Spring Review: Defense and Special Teams

With the annual Purple and Gold game on Saturday, spring practice has concluded and now the focus turns to offseason workouts and conditioning as the team prepares to rectify what happened during last season's 0-12 record. Some players made big jumps this spring and some still have work to do. Here's a position-by-position look at how things ended up this spring with a grade for the progress made…

Defensive Line

Strongside Defensive End: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (Sr.); Everrette Thompson (So.)
Nose Tackle: Alameda Ta'amu (So.); Tyrone Duncan (So.)
Defensive Tackle: Cameron Elisara (Jr.); Craig Noble (RS Fr.); DeShon Matthews (Jr.)
Weakside Defensive End: Darrion Jones (Sr.); Kalani Aldrich (So.)
Incoming Players: DT Chris Robinson; DT Johnny Tivao; DT Semisi Tokolahi; DE Talia Crichton

This is a position that, as the spring progressed, really started to assert themselves.

Te'o-Nesheim is a player that gets respect around the country for his efforts. He's a high-motor guy who has gradually become a leader on the team and he will be the main pass-rusher for the Huskies this fall.

Jones is a player who the coaches said was one of the most improved since they arrived and he had a solid spring. They expect him to build on that over the summer and heading into the fall to become the pass-rusher they think he can be.

Thompson and Aldrich are both players who showed well early before getting injured toward the end of camp and were held out. Both should be back at 100% by the time fall camp kicks off at the start of August and they are expected to be big contributors in 2009.

Ta'amu, Elisara, Duncan and Noble will form a solid rotation of players inside with Matthews also contributing. In defensive coordinator Nick Holt's offense his interior linemen are expected to get pressure and for most of the spring that's exactly what they got out of this position.

Overall grade coming out of spring: B-


Middle Linebacker: Donald Butler (Sr.); Trenton Tuiasosopo (Sr.); Kurt Mangum (RS Fr.)
Strongside Linebacker: Mason Foster (Jr.); Matt Houston (So.)
Weakside Linebacker: E.J. Savannah (Sr.); Cort Dennison (So.); Brandon Huppert (Jr.)*
Incoming Players: Tim Tucker; Jordan Wallace; Andru Pulu
* = walk-on

The top four linebackers for the Huskies proved to be Butler, Foster, Savannah and Tuiasosopo and regardless of who gets injured, Tuiasosopo will be the first one off the bench with Butler's ability to move to either of the outside positions.

Foster and Savannah were destructive forces through most of camp, although the latter missed the last week of practice while nursing a minor shoulder injury.

Dennison, Mangum and Houston all improved their play with the new coaching staff and all should be mainstays on the special teams units while also earning playing time on defense this fall.

Lastly, Huppert was a huge surprise as a sub for Savannah during the second spring scrimmage and he had an outstanding camp. He's a player to watch this fall and should have some sort of an impact on special teams at the very least.

Overall grade coming out of spring: B+

Defensive Backs

Corner: Quinton Richardson (So.); Matt Mosley (Jr.); Adam Long (RS Fr.)
Corner: Justin Glenn (RS Fr.); Vonzell McDowell (Jr.); Marquis Persley (So.)
Free Safety: Nate Williams (Jr.); Greg Walker (RS Fr.); Alvin Logan (So.)
Strong Safety: Johri Fogerson (So.); Victor Aiyewa (Jr.)
Incoming Players: S David Batts; CB Dominique Gaisie; S Nathan Fellner; S Will Shamburger; CB Desmond Trufant

This unit is still very young even with experienced players like Mosley; McDowell and Williams in the two-deeps.

Richardson had a solid freshman campaign considering that he was put on an island most of the season with little to no help and during spring ball he played well, adapting to the new scheme being implemented by safeties coach Jeff Mills and corners coach Demetrice Martin.

Glenn, Mosley, Persley and McDowell, who was recovering from shoulder surgery, all saw time with the first unit during the spring, but it appears there will be an intense competition this fall to see who ends up opposite Richardson. All four showed well at times, but Glenn had the best spring of the four.

Williams is the likely starter at free safety, but anyone of the other four in the depth chart could end up seeing time at the other position. Of the four, Aiyewa is the biggest hitter while Fogerson and Walker are more cerebral and make plays on the ball when it's in the air.

After Logan moved to safety, he immediately got reps with the one's as well as the two's and he acquitted himself well, but he is at least a year away from being a big contributor, however he's only a sophomore, so he could still have an impact as a fourth-year junior in 2010.

Batts and Gaisie are both JUCO players that will immediately challenge for playing time once they arrive this summer, but jobs won't just be handed to them with the head start the rest of the players have on them.

Overall grade coming out of spring: C


Kicker Depth Chart: Erik Folk (So.); Cory Rutkowski (So.)*
Punter Depth Chart: Andrew Lutton (Jr.)*; Kiel Rasp (So.)*
Incoming Player: Will Mahan
* = walk-on

We didn't see a lot from the specialists this spring, but what we did see wasn't very good.

Folk had a very inconsistent spring, but he's the best kicker they have on the roster. All of the kickers struggled to get enough distance on their kickoffs as well so it will be interesting to see what happens this coming fall.

Head coach (Steve) Sarkisian said if the season started today that Lutton would be the starting punter, but with Mahan coming in from Bakersfield College he will likely take the starting role once he arrives on campus.

Overall grade coming out of spring: D

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