Huskies have miles to go on defense this spring
Some good things happened at Washington last season. Still, the lasting memory of the 2011 campaign is going to be the defensive debacle that was the Alamo Bowl.
The Huskies scored 56 points – yet still lost by 11. The Huskies’ defense was sliced, diced, julienned and pureed to the tune of 777 yards and 67 points by Baylor.
Coach Steve Sarkisian, who has overseen a slow but steady rebuilding job, responded to the defensive meltdown by revamping his staff. The new coordinator is Justin Wilcox, who was hired off the staff at Tennessee. He and his staff have to toughen up the front seven and tighten up the secondary. The Huskies were bad against the run and horrible against the pass last season, and all those issues are not going to be solved in one year.
Coach: Steve Sarkisian (4th season)
Last season: 7-6 overall, 5-4 in Pac-12
Spring practice dates: April 2-April 28
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (6): G Colin Tanigawa, T Erik Kohler, G Colin Porter, QB Keith Price, C Drew Schaefer, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Defense (6): LB Princeton Fuimaono, SS Sean Parker, E Josh Shirley, LB John Timu, T Semisi Tokolahi, CB Desmond Trufant
Special teams (0): None
Thankfully for Sarkisian, he has the makings of another potent offense. QB Keith Price was awesome in the Alamo Bowl (438 yard and four TDs passing, and another three rushing touchdowns), and he’ll operate behind a line that returns four starters and should be one of the best in the Pac-12.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins is an emerging star, and though the Huskies will miss WR Jermaine Kearse, there looks to be enough talent on hand to have a solid receiving corps.
Star TB Chris Polk turned pro early, and there likely is some unease over finding his replacement. But there look to be some talented contenders for the job.
Washington also will be looking for a new kicker and a new punter.
The biggest problem: Linebackers. The graduation of Cort Dennison, last season’s tackles leader, leaves a void in the middle of the defense. Finding a dependable playmaker at linebacker will be at the top of new coordinator Justin Wilcox’s to-do list this spring. But that’s easier said than done. Ineffective play by the linebackers (and the line) were a major reason Washington finished 76th in the nation in rush defense (168.7 yards per game) last season. With what appears to be a gradual change to a 3-4 scheme by the new staff, the race for playing time at the position likely goes to whoever learns the system first. Promising youngsters Jamaal Kearse, Princeton Fuimaono and Garret Gilliland need to impress the revamped defensive staff this spring.
On the spot: RB Deontae Cooper. One of the Huskies’ most coveted players in the 2010 recruiting class, Cooper hasn’t had a carry in his college career. A knee injury during spring practice as a freshman forced him to redshirt, and another knee injury last year kept him off the field. All-Pac-12 TB Chris Polk has departed early to the NFL; Cooper, Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey are the top candidates to replace him. Cooper’s talents could provide a much-needed punch to the rushing attack if he can stay healthy.
On the verge: S Shaq Thompson. Considered the No. 1 safety in the class of 2012, Thompson is the first five-star recruit to sign with Washington in the past 10 years. He enrolled in January, and Sarkisian said Thompson has been doing everything necessary to prepare himself for a starting role. The Huskies were 116th in pass defense last season, and if Thompson is as good as hyped, he could provide a dramatic boost to the secondary.
General overview: Most of Huskies’ problems are on defense. New coaches could mean the process of improving the defense extends into the beginning of the season. Luckily, the offense returns a solid foundation of experienced players, including QB Keith Price, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and four returning starters along the line. Finding depth at key positions, such at quarterback, will be emphasized this spring. Washington does need new starters at kicker, punter and long snapper, but returning players at those positions probably will take those spots.
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