2007 Recruiting grades - Defense

Friday we addressed Washington's 2007 recruiting class on the offensive side of the ball. Today we look at the defense, how needs were addressed and what the overall grade is for the Huskies' recruiting efforts. Here we go!

Defensive Line:
Eklund: DE Kalani Aldrich and DT Nick Wood were the biggest gets here. Aldrich is a physical specimen who turned down offers from several top programs to become a Husky. Wood is one of the strongest high school players in the country and he's a very good wrestler as well. He, along with Cameron Elisara and Derek Kosub, will be one of the main components to the defensive tackle rotation starting in 2008. Emeka Iweka is projected at defensive tackle by the Huskies, but some think he could eventually end up on offense. Either way, he's an athletic player who could play on either side of the ball. Tyrone Duncan wanted to be a Dawg early on and when he finally got his offer, he jumped on it. He's quick and intense and brings a great attitude to the program.

Grade: B

Fetters: Well, this position is difficult to grade, because on paper it looks like the coaches addressed need perfectly - but at the same time it also became very apparent that they were looking for more and eventually came up short. But looking at the commits strictly for what they bring to the table from the high school level, the class looks like it's simply reloading; Nick Wood and Tyrone Duncan are the two defensive tackles in the middle, with Emeka Iweka playing the strong-side 'Husky' DE and Kalani Aldrich playing the 'smaller' rush end. I don't think there's any question that Iweka could get moved to offense, just because his type of athleticism at his size is a rare find. And since the Huskies went very hard after Scott Smith and Ernie Owusu, you could certainly jump ahead in the story to see Iweka's move being almost pre-determined if UW gets one of those players. As it stands they'll try Emeka out at DE first, hoping he can adapt to the speed of the college game at his size. As a side note, the Huskies had a chance to get in the door with a couple of players that project out to be outstanding DT's at the next level - Myles Wade and Trey Henderson - but shuffled their feet a little when others were making moves. I don't expect that to happen this year, especially now that the staff has had another year to put roots down in the region and evaluate.

Grade: B-
Eklund: Cort Dennison came on late in the process, but he knows how to get to the quarterback (23.5 sacks as a senior in 2006) and he's also a great leader. He runs pretty well and will have to learn how to play in reverse, but the Huskies love his intensity. One of the best athletes among the 2007 class member is Seaside LB Mason Foster. He has the speed to be a very good safety, but he's got the size of a linebacker. Once he sees the field, expect the speed of the linebacking unit to be one of the best in the country. Austin Sylvester could play fullback, but my guess is he ends up as a big-thumper, middle linebacker that can rack up boat-loads of tackles.

Grade: B

Fetters: Now the linebacker situation is one where they addressed need perfectly and is also a case study of where they were able to thoroughly evaluate the prospects they took. Austin Sylvester is a year older than the rest, so hopefully that extra year at prep school will bode well at a position (MIK) that needs a mature mind and body in order to handle the rigors of Pac-10 play and thrive. Mason Foster and Cort Dennison are two players that made their reputations in high school as sideline-to-sideline 'backers - guys that can play in space and guys that have the ability to get after the quarterback when asked to do so. This affords a ton of flexibility for Kent Baer to bring or not bring pressure ala Chris Stevens. And when you have athletes like Quinton Richardson, Brandon Yakaboski or Nate Williams waiting in the wings if things don't pan out at their original positions - this is a position that was recruited for need and delivered with a myriad of possibilities.

Grade: A-
Defensive Backs:
Eklund: Getting Davenport, albeit in the fall instead of the spring, was huge. He will combine with Roy Lewis to form one of the better starting corner tandems in the Pac 10. He's already got two years of experience and he's a guy who can run with almost any wideout in the country. Vonzell McDowell is going to really turn some heads as a punt returner, but he'll also be a player the Huskies will count on early, possibly as a freshman, to be a contributor in the secondary. He's super-quick and he's got good top-end speed. He's also a competitor and won't back down from a challenge. When the team lost Jared Campbell to Miami, they turned their focus to Fouch's teammate Marquis Persley who is a big and physical corner. He needs to add a little more weight, but, like most of this class, he loves to compete. At safety, the Huskies got Quinton Richardson early and they couldn't be happier. Quinton is a very good athlete and he's already a rock-solid 215 pounds. He'll likely end up at free safety with his above-average speed (4.55). He likes to compare himself to Shaun Taylor and the Huskies would be ecstatic if he lived up to the former Hurricanes' production. Victor Aiyewa who hails from Texas is very raw. He's only played a year of football, but he's huge (6-2, 217) and he's very athletic. Secondary coach J.D. Williams could hardly contain his excitement in getting Aiyewa in the fold.

Grade: B

Fetters: This is a position where the Huskies needed a lot of bodies, with some impact players mixed in - and the results emulate more the former. There's a lot of bodies, but I don't know if I see a player in the bunch that can start in the secondary August 31st at Syracuse. Byron Davenport was supposed to be the answer, but since he isn't going to be available for the spring, that makes his impact a lot more tenuous right from the jump. He will have been out of D1 football for a while, and while I'm sure it's like riding a bike for an athlete like Davenport, it's still going to take at least 4-5 games for him to really start handling the speed of the game the way he should. The other corners - Vonzell McDowell and Marquis Persley - are players that would have been shoe-in redshirts in any normal year, but might be pressed into action earlier than desired - and that's never a good thing, although I admit I'm excited to see what McDowell might bring to the kicking game. But that's not relevant to this grade. The one corner that visited that looked the part of a contributor in 2007 - Eddie Wide - picked Utah. At safety, I think the situation looks much the same; it's based more on potential than on players the coaches can immediately stick into the rotation. No question Quinton Richardson and Victor Aiyewa are football players. They love to hit and can run around and make plays. But right now it's looking like this group of secondary players are going to have to be thrown into the fire like Mesphin Forrester and Jason Wells were last year. 2008 is looking like it could be a monster year for the players J.D. Williams should have in his stable, but 2007 looks like another year of learning and growing on the job.

Grade: C+
Eklund: Erik Folk has a huge leg and he's also a very good athlete. The plan is for him to be the starting kicker come this fall. Jared Ballman, who will be here in the spring, is battling the loss of his father in a car accident, but the plan is for him to arrive in March. Expect him to start at punter this fall and he's likely going to be the kickoff guy as well – he hasn't had a kickoff returned in six years.

Grade: A

Fetters: I love the way Tyrone Willingham addressed need here, especially with the recovery time for Ryan Perkins being a big unknown at this point. Sorry, but Mike Braunstein was never going to be the answer, and watching Erik Folk's highlights - visions of John Anderson are dancing in my head. Folk's leg is twice as strong as Braunstein's, and if there's a situation this coming fall where the Huskies need a 55-yard FG in the fourth quarter to make the difference in the game, Husky fans will be relieved they don't have to wonder whether or not their kicker can even kick the ball that far. Those days are over. And Jared Ballman coming in for spring gives him ample opportunity to work with Danny Morovick to build crucial chemistry between long-snapper and punter. That will hopefully pay dividends for the Huskies in the fall.

Grade: A+
Eklund: Overall this class filled holes in the roster and added depth to both lines. There are quite a few projects in the class, but there are also some great playmakers that will see time very early in their careers. Fouch will be an outstanding signal-caller and Boyles, Johnson and Shaw will be the playmakers to add the big-plays back into the offense. The secondary still needs work, but the players they got are solid athletes and they all like to compete.

Overall Grade: B

Fetters: Scout.com has Washington's class as fourth in the Pac-10, behind USC, Oregon and California. They didn't make the upper eschelon, but that was never going to be an option. To be at the top of that second-tier right now - considering wins and losses - is a testament to Willingham and his staff. They evaluated, brought prospects into their camp, continued to expand their team camp in the summer to bring in more local high school programs (which is a huge step toward mending local fences), worked diligently to identify and woo their top targets, and landed 60 percent of the prospects they tripped out to Seattle. They addressed need, landed playmakers on offense and tough competitors on defense. Everything points to an above average class, so they deserve an above average grade.

Overall Grade: B

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