiny this offseason than the linebackers. The second level will be young, and pressing to replace leading tackler Cort Dennison, a pillar in the middle. It looks as if 6-1, 236-pound sophomore John Timu has been tabbed to move inside after starting eight games on the outside during his first season on campus. He had moments of brilliance, and times when he was lost, finishing with 52 tackles, seven stops for loss and a couple of forced fumbles. Timu has added considerable weight, and looked in the spring as if the game has started to slow down for him.
The probable starter at weakside is junior Princeton Fuimaono, a high school teammate of Timu in Long Beach, Calif. He started all 13 games a year ago, chipping in 64 tackles, nine stops for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles. While the 6-1, 215-pounder is vulnerable to getting trucked on running plays, his speed and quickness are assets that aid him on blitz and when covering receivers.
One of the more interesting developments of the offseason has been the shift of one-time S Nate Fellner to strongside linebacker, where he's bucking for a starting spot. While only 6-1 and 218 pounds, he plays the game fearlessly and with reckless abandon. He always roamed the secondary with the mindset of a linebacker, so the move down a level actually makes sense. Fellner started four games a year ago, but peaked as a sophomore in 2010, making 79 tackles and five interceptions.
Pushing Fuimaono for reps at weakside is 6-0, 221-pound junior Garrett Gilliland, a blue-collar linebacker with a letter at the end of the last two seasons. Mostly a high-adrenaline special teamer up to this point in his career, he did start one game on defense in 2011, making 23 total tackles.
Providing cover for Timu in the middle will be last year's backup to Dennison, 6-1, 255-pound junior Thomas Tutogi . The coveted transfer from Southwestern (Calif.) Junior College debuted with 19 tackles, mostly contributing on special teams. He has the best size among the linebackers, and the ample strength to be a factor in run defense.
Watch Out For … Fellner to look the part at strongside. If he was a little bigger, the shift from the secondary would have happened even earlier in his career. Heck, even as a safety, he spent an awful lot of time inching up close to the line of scrimmage. The junior has just enough intensity and physicality to be a real force against the run this fall.
Strength: Range. When going from sideline to sideline, the Huskies linebackers move with all of the quickness and agility of well-sized defensive backs. Their athletic make-up allows them to be used in myriad different ways, from pinning their ears back on blitzes to fluidly dropping back in coverage to blanket a target in the passing game.
Weakness: Filling running lanes. This was a problem a year ago, one that won't be easily resolved now that Dennison has graduated from the program. The Huskies yielded more than five yards a carry in 2011, with opposing backs too often streaking beyond the second level of the D. The starters are not very big, which could present problems against downhill running opponents.
Outlook: After using a handful of first-timers last fall, the linebackers should be trending north now that they have a key season of experience in the rear view mirror. Still, there are holes and enough question marks to believe that the Washington D will be most vulnerable on the second level. While the unit is going to produce a fair amount of money plays, it's the garden-variety blasts up the gut that could trip it up.
Unit Rating: 6
While no one wants to blab too much about the secondary, there's a quiet buzz that the group should be vastly improved from a year ago. In theory, the only way is up after the Huskies ranked 116th nationally in pass efficiency D. There's backbone-type player at cornerback and safety, with 5-10, 200-pound Sean Parker bolstering the latter. The junior strong safety is fresh off a breakthrough first year in the starting lineup, making 91 tackles and four interceptions. In many ways an ideal athlete for the position, he hits hard, takes good angles and is a highly instinctive defender. If Parker continues to evolve for the Huskies, his career path in the sport won't end in Seattle.
The favorite to fill the void at free safety is 5-11, 209-pound Justin Glenn, a senior with 27 games of playing experience. He suffered a setback early in his career with a broken leg, but rallied back to start five games, and make 52 tackles and three stops behind the line. While the competition is beginning to grow, Glenn has the right demeanor and know-how to hold on to the spot, or at worst be the program's nickel back.
Behind Glenn is a quality backup, 6-0, 193-pound junior Will Shamburger , a starter in four games last season. He was in on 36 tackles, consistently imposing his will on the other guy's receivers. He plays with maximum intensity and drive, and is at his best when he's able to punish the man with the ball.
The leader of the cornerbacks will be 6-0, 195-pound senior Desmond Trufant , an honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick on the verge of copping more awards in his finale. Throughout his career, he's been the type of player who will frustrate a receiver on one play, only to frustrate his coaches on the next one. In Trufant's defense, he has not been surrounded by a ton of talent since becoming a starter in 2009. What he does have is good size and speed, and the coverage skills to get drafted next April. He was also plenty feisty in 2011, finishing fourth on the team with 64 tackles, and tops with 16 passes defended.
Playing opposite Trufant at the other cornerback position will be either 5-10, 180-pound junior Greg Ducre or 5-11, 195-pound redshirt freshman Marcus Peters , who were locked in a tight battle coming out of spring. Ducre has the clear edge in experience, having started six games, and making 37 tackles a year ago. He has some of the best wheels on the team, an obvious plus for sticking with some of the league's more dangerous deep threats. Peters is the future at corner; the only question is whether that future right away or in 2013. He has great size, including the physicality to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. Peters turned enough heads in the spring to lock up a spot in the rotation in the fall.
Watch Out For … Trufant to finally put it all together. Whether it's the three years of experience behind him or the lure of the NFL in front of him, No. 6 is on the verge of delivering his best season as a Husky. Sure, he's frustrated U-Dub fans in the past by allowing plays to get behind him, but he remains a talented pass defender who is set to peak at a most opportune time of his career.
Strength: Depth at safety. Shamburger and 6-4, 205-pound redshirt freshman Travis Feeney are solid options off the bench. And uber-recruit Shaquille Thompson has yet to even arrive on campus. The 6-2, 210-pounder is no ordinary recruit who spends his first season taking it slow as he learns the ropes. No, he was signed for today, and has the tools to compete with Glenn immediately.
Weakness: Defending the pass. In its most basic sense, Washington has had problems in recent years when the ball is in the air. Too many blown coverages. Too many big plays over the top. While the Pac-12 is certainly a challenging place for a defensive back to call home, the Huskies must begin doing a better job of shutting down receivers, and turning a few more batted balls into takeaways.
Outlook: The future lends hope. The past provides a stark reminder. While the Huskies harbor some high-caliber parts, such as Parker, Trufant and Thompson, the whole needs to be better than those individual pieces. With a little more help from the pass rush, Washington is banking on a few more picks, a reduction in touchdown passes and generally steadier play out of the defensive backs.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The graduations of last year's punter and placekicker mean that the program will be putting out an APB for both positions this offseason. Included on the list of job-seekers will be a couple of newcomers who were signed earlier in the year to contribute immediately. On the same day that the Huskies lost backup QB Nick Montana to Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College, it signed a kicker, sophomore Travis Coons , from the same JUCO institution. The transfer has consistently shown off excellent leg strength, and not just on field goals. He has also excelled on kickoffs and as a punter as well, giving the staff all kinds of options with him.
Coons might be the Huskies punter this fall. If he isn't, the job could go to true freshman Korey Durkee , the only punter under scholarship on the roster. The local three-star recruit is well-sized, with the fundamentals to go on and become a four-year starter.
While the staff has yet to decide on the rotation of returners, all of last year's main contributors are back. Juniors Kevin Smith and Jesse Callier showed some pop on kickoffs, while sophomore Kasen Williams was the busiest of the punt returns.
Watch Out For … Coons to become one of the program's most coveted recruits of the most recent class. No, he's not going to get the same attention as, say, five-star S Shaquille Thompson, but the kicking specialist might end up being more valuable, at least for the upcoming season.
Strength: Smith, provided he makes it back from last December's ACL injury. Since he was injured in the offseason, he lost the opportunity to lock up the kick returners job for a second straight year, but that ought to happen as soon as he's healthy. The junior was a bona fide weapon for the offense, averaging just under 26 yards an attempt to rank third in the Pac-12 and 25th nationally.
Weakness: Uncertainty. Sure, the Huskies went hard after Coons and Durkee for a reason, but guarantees are non-existent when the subject is newcomers. Until the program's first-year punter and kicker actually start performing in pressure situations, no one is going to know for sure how well they'll handle it.
Outlook: The Huskies will be facing question marks galore on special teams as the 2012 season quickly approaches. All eyes will be on Coons and Durkee, as both look to become instant impacts performers for the program. If the pair struggles at a new level, it's going to hit the bottom line for a school that needs to excel at the little things in order to ascend a little higher in the conference.
Unit Rating: 6
- 2012 Washington Preview |
2012 Washington Offense
2012 Washington Defense |
Washington Depth Chart