2007 Washington Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 24, 2007

Preview 2007 Washington Husky Defense

Washington Huskies

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Washington Preview | 2007 UW Offense Preview
2007 UW Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Washington Preview 

What you need to know: Even with a slight improvement in 2006, the Husky pass defense ranked among the nation’s worst for the second straight year.  With no stars and two new starters, expect more of the same in 2007.  The problems in the secondary will again overshadow a sneaky good front seven that features four returning starters on the defensive line and a group of young, dynamic linebackers, including sophomores E.J. Savannah and Donald Butler that could evolve into playmakers.  Defensive ends Greyson Gunheim and Daniel Te’o Nesheim are a couple of warriors that combined for two dozen tackles for loss last fall.  At 6-5 and 265 pounds, Gunheim runs like a gazelle, making him a magnet for NFL scouts visiting the Northwest.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Roy Lewis, 66
Sacks: Greyson Gunheim, 6
Interceptions: Mesphin Forrester, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE Greyson Gunheim
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Byron Davenport
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB E.J. Savannah
Best pro prospect: Gunheim
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gunheim 2) DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim 3) FS Jason Wells
Strength of the defense: The defensive line
Weakness of the defense: The pass defense, creating turnovers

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Whatever success the Husky defense has in 2007 will start up front with an aggressive, veteran line that returns six lettermen and four starters.  The ends, senior Greyson Gunheim and sophomore Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, are high-motor types that combined for 24 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 2006.  Gunheim was benched briefly last fall, but still wound up leading the team with 14 tackles for loss and six sacks.  At 6-5 and 265 pounds with uncommon speed for a lineman, he’s a pass-rushing terror coming off the edge. 

Te’o-Nesheim was one of last season’s pleasant surprises, consistently beating opposing tackles and making plays for minus yards.  Neither the quickest nor the biggest Washington lineman at 6-4 and 245 pounds, he’ll simply out work his guy in order to make stops.      

After starting 11 games and making 23 tackles in 2006, senior Wilson Afoa is back to anchor the interior of the Husky line.  Showing good quickness for a 6-3, 290-pounder, he has to be even more productive as a run stuffer in the season ahead. 

Afoa will be joined by fellow senior Jordan Reffett, who started the first five games of his career last season, chipping in 23 tackles and four for loss.  At 6-6 and 295 pounds, he’s the team’s biggest lineman, and must play like it if the Huskies are going to improve against the run in 2007.       

Projected Top Reserves: After redshirting last season to get bigger and stronger, sophomore Darrion Jones is on his way to becoming the first end off the bench this fall.  At 6-3 and 245 pounds, he has the speed and explosion to be a very effective situational rusher. 

The other second team end will be senior Caesar Rayford, a two-time letterman that’s seen most of his action on special teams.  A terrific all-around athlete, one of his biggest challenges has been adding weight to a lanky, 6-7 frame. 

The future at tackle in Seattle will undoubtedly involve redshirt freshman Cameron Elisara, one of the stars of last year’s recruiting class.  The 2006 Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year is only 6-2 and 280 pounds, but he’s quick enough to get into the backfield and goes until the whistle on every down.  Once Afoa and Reffett graduate, Elisara is destined to become a crowd favorite at Husky Stadium.   

Watch Out For… Gunheim and Te’o-Nesheim to quietly be one of the most disruptive set of bookends in the Pac-10.  Te’o-Nesheim plays like an animal with no off switch, and Gunheim begins 2007 with a chip on his shoulder after feeling as if underachieved last season                                       
Strength: Experience.  With so many veterans returning to the line, the defense will be able to use a deep rotation that keeps everyone fresh beyond halftime, when the Huskies struggled last season.           
Weakness: Getting to the quarterback.  Other than Gunheim, who had six, no Washington lineman had more than three sacks in 2006, a trend that must change if the leaky pass defense is going to have a prayer.           
Outlook: The ends are fringe all-Pac-10 performers and the tackles are reliable big-bodies, giving Washington the building blocks of a very respectable first line of defense.          
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: Two starters from last year may have departed, but Washington will retool on the fly at linebacker thanks to some terrific recruiting in recent years.  The veteran of the group is senior Dan Howell, who started ten games at strongside, and had 35 tackles, six for loss and a team-high three forced fumbles.  Named Most Improved Defensive Player in 2006, he’s outstanding in pass defense and ready to assume more of a leadership role on the defense. 

After learning the ropes in 2006 and lettering as a freshman, E.J. Savannah stepped up this spring and won himself the job at weakside linebacker.  A highly instinctive defender with great sideline-to-sideline quickness, he’s got a very bright future with the Huskies. 

In the middle will be Donald Butler, one of just two freshmen to receive playing time in 2006.  Mature beyond his years, he was thrust into action last fall, and responded with 24 tackles and improved play as the season wound down.

Projected Top Reserves: Although junior Chris Stevens has fallen behind Savannah on the depth chart, he’ll still be an important part of the defensive rotation and special teams in 2007.  Built like a safety at 6-0 and 215 pounds, and as fast as any Husky, he had 31 tackles and seven tackles for loss as a key backup last season. 

Washington’s insurance policy at middle linebacker is junior Trenton Tuiasosopo, the cousin of Marques and Matt.  Bigger and stronger against the run than Butler, he trying to revive a career that was briefly stalled by a head injury suffered a little more than two years ago.  

Watch Out For… Savannah to flash signs in 2007 of an all-league future.  More than just a terrific physical specimen, he plays with an attitude and has the innate ability to constantly be near the ball.                                   
Strength: Speed.  While they may be a little light on the outside, the linebackers are great natural athletes that can fly to the ball and come off the edge on the blitz.  In pass coverage, they’re capable of matching most backs and tight ends like a defensive back.                       
Weakness: Experience in the middle.  Both Butler and Tuiasosopo have upside, but at the most pivotal spot on the unit, neither player has even started a game at this level.        
Outlook: Once they survive the early stages of the season, the Huskies have the young athletes at linebacker to be a very feisty big-play unit by the second half of the year.                          
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: For the second straight year, Washington will be trying to find answers for a pass defense that finished among the nation’s worst.  It’ll do so without last season’s best cornerback and safety, Dashon Goldson and C.J. Wallace.  The Huskies’ most experienced defensive back is senior corner Roy Lewis, a third-year starter that’s lacked consistency the last two seasons.  He’s played a ton of football for both Washington and San Jose State, and had 66 tackles in 2006, but needs to become the steady corner that the program is sorely lacking. 

The battle to join Lewis at cornerback involves junior Jordan Murchison and redshirt freshman Matt Mosley, neither of whom played last season.  In his first season out of junior college, the staff decided to hold back Murchison after he was slowed by a knee injury in August.  While speed isn’t an issue for the 6-0, 184-pounder, no one will know until September whether he can cover Pac-10 receivers. 

Also a member of the track team, Mosley is a blazer with great hands and few extra pounds of muscle since he arrived last year.  The starting job is there for the taking if he can show a level of consistency that in coverage.

The first-line safeties figure to be juniors Jason Wells and Mesphin Forrester.  In his first year out of Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College, Wells started six games for the Huskies and finished with 42 tackles.  At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he’s a thumper with the physical tools to load up on tackles and be the star of the secondary in 2007. 

His two-year apprenticeship now complete, Forrester is ready to take over at strong safety.  At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he’ll come up and support in run defense, but in spot duty last fall, also proved to be surprisingly active when the ball was in the air.  Forrester had two of Washington’s ten picks in 2006 and broke up four other passes.           

Projected Top Reserves: The loser of the competition between Murchison and Mosley will still be an integral part of the secondary and a possible nickel back on obvious passing downs.  Junior Darin Harris is a two-time letterwinner and a rock solid reserve at either safety position.  After starting four games as a true sophomore in 2005, he redshirted last season to rehab from back problems.  If health isn’t an issue, Harris gives the second team a much-needed jolt of experience.       

Watch Out For… junior cornerback Byron Davenport.  No doubt Davenport has talent, but the fact that he’s being counted on to immediately plug a hole in the secondary says a lot about the dire situation in the Husky pass defense.  When last seen, he was lettering with UCLA in 2005, and going by the name Byron Velaga.                                     
Strength: The safeties.  With Wells, Forrester and Harris, Washington goes three-deep at the position, all of whom have experience and the size to support the run like an inside linebacker.
Weakness: Pass defense.  Not only do the Huskies allow too many big plays, but they don’t create any, picking off just ten passes in 2006.             
Outlook: Without even the hint of a lockdown corner to slow down the likes of Cal’s DeSean Jackson or Oregon’s Jaison Williams, it’s going to be another rough season for the still struggling Husky secondary.       
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Graduations at punter and placekicker mean Washington’s special teams are about to be overhauled in 2007.  Junior Jared Ballman, a transfer from Grossmont (Calif.) College, was recruited to take over the punting duties immediately and challenge at kicker as well.  While his hang time can has been very impressive, he was wildly inconsistent throughout spring, a major concern heading into the summer. 

Sophomore Ryan Perkins has a slight edge to win the kicking job after returning from a season-ending knee injury suffered in the 2006 spring game.  A left-footed punter and right-footed kicker, he has the leg strength to compete for both openings.            

Despite finishing 91st nationally in 2006, senior Roy Lewis will be back as the team’s primary kick returner.  Senior Anthony Russo and sophomore D’Andre Goodwin are being counted on to spark a punt return team that 97th in the country last season.

Projected Top Reserves: Perkins could also win the punting job, especially if Ballman continues to shank punts in practice.  Freshman Zach Gerasin is a walk-on kicker with a slim shot of rising to the top of the depth chart.   

Watch Out For… incoming freshman kicker Erik Folk.  One of the top-rated kickers on the West Coast, Folk is instantly Perkins’ stiffest competition.  The younger brother of former Arizona kicker and punter Nick Folk, he’s particularly strong on kickoffs.                   
Strength: Kickoff coverage. The Huskies don’t appear especially strong in any one area of special teams, but they did finish second in the Pac-10 covering kicks, and should be just as stout this year.               
Weakness: Punt coverage.  As good as Washington was on kick coverage in 2006, it was equally atrocious on punts.  The Huskies gave up nearly 15 yards a return, which was worse than all but three teams in America.                  
Outlook: Unless Folk steps up and kicks like a Freshman All-American, it’s going to be hard finding the silver linings on this special teams unit.  The situation at punter is unsettling and the return game was feeble throughout 2006.          
Rating: 5


Related Stories
2007 Washington Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 24, 2007
2007 Washington Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 24, 2007
2007 Washington Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 24, 2007

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