Mid-season grades - Defense

It's been a long season already for the Huskies, but we're only halfway through what has proven to be one of the toughest schedule's in the country. Are there any positives to take from a unit that ranks 117th in total defense and 115th in scoring defense? Not a lot, but if you look at some of the individual players there is a glimmer of hope...

With the dismissal of defensive coordinator Kent Baer, many thought a unit that lost at least five starters and one key substitute would be able to improve on their numbers from last year, but it's been a struggle all season on the defensive side of the ball. A unit that was one of the worst in the country in 2007 is dead last in defense in Division one so far this season allowing 483 yards per game.

Lots of talented, but young players have seen time on the defense and with that experience things should only improve down the road.

Defenseive Line – D-

It's hard to give this unit anything but an ‘F' so far this year. However, because of the youth and the fact that junior DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is still one of the better defensive ends in the conference, I gave them slightly above a failing grade.

While Te'o-Nesheim has been the only consistent performer, DT Cameron Elisara and DE Darion Jones have been inconsistent at best.

Te'o-Nesheim has Washington's only sacks (three) and he ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 31 and second in tackles-for-loss with 4.5. He's got a non-stop motor and he's a leader by example. The hope is his work ethic will show the younger players what it takes to be successful and that will manifest itself with better play in the second half of the season.

Jones, who plays on the other side, hasn't been much of a factor versus the run or the pass. He's got excellent quickness and speed, but it appears he's hamstrung by the scheme Washington uses that asks its end to worry about the run before attacking the quarterback.

Redshirt freshman Kalani Aldrich has been the first end off the bench so far this season and he's held up well considering he still needs to add some weight and muscle in order to be more effective. Down the road Aldrich should be able to be a factor with his tenacity and athleticism.

Elisara and freshmen defensive tackles Senio Kelemete and Alameda Ta'amu along with converted tight end Johnie Kirton have been the mainstays in the middle, but they've struggled to generate any pressure or penetration and they've gotten pushed all over the field seemingly the entire season.

Kirton has been a pleasant surprise with his play. It's too bad he waited as long as he did to make the move to what many considered his more natural position.

The coaches have been happy with the performance of the freshmen and that includes DE Everett Thompson, a player they will be counting on more in the coming weeks.

Sadly, more physically mature players like Nick Wood, Tyrone Duncan and DeShon Matthews have seen little to no time in the rotation and it appears they don't fit into this coaching staff's plans for the rest of the season.

Linebackers – D

When the defensive line doesn't get much penetration or pressure on the quarterback, it makes the duties of the linebackers and secondary that much harder.

To make matters worse, E.J. Savannah, Washington's best linebacker and arguably its best returning player not named Jake Locker was booted from the team by Willingham during fall camp.

The problem the Huskies have had this season is they lack dynamic playmakers at the linebacker position and they struggle in open space against the athletic ball carriers and pass catchers littered throughout the conference.

Mason Foster leads the team in tackles with 50 and also leads the defense with 6.5 tackles-for-loss. Foster is at his best attacking, but because of the absence of Savannah, the sophomore from California has been asked to drop into coverage much more than he was as a freshman last year.

Foster's speed and instincts have also taken a hit because he's thinking more than just reacting, but he's still a physical player who is probably Washington's best overall defender aside from Te'o-Nesheim.

There was a ton of promise for Donald Butler after his freshman season in 2006, but after an injury-plagued 2007 season he's failed to rebound with improved production this year.

Butler manned the middle of the linebacking unit until the Oregon State game, but moved outside to the strongside position in order to get Washington's best three linebackers on the field.

Joining Butler and Foster in that trio of linebackers is senior Trenton Tuiasosopo, who holds down the middle with his size and physicality.

Tuiasosopo, who worked in to the rotation much of the first half of the season, is at his best stuffing the run and he's posted 27 tackles, sixth-best on the team, and he's been able to be a coach on the field helping get the rest of the defense aligned properly. However, he's limited in space and offenses have exploited his weakness when he's been in the game.

Junior Josh Gage is Washington's fastest linebacker, but he's more of a finesse player and he doesn't use his hands well. In a starter's role, Gage struggled mightily against the run, unable to hold strong at the point and he was late making plays in the passing game. He was at his best last year coming in as the nickel linebacker, where he could use his speed and quickness. As a starter, he has been overwhelmed against the run much of the time.

Senior Chris Stevens seems to make plays every time he's on the field and he's one of the most physical players on the team, but for some reason he hasn't managed to get out of Willingham's deep doghouse and thus rarely plays other than on special teams where he always seems to be around the ball.

Matt Houston showed promise in the spring, but hasn't been able to translate that into much playing time during the fall. He got his first start of the season against Stanford, but since that game he's seen little in the way of playing time other than on special teams where he's been solid.

Secondary – D

Considering the injuries to key players and lack of a pass rush, is it any wonder Washington is surrendering 250 yards per game through the air?

Coming into the season, the Husky staff was counting on a healthy Byron Davenport and a fully-recovered Jason Wells to be key ingredients to a secondary that has had an influx of talented youngsters the past two years.

Without those two – Davenport has struggled with groin and hamstring injuries and Wells is redshirting while still recovering from the knee he tore up against USC in 2007 – Washington has had to live with inexperienced players at all four positions.

Now, you could argue that senior CB Mesphin Forrester started last season, but he played safety and asking him to man up against some of the top wideouts in the country on a weekly basis is probably asking too much.

Forrester's size and quickness were supposed to be assets out wide, but his lack of flexibility and strength have hurt him more than many thought it would. He's been a liability in coverage and only average against the run, but he's still managed to post 34 tackles, third-best on the team.

At the other corner position, redshirt freshman Quinton Richardson was moved from safety to corner last fall and he's shown signs of promise while going through the typical growing pains most young corners go through.

He's managed to post 15 tackles and he leads the Huskies with six passes defensed. Richards also has one of Washington's two interceptions on the season.

Backing up Forrester and Richardson have been sophomores Matt Mosley and Vonzell McDowell. McDowell has the quickness and speed to be an excellent nickel corner, but he's still trying to regain his confidence after a tough freshman season.

Mosley mainly plays on special teams and has only one tackle for the season.

The absence of Wells along with the scary injury to Darin Harris, thinned the ranks at safety considerably and with sophomore Victor Aiyewa's struggles to return from a mysterious injury it was up to sophomore Nate Williams and walk-on Tripper Johnson to hold down the fort.

Williams, along with Richardson, has been the most promising youngster in the secondary, but even he has shown how overmatched he is at times.

The youngster from Kennedy High School ranks second on the team with 43 tackles and he caused a fumble at the one yard-line against BYU that almost proved to be the difference in the game.

Johnson is all out effort, but his lack of athleticism and his inexperience have really shown in some bad angles at times. Johnson has 16 tackles on the season and he's recovered two fumbles including the one Williams caused against BYU.

Aiyewa is probably the hardest hitting safety on the team and he's just now getting playing time. It's obvious how young he is at times though as he goes for the big hit instead of wrapping up and he still takes bad angles, but many feel the sky is the limit for the prospect from Texas.

Check back tomorrow for our look at the offense and the special teams

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