That speaks well for a team that has experienced significant problems the last few years simply due to lack of overall depth. You can never count on true freshmen to be the answer when you're playing the likes of Syracuse, Boise State and The Ohio State for you non-conference openers. Those are all potentially high quality opponents and to line up with 18 year olds in your ones is a little scary at best.
The Huskies however, will have to use some just to bolster the backend of their defense where there is a severe lack of numbers. Right now there are only eight total defensive backs available, and that is a cause for concern.
The Huskies will need someone to jump out of their incoming recruiting class and step up and play with confidence and play like a veteran. Unfortunately, their most seasoned recruit and the one most likely to help early, Byron Davenport, will probably need his JC AA Degree in order to be eligible. Having started, played and lettered at UCLA, Davenport is a 4-2-4 transfer and therefore needs to graduate in order to become eligible for practice or competition.
Of the secondary defenders right now, only two are returning starters and those two, Roy Lewis and Jason Wells along with safety, Mesphin Forrester, represent the only ones with any significant playing time. Those three along with Jordan Murchison, a JC transfer from last year, constitute the starting defensive backfield. Safety, Darin Harris, returns after having set out last season due to injury, and provides a fifth player of experience. Harris was actually forced into duty early himself when he played as a true freshman due to the exact same need issue years ago.
That has to be one of the biggest areas of concerns for Kent Baer, the Huskies Defensive coordinator, and JD Williams, the secondary coach. Davenport along with high school recruits Victor Aiyewa, (who has only played 1 year of high school) Marquis Persley from Ronnie Fouch's high school, Quinton Richardson out of O'Dea, and Vonzell McDowell out of Rainer Beach are the five in-coming defensive backs from this last class. I also personally saw running back, Nate Williams, from Kennedy High, play really well as a safety this past season so that is a possible 6th. McDowell, who has attended lots of practices this spring as an observer, seems to be poised to step in and compete immediately. But, when you're talking about a true freshman, one that is only 5' 9", picking up all the techniques to play at this level, that is a tall order.
The last true freshman to start on the corner was also from Beach and also barely 5-9. That was of course Nate Robinson.
As many as four may be making the road trip to New York to open up against Syracuse and will most likely will see playing time right off the get-go.
Roy Lewis should be the leader on the back end and I have always thought he would be a player at the next level. He struggled a bit last season and will need to prove me right this coming season by being the Huskies primary stop man, and most likely lining up against opponents' best receivers. He and Wells are proven players and should be the best players in the secondary. Roy has great quickness and a nice break on the ball and has really taken to Coach Williams and his approach.
Things are definitely better up front where the Huskies appear to be a solid two deep at both the linebacker and defensive line positions. Linebacker coach Chris Tormey probably has the best group of running athletes I have seen at Washington. Donald Butler, Dan Howell, Chris Stevens, and EJ Savannah all can really run to the football well and can all cover sideline to sideline. Trenton Tuiasosopo looks the best he has in years after finally recovering from a bike accident a couple of years ago. He should challenge Butler in the middle while Matt Houston has really been making strides learning how to play the position this past year. That's six scholarship players and senior, Kyle Trew gives them a seventh while walk-on Linus Chou, who lettered on special teams, gives them an eighth. Newly signed, Austin Sylvester appears to be physical enough to challenge as well. He is one of three incoming linebackers and the one who I think could also challenge is Mason Foster. That gives Tormey at least 10-12 to choose from and makes it one of the deepest position areas on the team.
Up front on the defensive line there is also a two deep situation with all the starters plus letterman back-ups returning. Jordan Reffert and Wilson Afoa will anchor the middle and defensive ends Daniel Teo'Nesheim and Greyson Gunheim represent the best tandem edge players Coach Randy Hart has had in years. All of these kids actually look trimmer and quicker than they did last fall. Speed and playing faster appear to be the most important things for the defense and all four really worked hard in the off season. I would expect all to have their best seasons ever.
One of the players who continues to catch my eye is defensive end Darrion Jones. Jones actually played and lettered as a true freshman and then redshirted last season to gain strength and size. He is going to be an excellent player before he is finished and has made a number of plays this spring. He is definitely pushing Caesar Rayford as the primary backup to Gunheim and Teo'Nesheim.
Another inside player who is showing steady improvement is Derek Kosub, who is pushing Erik Lobos and Cameron Elisara as interior backups. I think all three have shown some signs of improvement from last fall when both Kosub and Elisara were red-shirted. Elisara has the same sort of relentless attack that makes Daniel Teo'Nesheim such a force to stop.
If the linebackers can hit their "fits" against the run, then the Husky defense will improve dramatically over the past few years.
I would be reluctant not to mention some walk-on players who have taken advantage of the low numbers in spring to max on their opportunities. Besides Linus Chou at linebacker, Jay Angotti has made some nice plays at safety and Desmond Davis has also been active in the secondary. These players should get a chance to help on special teams.
Saturday's practice started with what is referred to as "the Husky Drill". I loved it. It is essentially a 1-on-1 contest of will and determination in which an offensive blocker attempts to push the defensive player out of the play. Low man with his hands inside usually wins, and it is actually like a standoff with the big emphasis on leverage and balance. I saw a number of ex-Huskies watching with the same interest I had. We were all impressed with the hitting and determination of many of the players. Offensively, Casey Bulyca and Chad Macklin were both impressive in their power but also because both came off the line in a very low and kept their feet moving. I was also really impressed with Corey William's effort and really think he has finally recovered from hitting the wall at Notre Dame years ago. In the Husky Drill it is usually the O-Line vs D-Line, tight ends and backs vs linebackers, and receivers vs D-backs as the match ups and all were spirited and aggressive.
This Husky defense is very serious and is getting tougher. They pay attention and are not jacking around on the sidelines or sitting down with their helmets off. They are all engaged and all know what to do, when to do it, and how to hustle. Little things that come with continuity and understanding your system. Little things that make a difference come game day.
Defensively, I really think that if 2-3 of the incoming kids can pick up what is going on in the secondary, this year's Husky defense will be outstanding.
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