1) The DL spot next to Alameda Ta'amu - Ta'amu, the 330-pound senior from Rainier Beach has the interior on lock down, especially after he finished off the 2010 regular season and Holiday Bowl in such spectacular fashion. Part of the reason for Ta'amu's transformation was due to his partnership with Semisi Tokolahi, but Tokolahi's 2011 future is in doubt after suffering a serious ankle/foot injury in the Apple Cup. Even if Tokolahi is able to return this fall in some capacity, he won't be 100 percent full-go until probably mid-season, leaving a big question mark in the middle of the Huskies' defensive line. Add to that the unexpected retirement of Chris Robinson due to knee problems, and the UW defensive line once again is short on numbers and experience.
So of those available, who could step up? Sione Potoae started two games as a true freshman in 2010, but recent knee flareups could put his season in jeopardy. The UW coaches will treat Potoae's knees with TLC during fall camp, but Potoae is the only returning defensive tackle outside of Ta'amu with any game experience that should be available to start in the Huskies' opener against Eastern Washington. Lawrence Lagafuaina, a 345-pound sophomore, has been waiting in the wings and is ready to be utilized. And finally you have two true freshmen - Danny Shelton and Taniela Tupou - and they might have to be thrown into the fire much like Potoae was in 2010.
2) The DE rotation - The emergence of Hauoli Jamora as a freshman, as well as the re-emergence of Everrette Thompson in 2010 means the defensive end positions heading into the EWU game should be in good hands. After that, what do the Huskies have? Talia Crichton looks to regain the form he had as a frosh in 2009, while freshmen Andrew Hudson and Josh Shirley look to insert themselves into the DE rotation and become fixtures. True freshman Connor Cree and Jarett Finau should be on the redshirt track, but depending on how they enter fall camp physically, there's always a chance to compete for playing time.
The DE rotation could work itself out as much by situation and down and distance, as much as injury or any other mitigating factor. But with at least five healthy options, and possibly more depending on what they want to do with players like incoming frosh Corey Waller, the competition in fall camp could be fierce.
3) The linebacking corps surrounding Cort Dennison - Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa were arguably the greatest 1-2 UW 'inside-outside' linebacking punch since Lester Towns and Jason Chorak. Now it's up to Nick Holt and Mike Cox to figure out how to duplicate their productivity. Dennison is the slam-dunk choice at the MIK spot, backed up by Tim Tucker and Victor Burnett. The odds-on choices at WIL and SAM respectively are Garret Gilliland and Princeton Fuimaono. But don't expect those two to just walk into the positions, as John Timu, Thomas Tutogi, Jamaal Kearse, Jordan Wallace, and Cooper Pelluer are healthy, ready, and willing in case Gilliland and Fuimaono slip.
While the coaches have plenty of bodies and athleticism to tackle whatever they need, the linebackers available are short on experience. Which combinations will prove to be the most effective? Hopefully fall camp will go a long way toward figuring that out.
4) The safety position opposite Nathan Fellner - The same should hold true for the other safety spot next to Fellner, a player who has started 16 games during his first two years at Washington. Justin Glenn may not be available this fall, so that means Sean Parker, Will Shamburger, Taz Stevenson, James Sample, and Evan Zeger will all have a chance for playing time. If Parker and Stevenson can overcome their stinger and shoulder injuries respectively, they would appear to have the inside track based on how much they played as true freshmen.
No matter how the safety positions shake out, the Huskies have six legitimate options to go to, all with athleticism to spare. It's been a long time since the spot was that deep and physically talented, arguably going back to the 1994 season when UW had Lawyer Milloy, Tony Parrish, Lamar Lyons and Ikaika Malloe.
5) The backup cornerback positions - There are five positions on the defensive side of the ball that you could argue are on lock-down; Ta'amu, Dennison, Fellner, and the two cornerbacks - Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson. Trufant and Richardson are in their second-straight season playing together. But (knock on wood) what happens if one or both of them go down?
Adam Long's off-season knee injury has put a big crimp into the Huskies' backup plans at cornerback, and it didn't help that Gregory Ducre had to sit out spring to rest a repaired shoulder. During April, Anthony Gobern and Marquis Persley showed glimpses of being able to handle the load, but the competition should really heat up in a week when Antavius Sims and Marcus Peters take the field.
Key Defensive Position Battles
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