If there is one area of the defense going into 2009 that the coaches have confidence in it would be the linebacker position. Washington returns six current or past starters to fill the 3-4 positions available depending on on how Coach Holt decides to configure the defense.
I think we can all agree that the starters are solid but the depth behind them is very questionable for the future Look for the coaches to clear some room at safety by moving some talented players to LB to prepare for 2010 augmented by some heavy recruiting which has started this season and will extend into 2010.
This unit is led by junior Mason Foster who was one of the top players on the defensive squad last season. Foster has everything it takes to take his game to an All Pac 10 level this season after an impressive sophomore campaign. Foster has the ability to play any of the three LB positions because his speed, size, and range allows him to move side to side pretty easily.
Senior EJ Savannah returns to the team after a year in Willingham induced limbo. When EJ is healthy and not in trouble he is one of the best LB's in the Pac 10 and has the potential to play on Sunday's. Savannah returns to the squad bigger, stronger, and wiser, and he has the potential to be the best defensive player on the team which is a role he filled as a sophomore.
We finally got to see what an injury free Donald Butler could do last season in the middle. He still has some work to do to take it to the next level but I like what I have seen so far. Butler can lay some wood if the defensive line can improve enough to free up the LB's to make plays.
Senior Trenton Tuiasosopo returns for a sixth year and will back up Butler in the middle and start in four LB situations. Trenton is a run stuffer but hasn't shown the speed going backwards needed to be effective on passing downs.
Matt Houston took the starting job away from Josh Gage midway through the season. He didn't show enough to actually claim the position and with EJ Savannah returning this season he most likely will be relgated to providing depth and special teams help in 2009.
Senior Josh Gage started in place of EJ Savannah last season to start the season. It was obvious that the former walk-on was over his head and by mid year he lost that starting spot. I don't expect Gage to play much outside of special teams this season and he is a good bet to lose his scholarship if Sarkisian needs some room to fit in his 2009 class this fall.
Kurt Mangum has good size and redshirted last season after arriving early last spring. This year he goes into the campaign to prove that he can step up and fill a starting spot when Butler and Tui graduate after next season. We will get our first good look at him this spring. As you are well aware all practices have been closed in the past which means we really cant get a good idea of how the young players are progressing.
Cort Dennison was a sleeper from Salt Lake City who reportedly has done well on the scout team. This will be a make or break campaign for the sophomore to prove that he is deserving of his scholarship. Like all the players buried in the depth we won't know what he has to offer till this spring when we can finally see him play.
Bradley Roussel wasn't Ty Willingham's favorite recruit. Tyrone spent most of last season trying to run him off the team because he didn't feel he had the size to play in the Pac 10. You have to wonder if that is the case why they offered him in the first place? Coach Tormey on the other hand liked the kids potential and observers feel he can mix it up in practice even though he hasn't passed the eye test yet. If there is anyone who could benefit from a coaching change it is Roussel.
Sarkisian's first recruiting class brings in Tim Tucker and Andru Pulu who are slated to play the middle. Pulu could easily grow out of the position and head over to DE. Sacramento's Jordan Wallace was a late addition to the class. He has great blood lines being the brother of former Husky safety CJ Wallace. Listed as a safety he is slated to start out at WLB.
Demetrious Bronson who was recruited by Washington as a RB qualified for Winter quarter and could potentially move to a LB spot. Safeties Johri Fogerson, Victor Ayiewa, Greg Walker and big CB Quinton Richardson are all players who could be possibly moved to LB this spring or fall depending on what coach Holt is looking for.
The goal is obviously to get the best eleven athletes on the field at the same time in coming years so expect a lot of changes behind the starters this season in anticipation of the future.
The consensus opinion on the LB corp is that all the starters have the ability to play the game at a high level. Savannah and Foster have the ability to be all Pac 10 performers with Butler not all that far behind. Tuiasosopo provides great depth and the ability to start four experienced LB's at one time if needed.
The weakness of the unit is that the depth is extremely questionable behind the big four at this point and that means that a lot of change and a major talent influx is needed to build for the future. I can see some potential for some serious attrition at these positions between now and 2010 to make room for more talented athletes.