Long time veteran Randy Hart now handles all four front defenders, the guys who always have their hands on the ground.
Coach Snow's impact on the team shows his emphasis on great teaching. The defensive backs have improved dramatically with respect to their vision, recognition, and progressions of reads.
The Huskies are rolling more into 3-deep zones with 4-underneath defenders rather than just three. This should really take away the intermediate routes opponents have been using against the Dawgs. There seems to be more, as well as earlier, match-ups with receivers. Additionally, there appears to be more man-to-man emphasis, which is further illustrated by the pass coverage technique for the linebackers.
The defense is ahead of the offense, but it always is at this point in Spring. Still, you can see a difference with Coach Snow. It is very noticeable right from the pursuit drill on down.
Coach Hart appears to have a lot of depth up front, and Junior Coffin, Tui Alailefaleula, and Brandon Ala have made a collective Polynesian impact to the depth.
Terry Johnson can be as good as he wants to be. He can be a dominant player like a Tripplett, Farr, or even Doug Martin. He reminds me a little of Tyrone Rogers at times. Has a great first step. Now if he could just make the commitment mentally and team-wise, he could play on Sundays. He still struggles with his own attitude, but once he gets it all together he could be great.
Hopoi is improving, and steadily so. He is now seasoned and works hard to improve each day. He should be the starter at "Husky", or big defensive end that lines up over the tight end. His back ups will probably be Donny Mateaki and JC-transfer Mike Mapu.
With Jerome Stevens back and Josh Miller due to return in the fall, that is solid depth for the defensive front. Counting youngsters like Graham Lasee, Stanley Daniels, Jordan Reffett, and Dan Milsten, the Dawgs have a good 12-15 kids to play four spots.
There still appears to be a need for a 4.5-4.6 pass rusher as speed off the edge, which is always a high commodity. Donald Jones sure changed the way we now look at pass rushing ends at Washington, huh?
Injuries to Roc Alexander as well as Nate Robinson's departure have thinned the defensive back corps, but the move of Greg Carothers up to SAM or "Stud" linebacker gives the defense two excellent players at that position. Tyler Krambrink has been waiting in the wings through all kinds of injuries to finally get his chance. He and Greg give the Huskies two good players at that position. Again, a 4.5 outside player could help here as well.
The inside backer position is missing both Marques Cooper and Tim Galloway this spring, but Joe Lobendahn is proving he will be a great linebacker before he leaves Washington. I think he will lead the team in tackles next year and will become even more of a force in his senior year. He is really tough and has the "snap and wrap" to become a quality linebacker. I really like his temper and attitude, and I just believe he is special in getting to the ball. He is improving on his pass coverage and is a lot like James Clifford in his fire and approach to the game. He is about the same build as Cliff was as well. He and the 235-lb Galloway together with Cooper, who has NFL potential, give the defense three good solid run players with plenty of experience.
Scott White has improved tremendously this spring. His progress is a real positive and the additions of incoming frosh Tahj Bomar, Robert Lewis, Kyle Trew, and Chris Hemphill will provide the linebacker position more than enough depth to be solid all year long. I think you will see at least two to three freshmen play next year based upon speed alone. Particularly on special teams.
The new coaches in the secondary have brought a refreshing change, that being everyone having to start from scratch and learn the new way of doing things. Improvement in secondary tackling will continue to take place with more reps, but already there have been a number of interceptions and break-ups. This indicates closer coverage than last year, when the defense gave up 260 yards per game through the air.
There is no question the Huskies will have to stop the run first in the opening game, but they really need to improve coverage in order to be a better defense. Coach Snow will be the catalyst to bringing this to fruition.
Derrick Johnson is getting better and better and confesses to learning a lot every day from Coach Snow. If Roc can stay in one piece and improve his tackling, the Huskies will have two real good cover corners. Matt Fountaine appears to be the best of the young kids and should supply the depth on the corner along with veteran Chris Massey and Sam Cunningham. But, look for either Dre Simpson or C. J. Wallace to come in and play on the back end as well.
The safety battle is shaping up to be excellent competition with both James Sims and Evan Benjamin stating their case for more playing time. Both are good athletes who also are good tacklers. They, along with Owen Biddle, all are working at the strong safety position but don't be surprised to see one move over to the free side, along with Jimmy Newell and Jordan Slye. Sly is a great looking, rangy player who only needs to improve his tackling to get himself playing time.
What is also really helping is the number of walk-ons who are giving quality reps to the starters. There are 41 walk-ons this spring and some like Eric Roy, Ben Warren, and B.J. Newberry are certain to get themselves consideration for playing time. They have been impressive.
In summary, even with the injured players gone until fall, the defense appears ahead of where it was at this time last year. The kids are working hard, the coaches are working hard, and the defense should be very solid next year. Defense wins championships, just look at Ohio State last year. This year's Husky defense has the depth and the types of athletes (that can run) to be a much improved stop group. Things look to have been simplified, and the players are responding to the challenge to become a dominating swarming unit.
| Dawgman.com columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.|
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the Dawgman.com staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.
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