Husky Defense Will Be Much Improved

SEATTLE - Based upon the 15 days of spring, it is obvious there is a new attitude about how defense will be played this year for the Washington Huskies. There is a new play-caller, a new philosophy and like I said - a whole new attitude.

Schematically it should include a lot of what was last year's package, but it will definitely be more attacking and offer much more in the way of disguises, coverages, and pressures. Considering last's year's defense was one of the worst in the conference and the worst overall in school history, I will go out on a limb and say the Huskies will be greatly improved on the defensive side of the ball. The Husky defenders are having fun and hitting and running to the ball.

These Huskies are running and hitting athletes, and collectively these players and coaches will put the excitement back into Husky defense.

Remember the old days when Husky Stadium used to rock when the defense was on the field? It gave me goose bumps! It was so loud on the sidelines that you couldn't hear someone right next to you. Third down and the opponents' offense was screwed. It was so loud they'd jump offsides, had to call timeout or simply got stuffed.

Washington was known for its defenses for close to 25 years. Nobody - and I mean nobody - came into Husky Stadium and won in the Dawghouse. All teams got the same treatment. Washington fans love their hard hitting defenses. Those defenses had swagger. They were swarming. They went after the quarterbacks. They were ferocious hitters. They blocked kicks. They returned kicks, They created turnovers. That's what Husky football was all about - win with defense and special teams, and get what you could out of the offense.

This is not to say the kids haven't been trying the past few years, but the defenses have really struggled at Washington for most of the last decade. Sure, offenses have become more difficult to handle but good defenses are built around preparation, toughness and flying to the ball. I see that coming back by the way the kids are going about practice and the way the coaches are building the confidence in the kids.

Basically, until the new kids come in August, the Huskies are smaller up front but quicker and stronger than they were the last few years. They have one proven all-star player in Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who is bigger, stronger and more expressive than he has been in the past. He will very simply lead by example with his all-out hustle and toughness.

To fill in the rest of the front it means picking three new starters out of a pool of about a dozen kids. My guess is the older kids who have been paying their dues are going to be hard to beat out. The current three are Darion Jones at defensive end opposite of Te'o-Nesheim, Cameron Elisara and De'Shon Matthews at the inside spots. These three, along with Jovan O'Connor, have been in the program for at least two years each and know what is expected. I would expect that come fall we will see one or two of the new kids thrown into the mix as well. Craig Noble and Alameda Ta'amu were both recruited to play inside, but don't be surprised if you see them look at Senio Kelemete - who is said to be pushing 285 now - at an interior spot as well. Everrette Thompson will most likely be a straight speed pass rusher.

Defensive line coach Randy Hart also has the athletic Johnnie Kirton and some youngsters who were just red-shirted in Kalani Aldrich, Nick Wood and Tyrone Duncan. Those four, plus the incoming four and four walk-ons gives coach Hart nearly a full group of four-deep to work with, and that will pay dividends during the long season.

Linebacker coach Chris Tormey has built the best depth at that position in years and it is also the fastest overall group of 'backers since the national championship days. Tormey now has seven experienced linebackers for three spots and three-deep overall. The competition in practice is now to the level where they are making each other better.

Donald Butler, Mason Foster, E.J. Savannah and pass-rushing expert Chris Stevens are joined by upperclassmen Matt Houston - who I personally felt had his best spring ever - as well as the experienced and ever-ready Joshua Gage, and a healthy Trenton Tuiasosopo. These seven are all much better since they have been at Washington. They are healthy, active, hitting hard and showing good leadership to a younger group of red-shirted and walk-on players. The linebackers have speed and depth. Are you noticing a trend? They also have experience and toughness, and let's don't forget about special-teamer Fred Wiggs, Jr. He and T.J. Poe and the others only make the top group that much better.

There is no doubt that new Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell has made his impact known. The kids are really excited about his hands-on approach and his personal touch. They know he can call the right defenses and they are feeding off of his energy. The whole defense appeared energized during all of April. Face it - they gave away a number of games last year, but they know they can compete and hit with anyone. Playing hard, hitting hard, and creating turnovers are emphasized daily. This Husky team will intercept more footballs and recover more fumbles than any Husky defense over the past eight years. Watch! They will win some games with the defense alone. They will rip the ball out, knock it out with crushing hits, and steal interceptions with great breaks on the ball. It will not just happen.

It will be designed to happen.

This was the case for the NFL defenses that Donatell coached in Green Bay Packers and in Atlanta. Both were amongst the leaders in turnovers, both attacked the quarterback and both had a solid cover-two look to work out of. This is also noticeable with these Huskies. They are much better in their base coverages because they know what to do and when to do it. This is primarily due to their collective experience, but also to a renewed confidence which has been an obvious point of emphasis.

The back-end of the defense has gotten bigger and it will only continue to get better. Safeties Quinton Richardson and Mesphin Forrester were moved to the corner and both seemed comfortable and well-suited on the outside. Nate Williams and Victor Aiyewa - who both saw considerable playing time last year as freshmen - have emerged as the starters at safety, at least until Jason Wells returns in the fall from a knee injury. All are big hitters, all are over 205 pounds and all are taller than six feet. The back-end of the defense has gotten bigger and more physical and has depth in backup seniors Darin Harris and Byron Davenport as well as junior Matt Mosley and sophomore Vonzell McDowell - all who saw considerable playing time last fall.

Mind you - last spring Secondary coach J.D. Williams only had six kids to work with, but he now has players like Marquis Persley, Jordan Murchison and Tripper Johnson all contending, as well as the eight previously mentioned. This does not include the true freshmen coming this summer. Incoming safeties Johri Fogerson, Greg Walker and Vince Taylor are all out of the bigger mold, as well and corners Adam Long, Anthony Gobern and Justin Glenn. All are bringing in more speed too.

Overall this group has grown from six to over 20 in a little over a year. That is depth. It is the depth and size and speed that will make this defense better, but the most important ingredient is belief. These kids believe in what they are doing. They believe in their new coach and they believe in each other. This defense will be much better come fall and they are all staying in town this summer to make sure it is.

That's attitude, and that wins games for you. Top Stories