The Washington Huskies are spending a lot of time this spring concentrating on improving their ability to tackle. This photo shows John Timu hanging on for dear life against Cal last season. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Washington's defense performed so poorly in 2011 that the entire defensive coaching staff ended up getting dismissed or as in the case of Johnny Nansen re-assigned.
This spring gives us our first looks at the coaching styles of Justin Wilcox, Peter Sirmon, Tosh Lupoi, and Keith Hayward.
The common thread we keep hearing from the kids who are acclimating to the new coaches is that they are less animated and more into taking the time to go in depth to explain how they want things.
There is a lot to absorb and learn this spring for the defense. In addition to the changes in teaching styles the kids are also learning a different alignment/strategy complete with new terminology that reflects changes down to even the way the hand signals are performed.
Reports from practice have been positive so far and the kids seem to be enjoying the changes. We have all been asking for an attacking style defense and that is what Coach Wilcox plans to deliver. The Huskies are going to take a lot of that speed and size they have been developing at safety and begin to spread it around the field.
Washington has spent the better part of a decade using a four man front in tandem with three linebackers. The results haven't been great no matter who the coaches were. This spring the Huskies are switching to what will predominately be a three man front with four linebacker types lining up behind them.
The key to playing this defense well is to have a war daddy playing at the nose who will draw the double teams which keeps the linebackers free to make plays. So Danny Shelton is that guy for Washington. He earned starting time as a true frosh last season and has the ability to contend for all conference honors this season.
Shelton hasn't disappointed this spring. Some of the best practice battles so far have been Danny going up against Sr center Drew Schaefer. Ta'amu was pretty decent but Shelton is a more active and better constructed athlete. He has a great motor and he is ready to come into his own in 2012.
Sr DE Talia Chrichton seems to have gotten back to the level he was right before his knee was injured. He has had an impressive spring so far and has definitely taken advantage of the reps he has been getting with the absence of So Haouli Jamora who continues to rehab his knee after having ACL surgery early last season.
The name Josh Shirley continues to come up after every practice because he is simply one tough hombre to block out on the end. This defense is custom made for the sophomore from the LA area. Josh was primarily a hands down player last season but this year I expect to see standing up more in 2012.
So Andrew Hudson and Rs Corey Waller have picked up a few sacks already this spring and both look like they have taken their play up a notch after a solid off season in the conditioning program. Hudson has been getting a lot of work inside lining up beside Danny Shelton.
The pecking order at linebacker has been interesting to watch so far because the coaches are simply playing everybody everywhere to get a good feel of where they fit best in the new defense. The current emphasis has been on finding the anchors at inside linebacker.
The majority of the returning backers are getting a shot at the inside. At the moment it looks like So John Timu, Jr Princeton Fuimaono are the leaders backed up by So Kearse, Jr Tutogi, Jr Gilliliand, and Jr Pelleur. Keep in mind that all these guys can play outside too if needed with the exception of Tutogi.
Timu has a great frame and by the fall he should be in the 240 lb range so he definitely looks the part of an interior linebacker. Fui isnt as big but he has played quite a bit over the last two seasons and experience counts on the inside.
The staff moved safeties Jr Taz Stevenson and RS Evan Zeger to OLB this winter. Both have been seeing plenty of times with the ones in competition with Rs Scott Lawyer and Rs Scott Lyons. Stevenson is definitely pegged to be one of the starters this fall if he can stay healthy.
The pecking order is pretty well set at corner. Sr Desmond Trufant, Jr Greg Ducre, and Rs Marcus Peters have all impressed early this spring. Peters and Ducre have really opened up some eyes with their play so far. Safe to say that when you factor in the recruits who are arriving this summer that it has been over a decade since UW has had this much talent at the corner positions.
At safety Jr Sean Parker has been limited with a strained groin muscle. The coaches are taking their time with him and are pretty comfortable about what he can do. Rs Travis Feeney has also missed some time which is a shame because this is a good opportunity for him to show what he can do.
Sr Justin Glenn has been lining up with the one's opposite of Parker. Rs James Sample and Jr Will Shaumburger have also been getting plenty of reps. Sr Nate Fellner remains an important part of the rotation. All the safeties need to make the most of their spring reps because "All World" safety Shaq Thompson arrives this summer ready to compete for a starting job.