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UWDP Roundtable: Who has the biggest impact on the defense?

The UW Dawg Pound discusses who is the most important player to the success of the defense.

NCAA Football: Montana at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I think I speak for most Husky fans when I believe the combination of head coach Kalen DeBoer and OC Ryan Grubb will significantly raise the floor of the offense and consistently put a very good product on the field. Things are much less certain on the defense, which has taken some small steps backwards in the past few years. The defense should still be solid, but the coaching staff on that side of the ball is much less proven than their offensive counterparts. We also won’t have (what appears right now to be) an elite secondary to lean on. So my question is:

Which player is most integral to the success of the defense? Your options:

  • Tuli Letuligasenoa - DT
  • ZTF - DE/pass rusher
  • Kris Moll - linebacker
  • Cam Bright - linebacker
  • Mishael Powell - CB
  • Asa Turner - safety

Jeff Gorman:

I was tempted to with ZTF, because I think a great pass rush makes every defense “work”. When QBs are running for their lives every play, it’s a challenge to have any success offensively. However, I am going to go with Tuli. If fully healthy and playing consistently, he can change the nature of the defense by plugging the middle and allowing the linebackers (who seem to be very mobile) to run free. A first team All Pac-12 season from Tuli would contribute more to the success of the defense than any other player I listed, IMO.

Max Vrooman:

I think Tuli makes a lot of sense given how the defense fell off once we finally ran out of the long line of Danny Shelton, Elijah Qualls, Greg Gaines, Vita Vea, etc. At the same time we have a new defensive system in this place this year which maybe isn’t quite as reliant on having a nose tackle that can swallow up a pair of blockers. Although obviously that’s useful in any defensive scheme. I’m going to go ahead though and hedge my bets a little and say Cam Bright. Having a 5th year senior in the middle of the defense given all of the other challenges at that position over the last several years should be huge.

If for the majority of 2022 ZTF plays like he did in 2020 though then he will end up being the clear winner. I’m just not comfortable yet putting those kind of expectations on him coming back from his injury without having seen much of that player when he rushed back at the end of 2021.

Gabey Lucas:

Yeah I thought about that too Max — that Tuli would be a great answer normally (and might still), but the nature of choosing him for your answer is completely changed now that it appears the new staff won’t be so reliant on guys that can play 2 gaps like in the past.

Otherwise I’m gonna have to think about it but probably one of the linebackers you brought up. BUT that feels kinda like cheating to me since it’s so obvious.

Andrew Berg:

Every option you listed is a good answer to the question in a different way. I’m going to place my vote for Mishael Powell. A breakthrough by Powell wouldn’t represent an elevation for the DB position because UW has become accustomed to All-Conference play by CBs as a starting point. Instead, Powell’s ascendance would prevent the deterioration of a unit that has been key to the defensive success for UW going back to at least 2015. It has been a given that the Huskies would get excellent play from defensive backs and send many of them to the NFL- Byron Murphy, Budda Baker, Marucs Peters, Shaq Thompson, Kyler Gordon, Trent McDuffie, Myles Bryant, Taylor Rapp, Sidney Jones, Elijah Molden, and others.

No team can have that level of sustained success without elite scouting and talent development. Whether it was Jimmy Lake, Chris Petersen, or some combination of other staff members, whoever was responsible for that scouting and development is no longer with UW. It’s no longer safe to assume that the next man up will immediately slide into the starting lineup and play at an All Pac-12 level. The combined departures of McDuffie, Gordon, and the defensive coaching staff put the unit in peril in a way it hasn’t experienced in the better part of a decade.

Thus, I think Powell’s development is important to preserve a strength for the program. He played a decent amount last year and was… ok. He certainly didn’t look like an inexperienced walk-on, but he also didn’t look like the stars who have come before him at the position. If he does not improve, and if Jordan Perryman can’t acclimate to a power five schedule, the recent standard of success will be out the window. On the other hand, Powell’s leap could offset all the risks and keep the unit, and the entire defense, a strength.

Coach B:

I’m going to go with Turner. I’ve talked about how important the safeties are in the new defense on a number of occasions, and Turner has the talent to step up in a big way. He’ll be much more involved in our Quarters heavy scheme, and we won’t be asking him to sit back and cover deep as much, which I don’t think was ever his strong suit.

Instead of sitting 10-15 yards off the LOS, he’ll be coming up and making tackles in the run game and teeing off on underneath routes. The defense is designed to spill plays to the perimeter with the safeties providing clean up in a similar way to how BBK cleaned up plays in the old scheme. Not only that, but as the likely starter at boundary safety, Turner will also need to be adept at playing varied coverages including up in the LOS as the slot DB against certain looks, and that’ll require a more varied skill set than just playing Cover 2 or as a box safety. With such a pressure-oriented scheme, his ability to lock up his guy will be critical.

He might not end up with all-conference numbers, but within the scheme, his play will be integral to the overall performance of the defense.