Coach's Corner

It's taken three years, but a few solid recruiting classes means the Husky defense can go back to attack mode. Anyone who has watched Husky football over the past 50 years knows defense rocks Husky Stadium. Defensive emphasis and the excitement generated from it was a key to the Jim Owens, Don James, and Jim Lambright eras.

All three coaches knew what the Husky fans liked, and that was hard hitting, aggressive, attacking defense. A premium was always placed on speed players on the edges, meaning at cornerback and defensive end.

I had a chance to drop into the coaches' offices the other day and got to see the team's combine results from their just completed, end-of-the-year testing period. The most noticeable thing to me was almost to a man, this team has gotten faster. On the defensive side of the ball, it was particularly obvious that speed was an emphasis in their off-season workouts.

When Washington Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt and his staff took over at the end of the 2008 season, the Huskies were mired in a seven-year slump. Holt was limited in what he could do simply because of who he had doing it. Sure he inherited some standout players like Donald Butler, Mason Foster, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Victor Aiyewa, and Nate Williams, but they didn't have many top-level defenders, especially at the speed positions like cornerback, safety and edge pass rushers.

Upon their arrival, Holt and Head Coach Steve Sarkisian immediately began to fill recruiting classes with rangy, fast, and already proven defenders, or at least kids who were had played their position in high school.

Their first recruiting class had 19 total commitments - 13 were defenders. Now granted, five washed out almost immediately, but that class did produce two solid secondary starters in CB Desmond Trufant and Safety Nate Fellner.

For the 2010 class, they got commitments from 30 prospects and signed 17 defenders - minus three, again due to admittance. Every one of those kids is now in their defensive depth. Last year, they evened it out with 11 players on offense, and 12 on defense.

That's a total of 42 defenders signed, minus eight who either didn't get into school or washed out of the program. That's 34 kids recruited to be on the defensive side of the football over a three-year stretch in recruiting. It's starting to show.

At the same time, there has been emphasis on speed and agility by UW Strength and Conditioning coach Ivan Lewis. Everyone can now run, including the big guys. Gone are all the tubby guts and extra belly pounds; now the big guys can run, and that has been by design.

Most importantly is that the corners are all fast enough and have the catch-up speed to play man-to-man. It has helped to recruit safeties who know how to cover ground to provide over-the-top coverage. Believe it or not, but at least a half dozen back end defenders can now run in the 4.3 and 4.4 for 40 yards.

The two returning starters at cornerback, Quinton Richardson and Desmond Trufant, have both been timed in the high 4.3's and low 4.4's. Both have also added muscle to their speed, and should be able to play more bump or press coverage - giving coach Holt more options.

The addition of incoming recruits Marcus Peters and Antavius Sims as cornerbacks adds more speed to the equation. Both are among the most impressive recruits the Huskies signed in this last class.

This sort of depth makes it possible for Holt to employ pressure packages with either an extra corner or an extra safety as their nickel player. Considering how thin they were at linebacker in the spring these nickel packages could greatly help in game planning. Remember that Nebraska plays almost all nickel o n their defense and the extra coverage guy really helps against spread passing teams.

Then they added pass rushers like Jarett Finau and Connor Cree (who both will grow into 250-plus pound defensive ends) to Hauoli Jamora, Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson from the year before to increase the speed off the edge.

They also added no less than six linebacker/safety types in this last signing class. All are rangy kids with growth potential, but the thing that jumped out at me again was their collective speed.

Travis Feeney, Scott Lawyer, Matthew Lyons, James Sample, Corey Waller, and Evan Zeger are all kids who can run. Some will grow into linebackers and some will grow into defensive ends. That kind of upward migration puts more speed on the field.

Years ago we moved Donald Jones from fullback to defensive end, and Andy Mason from linebacker to the right-side, or speed rush DE. The results were two 4.5 40 kids rushing off the edge. With the great Steve Emtman inside, they could just tee off and get upfield as fast as they could. The results were incredible.

Washington finally has an interior "bell cow" like Emtman, who can crush a pocket inside-out. Alameda Ta'amu will do that this year, and he will be a force in the middle. This will only make the defensive ends better. Ta'amu and Everrette Thompson look the best since they have been here. Both are now seniors, and both have made an incredible commitment to the weight room. They will give the Huskies two experienced, powerful, and aggressive defenders up front, allowing the other defensive ends to use their speed to get to the quarterback.

The overall increase in speed should make this Husky defense the best one we've seen in years. Of course, if they play every game like they did against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, Washington is sure to be returning to another bowl game this coming season. Just as important is Husky Stadium rocking again when the defense takes the field.

Any time you can disrupt the quarterback's timing on his throws, it helps the secondary - and vise-versa; if the secondary can cover long enough, the front can get to the quarterback. You don't have to necessarily get sacks, but getting hits on the quarterback eventually takes a toll.

It all goes back to speed, and it looks like the Huskies have addressed that need in both their recruiting and their conditioning.

Hopefully things will move faster this coming fall. But don't expect Holt to be in a 4-3, or a 3-4, or a 5-2, or a 6-2, for that matter. They will use it all, and Washington will become a more "multiple defense" this coming season simply because of their speed.

Having multiple packages makes it possible to game plan specifically for each team you play. Sometimes they will be in an even front, sometimes in an odd front. Sometimes they will have three linebackers, and sometimes they will only have two. In other games, you will see as many as five standup 'backers.

Diversity will be the key to their success, and that can only come with experience or knowledge of the system, combined with the most important ingredient in defensive football - SPEED.

Hard work in the off-season has made this team faster. Now they need to play faster and attack more. Washington should have a much improved defense this coming season, and that will be one of the primary reasons they should return to another bowl game once its all said and done.


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