Husky Football Preview: Defense & Special Teams
March 31, 2008
As the University of Washington football team prepares to begin spring practice this week, GoHuskies.com takes a look at the development of the program's defensive and special teams units - both under the direction of new coaches to the staff.
Six of the top seven tacklers on the 2007 Husky defense return for 2008. But, that stat obscures the fact that there is work to do in terms of replacing significant losses. While numerous experiences linebackers and defensive backs return, only one of the four starters on the defensive line is back for 2008.
The defense will also presumably have a new look as it will have a new coordinator in Ed Donatell. Most recently defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in 2006, one of Donatell's first coaching jobs was as a grad assistant at the UW under Don James in the early 1980s. He joined the staff in late January and will have his first on-field look at his defense during spring ball.
What had been the Huskies' most experienced unit in each of the last two seasons is, suddenly but not surprisingly, its least experienced.
The one returning starter is end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, the Huskies' most prolific lineman last season with 57 total tackles. He also led the team in tackles for loss (15.0) and sacks (8.5). He'll be relied upon to lead a young crew.
The next most experienced d-lineman is tackle Cameron Elisara, who played in 12 of 13 last season and was a regular in the rotation. Two ends - Darrion Jones and De'Shon Matthews - also saw limited action last season while senior tackle Jovon O'Connor also returns.
The door is open for a group of young defensive linemen who redshirted last season. Kalani Aldrich, Tyrone Duncan and Nick Wood, as well as walkon Conrad Remington, will also get ample chance to prove their worth in the spring.
Only one member of the regular rotation of linebackers in 2007 - graduated senior Dan Howell - doesn't return for 2008. The list of players who are back is long and varied.
E.J. Savannah was the Huskies' leading tackler last season, with 111 stops from his starting weakside linebacker spot. Donald Butler notched 52 tackles splitting time as a starter in the middle with Trenton Tuiasosopo, who contributed 39 stops last year. Also back is true sophomore Mason Foster, who picked up a couple of starts as a true freshman last year.
Senior Chris Stevens has played outside linebacker and has been a special teams star during his UW career. He also returns as does a list of younger, but game-experienced players at the position: Joshua Gage, Matt Houston, T.J. Poe, Austin Sylvester and Fred Wiggs.
Cort Dennison, who earned considerable praise on the UW scout teams as a true freshman last year, will look to impress in the spring as will walkons Pete Galbraith and Brandon Huppert. True freshman Kurt Mangum is also expected to enroll for the spring quarter (in time for spring practice) and will look to get a head start on his college career as well.
The Husky secondary would certainly be categorized as an experienced group, but there are some caveats to that. The Huskies lost three-year starting cornerback Roy Lewis to graduation and have been notoriously understaffed at that position in recent seasons. Additionally, veteran free safety Jason Wells, who missed much of last season due to injury, won't be available to practice in the spring.
There's plenty of reason for optimism, however. Senior safety Mesphin Forrester emerged as a player last year, finishing with 93 total tackles, third on the team. After Wells went down, Darin Harris' previously injury-plagued career was revitalized. He was fourth on the squad with 73 tackles.
At corner, the Huskies welcome back three players who saw time as the starter opposite Lewis last season. Byron Davenport, Matt Mosley and Vonzell McDowell Jr. all started at corner last year and have a leg up on the competition there. Senior Jordan Murchison also saw on-field time at corner in 2007, as did Desmond Davis.
Additionally, safety Nate Williams played as much as any freshman last year, appearing regularly in the UW's nickle package. Classmate and fellow safety Victor Aiyewa contributed on special teams and will look for more action in the secondary this year.
As for players looking for their first action are a group that redshirted as freshmen in 2007. Marquis Persley and Quinton Richardson will add to the list at cornerback while walkon LonZell Hill is a safety. And, Mick Connors, a transfer from the University of San Diego, has also enrolled and will compete in the secondary in the spring.
New special teams coordinator Brian White will have a full compliment of players returning at kicker, punter and long snapper. He'll have more on his hands in replacing his return specialists as Anthony Russo (punt returns) and Louis Rankin (kick returns) have both departed.
Senior Jared Ballman handled all of the Huskies' punting last year, finishing with a solid 40.9 yard average and a well-built reputation for consistency. Ryan Perkins handled all but one field goal attempt and all extra-point tries, making 15-of-20 field goals and 45-of-46 PATs.
Scholarship redshirt freshman Erik Folk, whose contention for placekicking duties last season was cut short by injury, is back to health and will add to the competition along with classmates Cory Rutkowski (kicker) and Kiel Rasp (punter), and sophomore Zach Gerasin, also a kicker.
The Huskies roster also boasts a big group of long snappers. Junior Danny Morovick has handled every snap of his two-year UW career. He's joined by veteran Robert Lukevich, redshirt freshman Ben Hayes and newcomer Brendan Lopez, who redshirted as a freshman at Michigan last year.