Position Breakdown: Linebackers

In the sixth-installment of our continuing series on the future of Husky football, we take a look a talented group of linebackers that will be counted on to be the leaders of what will be a very young defensive unit.

Returning: Chris Stevens (Sr.); Trenton Tuiasosopo (Rs. Sr.); E.J. Savannah (Rs. Jr.); Joshua Gage (Rs. Jr.)*; Donald Butler (Jr.); Matt Houston (Rs. So.); Fred Wiggs (Rs. So.)*; Mason Foster (So.); Cort Dennison (Rs. Fr.)
2008 Recruiting Class: Bradley Roussel; Cory Mackay
Still left on the board: Donovan Carter; Josh Kaddu

The Huskies lost one of their defensive leaders when Dan Howell graduated following the 2007 season, so it will be up to the returning starters and key contributors to fill that void when winter drills start.

Stevens, Tuiasosopo, Savannah, Butler and Foster all return with a plethora of experience under their belts, but the key for this unit will be if they become the consistent playmakers their talent says they should be.

Every time Stevens gets on the field he makes something happen.

He's a big hitter who has a knack for getting to the quarterback on speed rushes to the outside and the Huskies like to line him up out wide with his hand down on passing downs and he usually is able to get pressure even if he doesn't quite get to the quarterback.

He's also a gunner on special teams and has even blocked two punts in his three years on campus. He's a bit on the small side (6-0, 210), but he plays with a big heart and there's usually a violent collision when he meets the ballcarrier.

Savannah was a tackling machine this past season wracking up 111 tackles while leading the Dawgs in that category.

The problem?

He could have had at least 20 more had he gone for the sure-tackle instead of going for the big hit. Too many times Savannah did not wrap up what would have been a tackle-for-loss and instead it resulted in positive yardage or a first down for the opponent.

When Savannah is focused he is an outstanding linebacker, able to flow well to the ball and be physical at the point of attack and when he arrives at the ball, head coach Tyrone Willingham has even been quoted as saying "footballs and ballcarriers usually go flying in opposite directions".

He struggles some in coverage, but he's good at blitzing and causing problems for the quarterbacks.

Savannah has All-Pac 10 potential, he just needs to live up to his talent.

Butler was the projected starter in the middle heading into the 2007 season after a solid freshman season in which he received ample amounts of playing time, but a recurring knee injury prevented him from living up to the promise he showed the year before.

He is Washington's biggest linebacker and the most physical. He's also very smart and gets his teammates into proper alignment. If he's right health-wise, Butler has a chance to be a solid middle linebacker in the Huskies' scheme and the expectation is he should be back to 100-percent by the time spring rolls around.

Tuiasosopo did a solid job of subbing for Butler during the season and he did an admirable job against the run, but he was a liability against the pass because he doesn't have the quickness necessary to break on passes in front of him or the hips to stick with backs and tight ends in the passing routes. He's also a bit slow at getting into his drops.

Foster arrived on campus and immediately caught the coaches' eyes with his outstanding football instincts, his physical play and his energy.

He runs very well, helping him to get pressure on blitzes and he uses his instincts well blowing up several screen-plays that could have gone for big yardage had he not made the play.

Now the task of becoming a full-time linebacker falls to Foster as he will be called upon to be a blitzer as well as drop into coverage on a regular basis as he looks to replace Howell on the strongside.

Houston is an intriguing player who hasn't seen much time up to this point, but he'll likely be the back up to Savannah on the weakside while also being counted on as a special teams player.

He's quick and, from the limited time we saw him, he looked like he was able to shed blockers well and flow to the ball. At this point, he's an unknown quantity, but he's got excellent speed and the frame to add more weight.

Dennison is a player the coaches really like a lot.

He plays with his hair on fire and is outstanding at getting to the quarterback (he posted 37.5 sacks his final two years at Judge Memorial High School in Utah).

Dennison also received scout team honors several times during the season for his work on the prep teams and the coaches are hoping that his performance there will portend big things this coming season on both special teams and if the need arises for him to get time at linebacker.

Wiggs and Gage have been fine additions as walk-ons. Both see lots of time on the coverage units and Gage even subbed in as a nickel linebacker in several games.

Wiggs was Washington's special teams demon and earned player of the week honors several times for his play on the coverage units.

Of the two, Gage is the player most likely to earn playing time at linebacker, but both are very valuable to the Husky program.

Roussel and Mackay will be fine additions to the Husky linebacking corps.

Mackay is a local player who posted 15 sacks for Eastlake High School in Sammamish and was a solid big receiver for the Wolves as well.

He has been compared to current Washington State LB Andy Mattingly and, with their size and athleticism, that's probably a fair comparison. However, Mattingly is a more natural linebacker than Mackay so it will take some time for him to get used to the speed of the game.

Mackay also hasn't played in reverse much, so he will need to work on his footwork and technique some before he can be counted on to be anything more than a situational guy.

Roussel has middle linebacker written all over him. He's 5-11, 220 pounds and he just oozes toughness. He's aggressive, a sure-tackler and he's got excellent athleticism.

Roussel ended his career at Baton Rouge (La.)-Redemptorist with 41 consecutive starts and 362 total tackles. He finished his senior season with 127 stops, six sacks, 10 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and one interception.

Previous position breakdowns:

Position Breakdown: Quarterback
Position Breakdown: Tailbacks and Fullbacks
Position Breakdown: Receivers and Tight Ends
Position Breakdown: Offensive Line
Position Breakdown: Defensive Line

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