Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 CFN Washington Preview
2009 UW Offense
2009 UW Defense
2009 UW Depth Chart
2008 UW Preview
2007 UW Preview
What you need to know:
After allowing more points and more yards than any defense in
school history, the return of nine starters is being viewed as a
mixed blessing. Absolutely nothing went right a year ago, but
new coordinator Nick Holt does inherit some decent talent,
especially in the front seven, where DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and
linebackers E.J. Savannah and Mason Foster are all-star caliber.
Schematically, Holt’s defense will look similar to the one he
coached at USC, which means it’ll be run out of a 4-3 base set.
While there’s no shortage of items on the to-do list, the top
priority will be to find the mix in a defensive backfield that
was completely overmatched last fall and still had two
unresolved positions coming out of spring.
Tackles: Mason Foster, 105
Sacks: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, 8
Interceptions: Several at 1
Star of the
defense: Senior DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim
Player who has to step up and become a star:
Sophomore CB Quinton Richardson
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore DT Alameda Ta’amu
three all-star candidates:
1) Te’o-Nesheim 2) Savannah 3) Junior LB Mason Foster
Strength of the defense:
Weakness of the defense:
The pass defense, run defense, pass rush, creating turnovers
Te’o-Nesheim wasn’t supposed to be this good when he left
Hawaii for the mainland. So much for high school rankings. Now
entering his fourth season as a starter, he’s evolved into one
of the league’s best pass rushers and an All-Pac-10 second
teamer. For the second straight year, he provided the spark up
front, posting 65 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and a
team-best eight sacks. A solid 6-4, 263-pounder, he uses his
hands well and has the whistle-to-whistle intensity to wear down
With Te’o-Nesheim drawing plenty of
attention, Husky coaches hope 6-2, 245-pound senior
Darrion Jones can
take advantage from the other side. A former linebacker, he has
the speed needed to get into the backfield, but hasn’t produced,
making just 17 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss as a nine-game
starter. He’ll need to build on a strong spring in order to keep
one of the kids from stealing his job.
On the inside, the
Huskies boast a pair of complimentary players, 6-3, 289-pound
junior Cameron Elisara
and 6-2, 348-pound sophomore
Elisara is more of a three-tech tackle, with the quickness,
instincts, and motor to slice through blockers and disrupt plays
behind the line. A good blend of strength, desire, and burst, he
had 24 tackles as a sophomore, earning seven starts.
Ta’amu, on the other
hand, is a prototypical space-eater, a two-gap tackle, who can
hold his ground and clog running lanes. An extremely powerful
player, he has the potential to be a dominant run defender,
especially if he can improve his conditioning and stamina. Too
good to keep off the field as a rookie, he started five games a
year ago and chipped in 21 tackles.
Projected Top Reserves:
If Jones leaves an opening at defensive end, 6-6, 255-pound
Thompson is going to bust through. A prized recruit from
2008, he made his presence felt in 11 games, notching 18
tackles, five tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. Considering
his size, he moves extremely well, covering ground like a
pass-catching tight end.
The most versatile of
the reserves is 6-4, 260-pound junior
De’Shon Matthews, a
former defensive end, who’s now lining up behind Elisara at
tackle. He has a huge wingspan to apply a punch to offensive
linemen and the quick feet to get penetration. He played
sparingly a year ago, but did earn his first letter.
Watch Out For…the emergence of Ta’amu. Washington has
been searching for a plugger like him for years, only to come up
short. Tackles this big, who can also move, usually wind up
playing on Sundays, which is why the new staff is so geeked
about his potential.
Strength: The ends. With Te’o-Nesheim bearing the torch
and Thompson gaining quickly, the Huskies have a nice mix of
experience and youth at the position. If Jones can play as well
as he did in April, allowing Thompson to develop at a modest
pace, the defense will have a solid rotation on the outside.
Weakness: More help for Te’o-Nesheim. No. 66 did all he
could to help the team last year, but it’s about time he gets
more support. Despite his efforts and constant pressure, the
Huskies had just two other sacks from defensive linemen in 2008
and finished 117th nationally against the run.
Outlook: The optimist will tell you that everyone
returns from a year ago. Of course, that was the same crew that
got mauled up front on a weekly basis. Washington needs to be
more than a one-man gang in the trenches if it has any hope of
improving on last year’s dreadful results in all phases. It’s
incumbent upon every lineman to raise the level of his ability
The linebackers were already good, but they became Washington’s
most talented unit when 6-1, 230-pound senior
E.J. Savannah was
cleared to play this season. He left the team and sat out all of
2008 after delivering a terrific, borderline All-Pac-10 campaign
a year earlier. Highly instinctive and quick from
sideline-to-sideline, he gives the defense another playmaker at
one of the outside spots.
Savannah’s absence last
fall created a massive opportunity for 6-1, 229-pound junior
Mason Foster, who
filled it like an old pro. Using a similar formula of explosive
athleticism and keen instincts, he went from backup to leading
tackler overnight, finishing with 105 stops and a dozen tackles
behind the line. A true playmaker, he’ll be given the green
light to blitz and make plays everywhere on the field.
Holding down the middle will be 6-1,
242-pound senior Donald Butler, who has started 15 games over the last two seasons
and has three letters. As healthy as he’d been in a long time,
he stepped up and made 69 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and
two sacks. A solid tackler when filling the lanes, he’ll be even
more productive flanked by all-star-caliber players, like
Savannah and Butler.
Projected Top Reserves: In sixth-year senior
the Huskies boast one of the steadiest backup linebackers in the
Pac-10. A seven-game starter in the middle last year, he had a
career-high 71 tackles and three passes defended. At 6-2 and 243
pounds, he’s the unit’s strongest player, doing his best work on
Behind Savannah on the outside will be 6-2,
226-pound senior Josh
Gage, a self-made former walk-on, who earned four starts and
made 17 stops a year ago. An ace on special teams and a try-hard
guy, he brings leadership and a contagious attitude to this
Watch Out For… the Huskies to at least toy with the idea
with the 3-4. The linebackers are sound. The line is a concern.
That could be a recipe for pairing up Tuiasosopo with Butler as
inside linebackers, thus getting the team’s 11 best players on
Lateral speed. Savannah and Foster, in particular, have the
quickness to string out plays and keep opposing backs from
getting around tackle. Savannah was terrific in 2007. Foster was
equally good in 2008. Put the two on the field at the same time,
and the Huskies have one of the top dozen or so best outside
linebacker tandems in the country.
Weakness: Backups on the outside. Everything is fine if
the starters play all 12 games, but what happens if Savannah has
issues again or one of the two get injured? Gage is a nice
player to have on the B team, but as a starter, he can be
everyone is available throughout the year, the Huskies will lean
on this group as the foundation of its defense and the team. The
top four players are rock solid, combining the ability to stuff
the run with a knack for the big play. With so many plays
getting past the first line of defense, all three starters could
rack up at least 75 tackles and a half-dozen behind the line.
On offense, the Huskies are most concerned about the line. On
defense, it’s the secondary. It’s an on-going problem that the
program has labored to solve throughout this decade. First, the
good news. Junior SS Nate Williams is back to follow up on his All-Pac-10 honorable
mention season. One of the few bright spots, he started all 12
games, making 76 tackles and breaking up five passes. A
tremendous all-around athlete at 6-0 and 207 pounds, he’ll
punish opponents in the open field and has above average cover
The only other sure-thing starter among the
defensive backs is 6-0, 200-pound sophomore
who returns for his second year as a full-time cornerback. Built
more like a safety, he flashed enough speed and athleticism to
be used at corner, making 32 tackles and breaking up a team-high
seven passes. He was lost at times in 2008, but the staff feels
he has the right physical package to persevere.
From here, things get
real cloudy. At the other cornerback spot, four players left
spring with a realistic shot at winning the job in August. If
you have four corners, you probably have none. The most
experienced of the group is 5-10, 180-pound junior
Matt Mosley, who has
started three games in each of the last two seasons and had a
career-high 15 tackles in 2008. He had some moments last fall,
but also showed enough leaks in pass defense to be again
fighting to hold his job.
The situation at free
safety is nearly as muddled. Sophomore
Johri Fogerson moved
from tailback before the season, and wound up starting three
games and making 23 tackles. Although the 6-2, 190-pounder is
better prepared and healthier for
the assignment this fall, he’s still a liability when the ball
is in the air and only has a soft hold on this job.
Projected Top Reserves: Running neck-and-neck with
Fogerson at free safety is 5-11, 198-pound redshirt freshman
Greg Walker, a
hard-hitting defender, who used last year to add muscle, and
enjoyed a promising spring.
At strong safety, the
coaching staff really likes the play of 6-1, 209-pound junior
Victor Aiyewa, but
only if he can remain healthy. A terrific physical specimen, he
was only able to suit up for five games, but had 17 tackles and
showed a knack for getting to the ball and wrapping up on
Of the slew of players vying for the corner
spot opposite Richardson, 5-9, 178-pound junior
stands out because of his experience. A letterwinner in each of
the last two seasons, he has 32 career tackles and four starts.
However, his size and cover ability are concerns, putting 5-11,
185-pound redshirt freshman
Justin Glenn and 6-0, 176-pound
Anthony Gobern on equal footing as the season approaches.
Watch Out For…
the return of senior
Jason Wells. Maybe. A starter at safety in 2006 and 2007,
Wells has missed almost the last two seasons with a knee injury.
While not quite 100%, he’s headed in that direction, and hopes
to compete for playing once the season begins. The Huskies can
use his veteran presence.
Strength: Depth. If there’s one positive thing you can
say about the Husky secondary, it’s that it has a bunch of
players who’ve seen the field. Largely out of necessity, a
whopping 10 different players have earned letters, including
6-2, 218-pound sophomore
Alvin Logan, who was a starting wide receiver last season.
Weakness: Pass defense. You can take your pick here
because Washington does little right when the ball is in the
air. A year ago, the Huskies were 115th nationally in
pass efficiency defense, picking off just seven passes and an
unacceptable 8.1 yards per attempt.
Outlook: One of these days, Washington is going to get
this right. Unfortunately, that day won’t come anytime soon. Too
often, the Huskies are overmatched, lacking the cover corners to
shut down even average receivers. Unless the pass rush makes
like infinitely easier than a year ago, the secondary will be
easy pickings for many opposing quarterbacks.
After enjoying a degree of stability over the last couple of
years, Washington is forced to break in a pair of new kickers
this fall. If sophomore
Erik Folk can stay healthy, which hasn’t happened over the
last two seasons, he’ll be the front-runner at placekicker. He’s
shown ample leg strength, but his accuracy, especially outside
40 yards, has come into question, and his back needs to hold up.
The situation is less
certain at punter, where sophomore
Kiel Rasp held a post-spring edge over junior
Andrew Lutton in the battle of the walk-ons. Neither player
padlocked the job in April, increasing the probability that
Will Mahan will soar past both players when he arrives in the
summer. A transfer from Bakersfield (Calif.) Community College,
he’s more of a finesse punter than a rocket launcher.
The Huskies will be
leaning on a quartet of sophomores,
Jordan Polk, Devin Aguilar,
and Cody Bruns to
spark one of the nation’s most feeble return games.
Watch Out For…
more regulars to be used in order to shore up the coverage and
return teams. The Huskies were awful in both areas a year ago,
prompting the staff to employ more starters on special teams.
Injury liability aside, it makes sense because the team looked
slow and overmatched here in 2008.
Strength: Covering kickoffs. It’s a reach, but it’s also
one of the few things Washington did really well last season.
The Huskies yielded just 19.7 yards a return, which was good 37th
nationally and No. 2 in the Pac-10.
Weakness: The return game. Go ahead and fill in covering
punts, which was just as hideous last fall. The Huskies were 105th
in the country on punt returns and 113th on kickoffs,
a double-whammy that did no favors for an already struggling
microcosm for the program as a whole, the special teams has
shortcomings everywhere and question marks at punter and
placekicker that need to be answered this summer. Unless things
change dramatically over the next few months, Washington will
need to compensate for one of the nation’s worst units among the