2010 Washington Preview - Defense
Washington LB Mason Foster
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Washington Husky Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What you need to know: The Huskies enjoyed some defensive momentum late last year, holding Washington State and Cal to 10 combined points in the final two games. Was it a fluke or a harbinger of things to come? Coordinator Nick Holt made progress in his first season, but has to build on it if the program is to finally emerge from its defensive doldrums. Washington still ranked eighth in total defense and ninth in scoring defense among Pac-10 teams, so there's plenty of room for growth. This year's squad will be built around LB Mason Foster, CB Desmond Trufant, and tackles Alameda Ta'amu and Cameron Elisara. On the top of Holt's agenda will be to find an end or two to offset the lost production of Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, and tighten up a secondary that allowed far too many big plays through the air.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Mason Foster
Tackles: Mason Foster, 85
Sacks: Alameda Ta'amu, 2.5
Interceptions: Mason Foster, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Quinton Richardson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Desmond Trufant
Best pro prospect: Foster
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Foster, 2) Junior DT Alameda Ta'amu, 3) Trufant
Strength of the defense: The interior of the line, forcing fumbles, red zone defense
Weakness of the defense: The pass rush, pass defense, run defense, third down defense
Projected Starters: Arguably the biggest hole that needs to be filled in the offseason is at defensive end, where leading sacker Daniel Te'o-Nesheim will be sorely missed. To help, 6-3, 229-pound sophomore Talia Crichton has been promoted, with a legitimate shot of being the starter in the opener. One of 10 true freshmen to play in 2009, he started four games and made six tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He has a good first step and is quick around the edge, but is also prone to getting trucked by bigger blockers and taken out of the play on running downs.
On the opposite side, there's hope that 6-6, 262-pound junior Everrette Thompson can make it all the way back from an Achilles injury that'll keep him from running until the summer. The gem of the 2008 class, he's yet to fully blossom, making just seven tackles and one sack despite playing in 10 games a year ago. Still, it's hard not to remain excited about his upside and measurables, which afford him the potential to emerge as a productive player from the strongside.
The steady force on the inside is 6-3, 275-pound Cameron Elisara, who's lettered all three seasons, starting eight games in 2009 and making 14 tackles and two stops for loss. Strong at the point of attack, he possesses the quickness, motor, and heavy hands to clog running lanes and occupy more than one blocker. After missing time with neck stingers, he's banking on playing at full strength this fall.
The burgeoning star on the inside is 6-3, 348-pound junior Alameda Ta'amu , who's coming off a breakthrough campaign as the starter. In the lineup for all but a single game, he made 19 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Though a prototypical space-eater and plenty powerful as a run defender, he's surprisingly quick for a behemoth, shooting the gap and hunting down ballcarriers from behind. If he maintains his weight and stamina, he has all-conference potential.
Projected Top Reserves: If Thompson struggles to get back to 100%, 6-4, 261-pound senior De'Shon Matthews will see a spike in his playing time and production. A versatile and experienced lineman, he has a huge wingspan, which he uses to punch opposing blockers en route to the backfield. He had just a pair of tackles in nine games a year ago, but will be counted on more heavily in 2010.
Assuming he makes it back from a knee injury, this could be the season that 6-7, 250-pound junior Kalani Aldrich begins fulfilling his potential. Limited to just seven games in 2009, he only made five tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. However, he has the size and quick feet to become an effective player off the bench.
In 6-2, 340-pound sophomore Semisi Tokolahi, Washington believes it has a younger version of Ta'amu on the inside. He played in five games as a rookie, making two stops, earning a letter, and getting better acclimated to the speed of the game. With a big bubble and a strong base, he's very difficult to move off his space, a prerequisite to being a stout run stopper in the middle of the line.
Watch Out For … Elisara to moonlight at end at times this year. Although he'll begin the summer at tackle, he played some reps on the outside in the spring, and has the necessary quickness and fundamentals to support a position that could be looking for help in September.
Strength: The inside. In stark contrast from recent history, Washington appears to be rock solid on the interior. With Elisara and Ta'amu, the program has two very different linemen, both with the potential to garner all-conference votes at the end of the season.
Weakness: The pass rush. Now that Te'o-Nesheim has exhausted his eligibility, who gets to the quarterback? This is a major concern, which was exacerbated by the injuries to Thompson and Aldrich. If someone doesn't step up on a consistent basis, an already questionable Husky secondary is going to pay the price.
Outlook: Depending upon what takes place with the offensive line, the D-line could be Washington's biggest concern of 2010. More specifically, there are legitimate concerns about the ends and the ability of this group to create pressure on a consistent basis. Te'o-Nesheim had 10 sacks last season. No one else had more than 2.5, which desperately needs to be addressed.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: The departures of a lot of senior talent, including current San Diego Charger Donald Butler, have the Huskies searching for new starters. The one stalwart of the group is 6-2, 244-pound senior Mason Foster, who could follow Butler into the pros. The anchor at weakside, he parlayed 85 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three picks, nine passes defended, and a school-record six forced fumbles. An explosive athlete, with sharp instincts, he'll light up opposing players and inspire his teammates with crushing hits.
The heavy favorite to take over in the middle will be 6-1, 220-pound junior Cort Dennison , a letterwinner in each of the last two seasons. As a five-game starter in 2009, he played well down the stretch, finishing fourth on the team with 52 tackles, adding 6.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. While not ideally sized for inside linebacker, he's an instinctive defender and a terrific leader, who takes good angles and won't miss when he gets his shot in the open field.
At strongside, well-traveled junior Alvin Logan is making a run at the starting assignment. After playing safety and wide receiver the past two seasons, he's making a run at a new job title. The 6-2, 219-pounder has the athletic ability and range to make plays all over the field, but lacks the experience on this side of the ball and preferred size to be considered a safe bet to be in the opening day lineup.
Projected Top Reserves: Logan is going head-to-head at strongside with 6-1, 208-pound senior Victor Aiyewa, ironically, another convert from safety. Although he's played in 29 career games on special teams and defense, he's had just one start and last year's 18 tackles were a career-high. Although he has solid pass coverage skills for the position, how well will an undersized linebacker hold up as a run-stuffer?
At weakside, 6-0, 221-pound sophomore Jordan Wallace is being looked at as a possible heir apparent to Foster in 2011. One of the program's 10 true freshmen to play a year ago, he earned a letter, mostly as a special teamer. If he uses this season to become more of a student of the game, he has the sideline-to-sideline speed to make a mess of plays in the future.
Watch Out For … Foster to enjoy a breakout season, especially now that Butler has graduated. He's an immense talent, with a knack for simply being around the ball and making things happen. At weakside, he's in a position to play in space and freelance to wherever the action is occurring. Gone are the days when he can only manage to earn honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition.
Strength: Foster and Dennison. Foster is a next-level talent and Dennison has really started coming into his own, playing with the steadiness that this defense craves. On a unit comprised of just three players, the Huskies are two-thirds of the way to being complete.
Weakness: Strongside. While the competition in the summer will be intense and entertaining, it does not mean that the problem will be solved by the end of August. The Huskies have no sure-thing at the final starting slot, a nagging issue that'll persist if Logan or Aiyewa can't come through this fall.
Outlook: Foster is a star and Dennison is an underrated cog of the defense. However, there's no easy way to recover from losing so many veteran linebackers. After the two known commodities, Washington will be scrambling and forced to rely on at least one true freshman to contribute.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: Sophomore Desmond Trufant may have missed the spring with a sports hernia, but his starting cornerback job is waiting for him when he returns in the summer. The 6-0, 192-pounder had an auspicious debut, earning the starting job, making 47 tackles, two picks, and eight breakups, and unexpectedly getting named All-Pac-10 honorable mention. Still a little raw with his coverage skills, he has the aggressive mentality and soft hips to keep blooming into one of the league's better pass defenders.
The slight favorite to handle the opposite corner job is 6-0, 203-pound junior Quinton Richardson, who started 11 games as a rookie and six more as a sophomore. Largely a disappointment in his second year, he had just 26 tackles and broke up two passes, struggling to stay atop the depth chart. While he has the right mix of physical gifts, including good size and speed, his ability to remain on the field will require him to keep the play in front of him.
Steady senior Nate Williams is back for one more season as the Huskies' strong safety. Set to enter his third year as a starter, he was third on the squad in 2009 with 62 tackles, five tackles for loss, and a sack. While not one of the elite athletes of this unit, he's a dependable run defender, and at 6-0 and 221 pounds, hits like a linebacker and will discourage receivers from crossing the middle of the field.
At free safety, Washington is likely to turn to 6-1, 198-pound sophomore Nate Fellner , a surprise performer in his rookie year. After not appearing in the first three games, he went on to play in the final nine, making 17 tackles and recovering two fumbles. A big hitter, with a good feel for the game, the staff expects him to continue improving as the game slows down.
Projected Top Reserves: The veteran among the cornerbacks is 5-9, 180-pound senior Vonzell McDowell, who has lettered in each of the last three years, earning occasional starts along the way. He had 17 tackles a year ago and knows his way around the defensive backfield, but remains vulnerable through the air, especially when matched with the league's longer receivers.
Sophomore Justin Glenn is positioned to become the first safety off the bench and a candidate to be the team's nickel back. A starter before breaking a leg and missing the balance of the year, he played in five games and had 19 tackles and a couple of fumble recoveries. At 5-11 and 198 pounds, he has good size and excellent speed, allowing him to contribute at either free safety or strong safety.
Watch Out For … Trufant to begin emerging as the program's best cover corner in years. You don't play as well as he did as a rookie without having a very bright future. He returns a little strong, a lot wiser, and determined to cut off passing lanes on his side of the field for opposing quarterbacks.
Strength: Physicality. The Huskies have the size in the secondary to bump receivers at the line of scrimmage and separate them from the ball. Even the corners are well-sized, a big plus for a group that's going to need all of the advantages it can get this season.
Weakness: Pass defense. Sure, there were strides from the prior year, but not enough to calm fears about the upcoming season. The Huskies still ranked just 99th nationally in pass efficiency defense, yielding almost eight yards an attempt and picking off a Pac-10-low eight passes.
Outlook: Even if all goes well this fall, it's hard to imagine this group elevating beyond mediocrity, especially with looming concerns about the pass rush. While Trufant has star potential, he's the exception in a unit that's way too soft in coverage and allows too many big plays through the air.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Projected Starters: With very little experience to call on at this level, junior Erik Folk exceeded expectations in his debut season as the Washington placekicker. Healthy for the first time in his college career, he drilled 18-of-21 field goal attempts, including 4-of-6 from beyond 40 yards. He needs to maintain a healthy back and get a little more pop on his kicks, averaging just 59 yards on kickoffs and never being asked to attempt a field goal longer than 48 yards.
Senior Will Mahan returns for his final season after a successful debut out of Bakersfield (Calif.) College. After winning the starting job in the summer, he went on to average more than 40 yards an attempt, improving with his directional kicks as the season progressed.
Since no one stood out in the return game in 2009, the competition will be close throughout the summer. Junior Quinton Richardson, junior Devin Aguilar , sophomore Chris Polk, and sophomore James Johnson all got touches a year ago, but since none stood out, auditions will continue to be held.
Watch Out For … a walk-on or two punter to try and create some competition in the summer. It's Mahan's job, but with no other punter on the roster, Washington wants to be sure it has reserves on hand in the event of an emergency.
Strength: Folk. The big surprise of the special teams unit last year, he solidified a kicking game that was a major question mark heading into 2009. Doing a nice impersonation of older brother Nick, who's in the NFL, he posted the third best accuracy rate on field goals in U-Dub history.
Weakness: The return game. Geez, for the second straight year, this group show no pop on punts or kickoffs, ranking 54th and 112th in the country, respectively. While the Huskies have a cadre of quality athletes to choose from, it's about time for the wedge to start creating more space for them.
Outlook: While progress was certainly made and the kickers are fine, the special teams remains a shoddy unit. Above all else, the Huskies have to make strides in the return game, doing a better job of making plays and keeping the other team from going the distance.
Unit Rating: 6.5