2008 Washington Preview - Defense
Washington DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim
Washington DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim
Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Washington Husky Defense

Washington Huskies

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Washington Preview | 2008 UW Offense
- 2008 UW Defense | 2008 UW Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Washington Preview | 2006 CFN Washington Preview 

What you need to know: New coordinator Ed Donatell might seek out a one-way ticket back to the NFL after trying to resuscitate this unit. The Huskies will be looking for a bunch of new starters on a defense that finished last in the Pac-10 and 104th nationally in pass defense. The biggest need area is along a depleted defensive line that loses three starters, and will be counting on players, such as holdover DE Daniel Te’o- Nesheim and untested DT Cameron Elisara, to lead the charge up front. The brightest building block of the defense was LB E.J. Savannah, an athletic defender who led the team with 111 tackles in 2007, but he's academically ineligible and might be out for the year. That means FS Nate Williams is the new star playmaker to build the back seven around. 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mesphin Forrester, 93
Sacks: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, 8.5
Interceptions: Mesphin Forrester, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshman CB Quinton Richardson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Nate Williams
Best pro prospect: Junior LB E.J. Savannah if eligible
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Te’o-Nesheim 2)
Senior CB Mesphin Forrester 3) Junior LB Donald Butler
Strength of the defense: The linebackers, depth on the back seven
Weakness of the defense: The pass defense, pass rush, defensive tackle

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: After losing three starters and five seniors to graduation, the Huskies are suddenly very young and vulnerable up front. The lone returning starter is 6-4, 260-pound junior DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, a two-year starter and the emotional catalyst for the entire defense. On the brink of becoming an all-conference star, he parlayed a non-stop motor and unparalleled intensity into 57 tackles and a team-high 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.    

Te’o-Nesheim’s likely partner at defensive end is junior Darrion Jones, an infrequent contributor over the last three seasons. A former linebacker, he bulked up to 6-3 and 255 pounds to go along with the speed and natural lean of a prototypical edge rusher. However, he has just three career tackles and will have to fight to hold on to this spot.

Sophomore Cameron Elisara has a chance to be to the tackles what Te’o-Nesheim is to the ends. Although Elisara lacks ideal size at 6-2 and 275 pounds, he’s a whistle-to-whistle battler who plays with good leverage and is one of the defense’s strongest players. He’ll occasionally get engulfed by larger linemen, but has the right blend of power and want-to to become a very productive player.   

In a matter of a few weeks in April, sophomore De’Shon Matthews went from a backup defensive end to a starting defensive tackle, filling a glaring need up front. A natural fit on the outside at 6-4 and 255 pounds, he has a massive wingspan and an obvious need for additional weight. He has a good burst that’ll be neutralized if he can’t get off his blocks.   

Projected Top Reserves: As soon as he can add more lower body strength and gain some reps, redshirt freshman DE Kalani Aldrich will have the potential to be a productive pass rusher in the Pac-10.  At 6-7 and 244 pounds, he has a rangy frame and the long arms to bat down passes and obstruct the quarterback’s vision.

On the opposite side, redshirt freshman Tyrone Duncan, a squatty 6-2, 285-pounder, will be able to contribute more in run defense. Built like a nose tackle, he has the base and quickness to make plays on the other side of the line. He’s a different type of end, but he’s effective.

On the inside, the Huskies are counting on another redshirt freshman, Nick Wood, to provide depth and an instant dose of run-stuffing ability. While only 6-2 and 275 pounds, he’s very strong and uses his hands well to disengage from blockers.

Watch Out For… the true freshmen to get every opportunity to avoid a redshirt year. Tackles Alameda Ta’amu and Craig Noble, and ends Senio Kelemete and Everette Thompson are a talented quartet who’ll be a given a chance to join a questionable rotation when they arrive in August.
Strength: Work ethic. With Te’o-Nesheim setting the setting for intensity and ferocity, the line is rife with overachievers who’ll outhustle and outwork the competition if raw talent alone can’t get it done.
Weakness: Size on the inside. The diminutive tackles are going to get destroyed against the run by opponents that line up and run the ball right at them. At 6-4 and 270 pounds, converted tight end Johnie Kirton is the biggest of the two-deep tackles, a reality that’ll haunt the D throughout the year.
Outlook: Long on try-hard guys and short on elite talent, the line will struggle to win the battles that make life easier for the back seven. Although they won’t be outworked by many teams, the glaring deficiencies on the inside have no simple or quick solutions.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: The Huskies needed to find a way to get sophomore Mason Foster on the field, and with E.J. Savannah suspended, the problem is solved. One of the budding stars of the defense, he started four games as a true freshman, finishing with 25 tackles and five tackles for loss. A versatile and explosive defender, Foster is 6-1 and 218 pounds with the athleticism to make plays all over the field.

At the other outside position, former walk-on Joshua Gage has worked his way to the top of the depth chart for now. At 6-2 and 225 pounds, the junior plays with good instincts and discipline, earning a letter and high marks for his efforts on special teams. Not the most athletic of the linebackers, he’ll need to continue exceeding expectations in the summer to remain a starter.

Grappling for the opening at middle linebacker are junior Donald Butler and senior Trenton Tuiasosopo. The biggest knock on the 6-1, 240-pound Butler is a recurring knee injury that limited him to 52 tackles in eight games, a number that’s well below his potential. If health isn’t a concern, he’s rock solid in run defense and the most intimidating of the linebackers.

The 6-2, 240-pound Tuiasosopo filled in nicely for Butler last fall, starting eight games and making 39 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. All things being equal, he’s a rung below Butler, doing a nice job in run defense, but often getting exposed when he’s forced to cover a back or a tight end.

Projected Top Reserves:
Provided he can remain out of Willingham’s Dawg house, and into the classroom junior E.J. Savannah will be one of Washington’s best defensive players and a rising talent in the Pac-10. He erupted as a sophomore with a team-leading 111 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, two sacks, and three fumble recoveries. At 6-2 and 228 pounds, he has good instincts and lateral quickness, but will be even better when he learns to play a little more under control. The problem is his eligibility, or lack of it. Academically ineligible, he could be on the team late in the season, but that's a huge hope.

While no threat to the starting lineup, senior Chris Stevens brings plenty of intensity and 32 games of experience to the reserves. He had 24 tackles a year ago, but was far more valuable as the program’s gunner on special teams.

Watch Out For… Foster to finish the season with more snaps than anyone. Whether he moves to strongside or earns more reps when the 3-4 is used, the sophomore has too upside potential to be wallowing on the bench. If Butler’s knee isn’t 100%, Foster becomes the second best linebacker on the roster.
Strength: Experience. Six different linebackers started games in 2007. Four of them are back in Seattle for another, forming the D’s deepest unit.
Weakness: The middle. If Butler’s injuries are behind, the program is set on the inside. However, his balky knee has been a persistent problem, and Tuiasosopo is better served coming off the bench instead of being the every-down man in the middle.
Outlook: With Savannah out, now Butler has to stay healthy for the linebackers to be the strength of the defense, educing cries for greater reliance on a 3-4 alignment. Even if everything doesn’t line up perfectly, this will be a solid unit brimming with quality athletes.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Now that the defensive backs are veterans, it’s time the production follows. A year older, and presumably wiser, the Huskies are hoping to move beyond last year when they allowed a league-high 27 touchdowns. Senior Mesphin Forrester is the only holdover to start all 13 games in 2007, but that was at strong safety. This year, he’ll be filling the Roy Lewis’s vacated cornerback spot. Playing through a series of nagging injuries, he still rung up 93 tackles and picked off two passes for a second straight. A 6-2, 205-pound enforcer, Forrester needs to step it up in pass defense to avoid getting picked on constantly. 

Fresh off being named the Special Teams Scout Team Player of the Year, redshirt freshman Quinton Richardson has his sights set on the other starting cornerback spot. Built more like a safety at 6-0 and 205 pounds, he has flashed enough speed and cover skills to be used as a cornerback. His combination of size and athleticism will allow the staff to use him in a number of different ways.

Sliding over to strong safety is 5-11, 200-pound senior Darin Harris, who started the final eight games of 2007 at free safety. A three-time letterwinner, he finished fourth on the team with 73 tackles, and is at his best when playing closer to the line of scrimmage. When forced on an island, he can be a liability in pass defense.

After lettering as a true freshman and making 32 tackles, the staff is confident sophomore Nate Williams is ready to take over at free safety on a full-time basis. A special 6-1, 205-pound all-around athlete, he combines promising open-field tackling with above-average cover skills. He’ll be on the all-conference team before he’s through at Washington.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing hard for the strong safety job is 6-1, 217-pound sophomore Victor Aiyewa, a tremendous physical specimen who lettered on special teams as a true freshman. Still quite raw, when the light finally goes on, he’ll have the potential to be a nasty and intimidating defender.

Williams’ backup at free safety will be 6-2, 210-pound senior Jason Wells, a five-game starter before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Before getting hurt, he has made 24 tackles and was dishing out pain on a weekly basis. He’s expected to be back before the opener, good news for the entire secondary.

The veteran among the backup safeties is senior Byron Davenport, a seven-game starter in his first season since transferring from UCLA. The 5-11, 195-pounder had 50 tackles, enduring constant hamstring problems that affected his trademark quickness and ability to break on balls.

Sophomore Vonzell McDowell was pressed into action as a rookie, and his inexperience shone through on a weekly basis. He started the first three games, but eventually lost confidence and was relegated to the bench and wound up with just 20 tackles. He’s only 5-9 and 176 pounds, making him a liability in run defense and when matched against taller receivers.

Watch Out For… Williams to begin evolving into one of the program’s best defensive players. He has all the tools to be a special safety, needing a little more experience before taking another step in the maturation process.
Strength: Depth. After being forced to burn a few redshirts and use a ton of players, the Huskies are beginning to reap the benefits of opening up the bench in 2007. Nine letter-winning defensive backs will be fighting for four jobs in the summer creating an air of competition that’ll benefit the entire secondary.
Weakness: Pass defense. It’s an on-going problem that the program hasn’t been able to solve in years yielding too many big plays and picks off too few passes, the biggest crisis the defense faces heading into a new season.
Outlook: Barring injury, the secondary has enough familiar faces and quality athletes to perform better. However, that doesn’t mean it’ll be up to new coordinator Ed Donatell’s satisfaction. The Huskies are still lacking in shutdown corners, and all of the position switching could have a negative impact, especially in the first half of the year.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Both specialists return to a unit that replaced coaches in the offseason following a rough year in some spots. Junior Ryan Perkins will be in his second season as the starting placekicker after going 15-of-20 on field goal attempts and having three blocked. He has average leg strength and became increasingly inconsistent as he moved further away from the goal posts.

In his first season removed from Grossmont (Calif.) College, senior P Jared Ballman did a decent job, averaging 40.9 yards, while handling the team’s kickoffs. He gets lift on his punts, and also doubles as Perkins’ backup at placekicker.

Among new coordinator Brian White’s many challenges will be to locate a couple of returners to supplant last year’s regulars, Anthony Russo and Louis Rankin. 

Watch Out For … redshirt freshman Erik Folk. Lurking at No. 3 on the depth chart, he might have unseated Perkins as a first-year freshman had it not been for a back injury. If his health isn’t an issue, he has the best leg of any of the kickers and a chance to contend for more playing time.
Strength: Depth at kicker. In Perkins, Ballman, and Folk, the Huskies have three placekickers good enough to trot on to the field and split the uprights. Particularly good inside 40 yards, Perkins showed sharp accuracy as the season unfolded.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. As good as Washington was on punt coverage, it was equally awful on kickoffs. The Huskies yielded more than 24 yards a return, which was at the bottom of the Pac-10 and 109th in the country. 
Outlook: Like so many Husky units, there’s work to be done on improving every aspect. Perkins and Ballman helped plug holes a year ago, but the coverage teams still need to tighten things up and new return specialists must emerge before September.
Rating: 6.5