2007 Football Preview: Defense
July 12, 2007
GoHuskies.com and Coach Tyrone Willingham take a look at the Husky defense in the third installment of a three-part season preview.
The Huskies' most experienced unit is, without doubt, the defensive line. With four startersback from the 2006 season, the team will rely on this group to lead the way on defense.
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Back in their starting roles are ends Greyson Gunheim and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim andtackles Wilson Afoa and Jordan Reffett. Behind those four are a number of far-less experiencedplayers, including junior Darrion Jones (an end who played linebacker previously), 6-foot-7 senior end Caesar Rayford, sophomore end De'Shon Matthews, senior tackles Erick Lobosand Jovon O'Connor, and sophomore tackles Cameron Elisara and Derek Kosub.
'First and foremost, the defensive line has to be the focus of our defensive team,' Willinghamsays. 'We've got to get our defensive line to be more productive from the standpoint ofmaking tackles, creating turnovers and things of that sort. Often, people think those are responsibilitiesthat come to your linebackers, but it would be extremely beneficial if some of that rolecould fall on our defensive line.
'We have a front four with a lot of experience,' Willingham continues. 'Now, we need themto take over the lead in terms of our production on the defense. If they can get that accomplished,it will make things much easier for our linebackers.'
The Husky linebackers are a mix of youth and experience, but most of all speed. Outside`backer Dan Howell is the lone returning starter, but junior Chris Stevens and E.J. Savannahon the outside and sophomore Donald Butler and senior Trenton Tuiasosopo in the middle,have all seen extensive playing time. Sophomore Matt Houston, another OLB, didn't see any actionas a freshman, but will this year.
'You get excited about our linebackers when you look at who we have there,' Willinghamexplains. 'They're guys who have gotten playing time and have been around the football team,been on special teams. They give us experience. They give us confidence and they give us a frontseven that should be able to step up our defensive game.'
The linebackers, especially on the outside, will rely on speed more than bulk to get the jobdone.
'I think that one thing every defense wants is speed, because speed and explosiveness arewhat create turnovers,' Willingham says. 'Just being bigger doesn't necessarily get you there.But if you have guys who have some speed and explosiveness, you can create turnovers. If we dothat, we have a much better chance to win.'
Heading into the spring, the entire defensive secondary was made up of only eight players,two at each position. Of that group, two were returning starters, two more had seen previousvarsity action and the other four had yet to play in a game.
Two-year starting cornerback Roy Lewis and junior free safety Jason Wells, who started inthat spot last year after transferring from junior college, lead the group. Strong safeties MesphinForrester and Darin Harris both have experience in a variety of positions while corners JordanMurchison, Matt Mosley and Desmond Davis, and safety Jay Angotti, will be looking fortheir first action.
The development of this unit, which will likely be bolstered by the incoming freshman class,will be important when fall camp gets underway.
'We have to get our secondary shored up so that we can match the productivity of our frontseven, which would make us a darn good football team,' the head coach explains. 'If we can dothat, we will find ourselves in a position where we can give the ball to our offense and be in aposition to win.
'We have to rely on the veterans,' he continues. 'They've got to set the tone for our team.We expect those guys to really step up and give us they type of leadership we expect from guyslike Dan Howell in the linebackers and Jordan Reffett up front.'
The Huskies' starting punter and placekicker spots will both be taken over by new playersin 2007. While the winners of those two jobs might be young, they have plenty of talent. JuniorRyan Perkins, who missed last season with a knee injury, could contend for both spots. Juniorcollege transfer Jared Ballman is more likely to punt while incoming freshman Erik Folk isprimarily a placekicker. All three, however, could contend for either position.
'I like our personnel. I like their skills,' Willingham says. 'What I don't like is our inconsistency.That's the biggest thing in our kicking game.'
As for punt and kick returners, the Huskies head into the fall looking for someone to step tothe front.
'We really haven't settled on a return man,' Willingham confesses. 'We're looking to findsomeone really explosive. Maybe it'll come from that group of freshmen. There are some playersthere who can really be exciting.'
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