Defense in the spotlight – Part II

Washington scrapped the 46-attack defense when Jim Lambright was fired and Rick Neuheisel replaced him in January of 1999. This year will be the fourth season the Huskies will be running the base scheme that Neuheisel and Hundley implemented upon their arrival. What do you call it?

If you want to be very basic about it, Washington runs a 4-3 over-under defense. Sure, you can argue until the cows come home that Kai Ellis plays a hybrid linebacker/down lineman position on the end, but if you ask a Husky defensive coach, they'll tell you quickly.

"We've been running a four man front. We'll use four down-linemen again this year," said Hundley.

Obviously the Huskies will swap to a three-man front at times, particularly in the nickel package, but if you are looking for a quick and dirty name for the scheme, it's a four-three.

Husky coaches feel that the scheme will work, if they can get the proper personnel on the field and if they can cut back on the mistakes in crucial situations.

A big key will be getting their "Rush End Backer" position healthy. That player is the one you want to bring a ton of bad stuff down on the quarterback from the weakside of the offensive formation.

"Hopefully Kai (Ellis) will be able to get himself healthy. He is our "REB", and he will drop (into coverage) from time to time, but he is an end. On the other side is our "Husky", or big defensive end. We mix 4-3 look with a 3-4 "Eagle" look up front. It's fairly similar to what we've done in the past, and we'll run single gap," said Hundley.

In a single gap defense, each lineman is responsible for a particular gap, a single gap, on each play.

As Hundley glances at the depth chart posted inside the UW War Room, he gave the following summary of possible two-deep personnel and how it might unfold this spring.
DL Terry Johnson (UW Media Relations)

DEFENSIVE LINE: Washington runs four down-linemen. The two interior positions are the nose tackle (shaded toward the center) and the defensive tackle. The defensive end that lines up opposite the tight end is called the "Husky" and the defensive end that lines up opposite the offensive weak tackle is called the "Rush End Backer", or REB.

At REB, Hundley will look at Kai Ellis (6-4 248, senior) or Anthony Kelley (6-2 240, senior) to be the top two in the rotation. Kelley will move from the Strongside Outside Linebacker position he occupied last season. "Kai is still working at getting back to 100% so we'll have to see how much he can do this spring." Ellis had both knees repaired last season. "We'll also take a look at Houdini Jackson (6-0 250, senior) and Will Conwell (6-5 250, freshman-RS) there."

On the other side of the line of scrimmage is the ‘Husky.' "Our big ends will probably be Terry Johnson (6-4 280, junior) and Manase Hopoi (6-3 250, sophomore). Graham Lasee (6-5 250, freshman-RS) and perhaps Mike Savicky (6-3 255, freshman-RS) will also play out there. They will play either outside or inside the tight end, depending on our call."

Lasee has gained 80 pounds on his bench press and 25 pounds of body weight. "He's really done a nice job," said Hundley. "So has Manase Hopoi. We're going to put about 10 more pounds on him."

Savicky had been on the offensive line up to this point in his career so this spring will be his first look on defense. He is a young player that runs extremely well, in the 4.8 range.

"We don't have a lot of experience there but there are some great athletes," said Hundley.

At nose tackle, Josh Miller (6-3 275, sophomore) and Jerome Stevens (6-1 290, sophomore) are two whom the Huskies hope to make some noise inside. Miller has slimmed down from being over 300 pounds when arriving at Washington and his weight drop has resulted in an impressive 4.8 40 time. "Miller has great leverage and plays with a very nice motor," said Hundley.

Stevens is also down in weight from last year, which was welcome news. "We don't want Jerome any heavier than 290. He really came in out of shape last year but if he stays around 290, he'll be fine. He has made plays in the past but last year was not really an improvement year for him. We're looking forward to seeing him do some of the things that he did as a freshman. He's down about 15 pounds so that will be a plus for him," said Hundley.

Hundley may also try Tusi Sa'au (6-2 295, freshman-RS) at the nose.

The defensive tackle position was still a bit unsettled at the time of this interview. "We have some issues as to whether or not we use Terry Johnson (6-4 280, junior) as our Husky end or a defensive tackle. Right now we're looking for another tackle, basically. Things aren't finalized yet."

Johnson could very likely enter the spring as the starter at defensive tackle. Tui Alailefaleula (6-4 295, sophomore) is going to get a long look there this spring after playing end last year. "He reported weighing about 315 pounds last year. He's about 295 now. That is good, he's much better at 295. Now he just needs to learn how to play. He has some tremendous skills but he was a linebacker in high school. To ask him to play last year was probably a bit more than he should've been asked to handle at that time. He did some good things as the season went on and he got better physically and started playing with a better motor."

"We need a guy that's willing to step up and be physical, to push the pocket in pass rush so we can get guys up field on the edge. If you get push inside, your ends don't have to run so deep and the quarterback will have nowhere to step up. We need tackles that can get across the line of scrimmage."

One player that Washington may look to help solidify their defensive front rotation won't arrive on campus until summer. Donny Mateaki (6-5 270) from Hawaii may get a very early look as one of the answers at defensive end. If he and Hopoi excel, it would allow Hundley and Hart to move Johnson to tackle on a more permanent basis.
LB Marquis Cooper – 4.40 in the 40 (Kim Grinolds)

LINEBACKERS: Washington runs three linebackers in their base defense. The two inside guys are the "Mike" and the "Will". The Mike is usually a little bigger and is the hole plugger, while the Will needs to be fast, a sure tackler, and have a good nose for the football. Optimally, the Will position would lead the Huskies in tackles, so it is a glamour position. The outside linebacker is called the "Sam" and will normally line up on the same side as the tight end.

"We have guys that can really run. I think that Marquis Cooper (6-3 220, junior) and probably Joseph Lobendahn (5-11 235, sophomore) will play the Weakside (Will). But the problem there is, we think Lobendahn may be our best Mike so we may have to slide him back and forth," said Hundley.

Senior Ben Mahdavi (6-3 235) would likely be the starter at Mike but he's nursing an injury this spring (shoulder). In his absence, Tim Galloway (6-2 240, sophomore) will get a longer look. "He's really a strong, physical kid that attacks the line of scrimmage really well. Matt Lingley (6-3 240, sophomore) will back those guys up," said Hundley.

At the strongside outside linebacker (SAM), Washington will have a new face. Last year's starters Sam Blanche (graduated) and Anthony Kelley (moved to REB) will be replaced by either senior Jafar Williams (6-0 220), who will return after a medical redshirt season last year, and Tyler Krambrink (6-0 215, junior). "We're moving Tyler over from Will. He can really run (4.5 in the 40), and that position is almost a bigger, stronger safety. We want athletic guys there, and both Jafar and Tyler are fast, strong guys. Overall, our linebackers are much more athletic than the group we had a year ago," said Hundley.

"Cooper hasn't played enough and Lobendahn has played very little. They'll push for starting opportunities and to get a lot of playing time. We're very comfortable with who they are and know that they'll make a commitment to being the very best that they can be. Jafar and Tyler are in that group too, and those linebackers should be the heart of our football team. We're excited about those strengths. We need to get the push up front and on the edges from our front four, and I think we can. If we get that, then we can let those linebackers play much quicker. They are much more athletic in space than last year's group."

Incoming freshman Scott White (6-2 225) will arrive in the fall, and could be another name to watch. "We're not going to let him being a freshman stop us from allowing him to play and compete for time. He's got the ability and if the guy can play, we're going to let him," said Hundley.
Ty Eriks, all 219 pounds of him, to safety (Kim Grinolds)

SECONDARY: Washington runs mirror safeties, one on the strong side of the offense and one on the weak side. The two safeties play in tandem and are interchangeable for the most part according to Hundley. Washington plays two cornerbacks, one on the "area", or the wide side of the field, and one on the "boundary" side.

Hundley is looking for big improvements from his cornerbacks. "We need some play from those guys. Derrick Johnson (5-11 186, sophomore) is a guy that we're anxious to have back. I think he'll get better every week that he plays. He's a guy that we're excited about."

Johnson clocked a sub 4.5 40 and has gained nearly 15 pounds from last season. Fellow cornerback Roc Alexander (5-11 180, sophomore) will sit out the spring (shoulder), but Hundley likes what he's shown so far. "He showed signs of being a very good football player, but he had to play the whole year with one shoulder, basically. He'll need to come back ready to go in the summer, and he will. He can do a lot of things in May but he'll be cleared in June to do everything."

"Derrick and Roc are two guys that can be leaders in the secondary. I think that people will stand up and follow those two, and I think that their play will show them as leaders. They can go get the ball and are fired up to do a great job for us."

The next guy Hundley talks about is Sam Cunningham (6-0 180, sophomore), who didn't redshirt last year as a true freshman. "We think Sam has good vision and he'll really be a good player for us. He's able to spot the ball real well."

"We need a lot of big things out of Chris Massey (5-11 170, junior). Chris did not have a lot of fun in the Texas game. He needs to learn how to find the football. He's very capable of covering people, the issue is the ball. Finding the ball and going up and getting it. He can get it done. If you think about it, it's really basketball on grass today and you have to be able to go get the ball," said Hundley.

He would also like to see Massey add 10 more pounds to his frame. "It would help him to become the type of player that he's capable of. He runs very well (4.4 in the 40)."

Freshman Eric Shyne (5-11 175) will also be here in the spring. Shyne clocked a 4.5, which excites Hundley. "He has some ability, and now he'll go out and put it on the line for everybody. We'll have fun watching him compete."

With the exception of Derrick Johnson, Hundley would like all of his corners to get bigger and stronger. "We want them all to be 300-pound bench pressers."

The safety positions will be wide open this spring because Greg Carothers (6-2 205, junior) and Owen Biddle (5-11 185, junior) will both sit out to rest shoulder injuries. Both are expected back in the summer.

Strong safeties vying for time this spring will be Evan Benjamin (6-0 202, freshman-RS) and Ty Eriks (6-2 219, freshman-RS). Eriks moved from tailback but his 4.5 in the 40 has opened some eyes as to the possibilities of having a linebacker-type body laying licks from the secondary.

"We hope that Carothers will cement himself at the strong safety this fall, but while he's gone we're excited to see what Ty and Evan do. Also RayShon Dukes (6-0 195, sophomore) will get a look there. Someone out of this group has to show themselves capable of playing this fall. It's a decent group athletically," said Hundley.

At free safety, Jimmy Newell (6-0 195, junior) is still recovering from injuries to his shoulders and wrist. "Newell might not be able to do everything this spring. He's still a mere shadow of what he was when he was at his best. He'll get back to that because he's a hard charging guy." Pushing Newell will be redshirt freshman James Sims (6-1 195), who has added weight but still clocked a 4.42 in the 40. "Sims did a nice job during bowl practice and in the off season. He gives us a lot of hope, and it will be interesting to see how he evolves within the game. Can he find the football? Will he have great vision? We believe that he will. He's a nice looking player for us and he's still a freshman. I think he's a guy that can do some good things for us."
Link to Part I: Goals for this spring

Tomorrow in part III, Tim Hundley explains what goes on in the booth and in the locker room at halftime. Top Stories