Spring Preview – The Defense Part III

This is the area of the Husky defense that has been maligned more than any other area. With former secondary coach Bobby Hauck moving on to accept the head coaching position at Montana, it will be up to Phil Snow to turn this group around. He will have a heavy hand in things, as he also will have the title of co-defensive coordinator.

Snow will have to find answers at safety, where the play has been anything other than consistent over the past two seasons. Former two-year starter Greg Carothers will be tried at linebacker this spring, so the leadership will have to come from one of the sophomores in waiting.

Evan Benjamin (6-0 210 sophomore) is a big time hitter that can be an explosive player. He has played off and on at strong safety, but with Carothers moving up in the defense, this will be Evan's spring to lay claim to a starting role. The Redmond native has the proper attitude to do it, and his father Tony Benjamin has NFL experience, so football instincts run in his blood.

Challenging him will be Jordan Slye (6-4 200 freshman), a terrific athlete that played quarterback in high school. Slye looked great on scout team last fall and can really run around in the back 40 and make things happen.

At the other safety, it will be either James Sims (6-2 199 sophomore) or Jimmy Newell (6-0 195 junior). Sims played a great deal last year and is as athletic as they come. He is a 4.4 sprinter and a triple jumper on the track team for the Huskies. He is still learning the game of football, but his learning curve is getting flatter and flatter for this outstanding young man from Nevada. Newell has been a starter but injuries have plagued his entire career. He is a tough kid that has had nothing but bad luck. His broken finger has now healed, but if you shake hands with him sometime, you quickly find out that it sticks out at an odd angle. This kid deserves some good fortune, and he's worked hard to rehab his body. He now is back to a 4.5 40, plenty fast for a safety.

Washington is loaded with young cornerbacks, so much that there may not be enough footballs for these guys to practice everyone. There are literally about six corners that could be very solid Pac-10 players in 2003.

It all begins with second-team all-Pac 10 teamer Derrick Johnson (5-11 186 junior). His foot is now 100% as proven by his blazing track times this spring. He picked off five passes last year and became more and more confident as the season went on. Expect him to pick up right where he left off and to only get better. This is a confident young man who is now playing his best football.

Roc Alexander was the fastest man on this team and set a school record by going 4.2 in the 40 two years ago. He has fought injuries to his shoulder since then and needed surgery to repair a serious torn labrum. This spring he will be back, but hopefully they'll limit his contact to let his shoulder heal as much as possible. When Roc is healthy, he is the corner that receivers hate to get hit by. He has a knack for getting an elbow or a knee on them and bruising them. He has never been a true cover corner to date, but his speed is such that it allows him to make up ground when the ball is in the air. He now needs to turn and look for the ball when it's being thrown over the top. 2003 will be his senior season and he'll want to go out with a bang.

Nate Robinson (5-8 180 sophomore) provided the spark that the secondary needed last year. He became a starter and a fixture in the secondary at corner. He was instrumental in Washington's 3 overtime victory over WSU last year on the road. He is exciting and explosive, and has ball skills when he gets his hands on it. That is why he'll also get some time at receiver this year.

Behind those three is Chris Massey (5-11 190 senior), who has numerous starts under his belt. He has been victimized by big plays over the past few seasons, but he has experience in big games and that can never be overlooked. He has legitimate sub 4.4 speed, and he got some time at safety last year.

The young guns behind those four are exciting prospects. Watch out for Matt Fountaine (5-11 190 freshman). He's a sprinter on the track team and really impressed coaches with his work at corner last fall. He'll be thrown right into the mix this spring. Also, it's time to see what Eric Shyne (5-10 180 freshman) can do. He now has a spring and a fall under his belt, so watch for improvement from the former Pomona star. Sam Cunningham (6-0 190 junior) was a mystery last year, as he seemed to have fallen off of the depth chart after playing significant minutes as a freshman. He has the size you like in a corner, and it will be interesting to see if he clicks under Phil Snow.

It will be fun to see what Kim Taylor (6-1 190 freshman) brings to the table this spring. He's a tall corner that had an outstanding career at Poly, and he's been working very hard to get to Washington. He's now here, and ready to show the coaches that he's worth the wait. He's got nice size and played some good cover corner for the Jackrabbits, one of the best teams in California.

The likely secondary rotation this spring, and possibly this fall, could be:
FS: James Sims (6-2 199 so.), Jim Newell (6-0 195 jr)
SS: Evan Benjamin (6-0 210 so), Jordan Slye (6-4 200 fr)
CB: Nate Robinson (5-9 180 so), Roc Alexander (6-0 195 sr)
CB: Derrick Johnson (5-11 186 jr), Matt Fountaine (5-11 190 fr)

It should be noted that Washington landed their top safety prospect on their entire board in C.J. Wallace. He'll certainly be given some reps this fall to see if he can help out, but he won't be here until August.
Link to Offense Part I: The Offensive Line
Link to Offense Part II: The Receivers
Link to Offense Part III: The Offensive Backfield
Link to Defense Part I: The Defensive Line
Link to Defense Part II: The Linebackers

next up – special teams

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