Coach's Corner

After watching a complete spring and the fall two-a-day practices, the Husky defense has taken on a completely different feel than a year ago. There are a lot of the same faces but the mix is different, the schemes are different, the attitude is different, and the results will be different.

Gone are the games of sitting in the same soft zone cover of quarter/quarter, half coverage, and allowing the underneath routes to go for big yards.

Back is the emphasis on man-on-man skills and coverage. Good man pressure allows you to get to the quarterback more, and a get up the field gap control front. Essentially it translates to an attacking style defense.

Attacking, in that the linemen are trying for penetration in order to force the issue in the backfield. Attacking, in that the defensive backs are not afraid to get in your face and play bump coverage if necessary. Attacking in the use of more blitzes with either man or zone coverage behind it.

In defensive football, all you really need to do is hold your opponent to one less point than your own offense scores. To put it simply, stay in the game. Know how to play with the lead or from behind. Create turnovers ala fumbles, interceptions, blocks, or stands. Three and out is preferable but making them punt often is still good. Not hurting yourself with stupid penalties and a little bit of luck, and POOF, you have a good defense. It is easier, of course, with good players.

Good, experienced, and mature players who have speed, strength, and size (in that order) are the most important ingredients. This is what the Huskies will be featuring on defense. There will be only two or three true freshmen that play this year. My guess is C.J. Wallace, Tahj Bomar and possibly Clarence Simpson have the best chances of helping this season. The depth could be impacted by injuries during the year, which could facilitate a need to bring on more, but I think it will mostly be red-shirted freshman such as big Dan Milsten, Donny Mateaki, and Stanley Daniels on the defensive line or Matt Fountaine as the back up corner.

Up front, Terry Johnson and Jerome Stevens are as good as they have ever been. They should both be solid. Johnson, in particular, has undergone a great change in his attitude and leadership and was elected captain by his teammates. He should be a dominating force this season similar to Larry Tripplett, De Marco Farr, and all the way back to Ron Holmes and Doug Martin. He has the leverage and understanding (after being in the Hart Foundation for four years) of what it takes to be great player. What sets him off though is his incredible quickness. He is very fast off the ball and the new approach is allowing him to be more explosive.

I have always been a fan of Manase Hopoi because he has a motor and is a tough guy. The tight end side defensive end is still very much up for grabs but between Graham Lasee, Donny Mateaki, Mike Mapu and Dan Milsten. The key word here is depth but the missing ingredient might be speed. None are the 4.5 to 4.6-speed pass rusher you'd love to have. Brandon Ala shows glimpses of developing into a good rusher and will be pretty good in a couple of years.

The linebacker corp. looks solid if Scott White can heal his hamstring and give the depth behind Joe Lobendahn and Marquis Cooper and Tim Galloway. Those four plus the true freshman Tahj Bomar give the Dawgs a sound group of inside backers, and Greg Carothers and Tyler Krambrink are solid and experienced players at the outside spot. I tend to watch the linebackers close in practice and Tim Hundley is really getting that group ready to go. They are so much better looking than a year ago it is staggering.

The back end of defensive backs are working a lot more on their man coverage and I think Roc Alexander and Derrick Johnson are mature enough to really make an impact this year. The national magazines dog them a little, but personally I think they will have super years and allow Coach Snow to attack the quarterback more. Heck, they work daily against two pretty good receivers in Reggie Williams and Charles Frederick.

Plus, they won't be in the "soft-let them catch it" coverage as much. There will always be the look of a two- deep coverage or four-across look but they will be rolling to a three-deep or man-free coverage with the safety in a deep zone and everyone else playing man. There will be more mix in coverages and more technique is being demanded from the DB's in terms of footwork and vision. The safety situation will resolve itself with the maturity of Evan Benjamin and James Sims. Two pretty good athletes who will push Jimmy Newell and Owen "you can't replace him" Biddle. Biddle will be the depth and true frosh C.J. Wallace will be groomed to be the next Tony Parrish or Lawyer Malloy.

Over all there has been great progress made in the spring and they have picked right up in the fall. They are doing it the right way or they don't play.

That brings us to the key skill that will dictate the over all success of the defense - tackling. There appears to be much more time spent tackling and getting off blocks. This will pay its dividends as the season goes along. The secondary looks like they are tackling better because it they are working at it more. Not rocket science.

After watching closely for the past two weeks I really believe this is a lot better defense than the one that opened up last year against Michigan. An added plus is there are not a lot of substitution schemes that could result in 12 men on the field. They will have a goal line/short yardage team and may use a 5th DB periodically but basically the same 11 players will make all the adjustments for what ever personnel grouping the offense wants to throw at them. Essentially, they will be adjusting what they do schematically rather that personnel wise. This gives the kids a chance to get into and out of the huddle more quickly and allows the DB's to keep their eyes in the offensive huddle for any personnel changes. It also saves energy by not running back and forth with player changes. Basically it allows the defense to do many things out of the same base look and to force the offense to react to the defense rather than always the other way around. It's very aggressive.

It may not show right away but over the entire year, I really believe this year's Dawg Defense will lead them to a championship.

And not just the northwest variety, either. 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 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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