Watch the young linebackers

Washington's defense has been torched on third downs over the past few years. Part of that can be attributed to spotty secondary play and of course part can be attributed to lack of a consistent pass rush without the use of gimmicks or bringing extra guys from the back. However, this defense has not been very good at tackling, and that is where I'd like to focus.

There have been too many games over the past couple of seasons where linebackers have not trusted the guys next to them and have run out of their lanes to go make a play. Compounding that is that if they took a poor angle and lost leverage, the running back cuts back and heads back to the vacated lane where the linebacker should've been, leading to a long gain or even a touchdown. Maurice Drew of UCLA, Marshawn Lynch of Cal, and just about anyone that wore a USC uniform did this to the Husky defense.

It is very difficult to be a good tackling defense if you are out of position. Joe Lobendahn had amazingly strong hands, and when he got them on you, you usually were headed for the ground. However he could be goaded into being out of position. Scott White has a knack for coming up with big tackles, however he does it at risk because at times he also would leave his area and run himself out of plays.

To put it simply, the linebacking play really needs to be solid this year. These guys need to trust that Kent Baer's scheme is putting them in the right places on the field and then they need to trust each other.

The two things that can make a linebacker a much better tackler are speed and pursuit angle, and of you have more speed, it can help your pursuit angle in that you have a little more margin for error.

That brings me to why I have optimism about this unit. It comes in the form of the younger ranks – all of these underclassmen have speed and terrific attitudes to match.

Let's start with Daniel Howell, a 6-1 225-pound spitfire that has moved up to claim a starting inside linebacking spot as well as become a special teams terror. Howell is faster, more athletic, and seems hungrier that the older guys on the depth chart with him. He is one huge reason for optimism. He is a junior and appears poised for a big season. Senior Scott White will also see significant time here, but Howell appears to be the guy that will get first shot at the glamour position of WIL linebacker.

Next, Trenton Tuiasosopo, a 6-2 240 pound sophomore is going to make his mark this year stuffing the middle next to Howell. He is a former wrestling champion who is strong and probably the most suited to take on the fullback in the hole and driving him backwards. He will share time with senior Tahj Bomar, a 225-pound senior who has sculpted his body and increased his size. Washington has two legitimate MIK linebackers now, and both can run well. Don't be surprised if Bomar moves outside if Baer wants more size out there and EJ Savannah's shoulder flares up.

On the outside, redshirt freshman EJ Savannah is the guy that looks like he's ready to make a move if he can keep his shoulder healthy. He has a history of shoulder problems from Bellevue High School, but he has the size (6-2 220) and speed to be a terror on the outside, and has enough ball skills to make picks in coverage. He'll battle true sophomore Chris Stevens, who is noticeably bigger from last year (6-0 210) where he was mostly used as a gimmick pass rusher. He is now going to play legitimate minutes as a regular outside linebacker. His speed is terrific, now he has to show that he is good in coverage.

All of these guys are more athletic and faster than their predecessors. Now they must show that they trust each other by trusting the schemes Baer puts them in. Use that speed to execute the scheme better, not operate outside of the scheme and perhaps run themselves out of the tackle. Use that speed to make things happen within the scheme, not operate solo.

These young guys all appear to have this type of attitude. Howell's enthusiasm is infectious and his Husky spirit should be cloned and bottled. Tuiasosopo's toughness is a throwback and Savannah is silky smooth when he's operating at 100% while Stevens flies around like a madman. These guys could be the start of something special in the middle of the Husky defense.

Now it's time for these guys to prove it on the field – execute. With experienced junior Kyle Trew, a 6-2 225 pound junior also on the inside, true freshman Matt Houston 6-2 215 and Donald Butler 6-1 240 should have ample time on the scout team to learn from these guys ahead of them. Both of these guys can run as well, as Houston ran for nearly 1000 yards as a running back and played safety last year while Butler ran for nearly 800 yards and scored 16 touchdowns as a running back. I love the idea of having former running backs at linebacker. It means they have speed and that they are motivated to make the team better, as opposed to wanting to pad stats.
Other Dawgman Op-Ed pieces:
2006 will go as far as this group does
Patience with Big Ben
4 keys to 2006

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