Spring Battles to Watch - Defense

Desmond Trufant (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

SEATTLE - With four new defensive coaches, as well as new schemes, terminology and way of doing business, Washington's defense is undergoing a major overhaul this spring. What position groups will be highlighted as new UW Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox tries to work his magic in fitting his philosophies with the talent on hand?

Defensive Tackle - Sophomore Danny Shelton emerged at the end of 2011 as the heir apparent to Alameda Ta'amu, the run-stuffing stalwart in the middle of Washington's defensive line. With Wilcox looking at some 3-4, Shelton could be an ideal two-gap nose guard that could really plug things up inside. Another sophomore, 325-pound Lawrence Lagafuaina, has the size you're looking for, as well as quickness inside the tackle box.

But in an even front, who is going to play alongside Shelton? With senior DT Semisi Tokolahi out for spring with an off-season foot surgery, junior defensive tackle Sione Potoae would be the odds-on favorite as he has the experience. At 280 pounds, Potoae really hasn't gotten any bigger since his arrival at UW, but he does possess plenty of God-given strength. Potoae will be challenged by a redshirt frosh, Taniela Tupou, who also is considered 'country' strong. Tupou, at 275 pounds, isn't any bigger than Potoae at this point, but he does have a chance to really impress the new defensive coaches if he can overtake Potoae for playing time.

Defensive End - In a 3-4 scheme, hybrid players like Josh Shirley and Corey Waller would stand up as outside linebackers, but in an even front they'd be those pure speed ends that wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Shirley is the Pac-12's returning sack leader, and while UW is going to tinker with some different fronts, it's doubtful they are going to take the sophomore DE too far away from what he does best.

It's the other end spot that should get a ton of attention in the spring. Hauoli Jamora, who was hurt last season, will be held out of spring ball, so look to players like Andrew Hudson, Talia Crichton, Jarret Finau and Connor Cree to battle for playing time. Crichton, a senior, is finally 100 percent healthy after being beset with sporadic injury concerns the last two years, and freshman Finau are the bigger ends that can go man-to-man against tight ends and hold the edge. Hudson and Cree are roughly 20 pounds lighter than Crichton and Finau, and they will be asked to rush the quarterback relentlessly, while still having the raw speed and athleticism to get after the ball-carrier when plays break down.

Linebacker - Looking at Washington's 2012 spring depth, it's easy to see why Wilcox is looking closely at implementing a 3-4 scheme; with Taz Stevenson and Evan Zeger moving up from safety, that gives the Huskies no fewer than 11 scholarship linebackers - by far the deepest position group on the team. The question now becomes - where do you put all of them, and how do you organize them?

Starting in the middle, Thomas Tutogi and Ryan McDaniel appear to be the two linebackers that seem to be shoe-ins when it comes to having the requisite size and strength. Garret Gilliland started at the MIK position against Nebraska his true freshman year, so he's familiar with the spot. John Timu, at 236 pounds, is another player that has grown into possibly securing one of those inside spots, and after a full season being thrown into the fire as a first-year starter is now really to take that next step in his development. Scott Lawyer is now listed at 220 pounds, up 20 pounds from a year ago - so he's got a chance now to be a run-stuffer and physical presence.

Outside, Cooper Pelluer is the only linebacker that's going to be limited physically in spring, so that not only gives incumbent players like Princeton Fuimaono and Jermaine Kearse more opportunities to play, but also those behind them that have been waiting their turn - Stevenson, Zeger and Matthew Lyons are those guys.

Overall, the 2012 linebacker group has some experience and they are long on athleticism and upside - but they need to find some leaders to help fill the void left by MIK Cort Dennison. That will not be an easy fix. It's also going to be up to this group to lead the way when making the transition from Nick Holt's terminology and keys to Wilcox's. Obviously, the quicker they pick things up, the faster they'll be able to just play the game instead of thinking about it.

Safety - Because of the moves of Stevenson and Zeger to linebacker - as well as the news that both Travis Feeney and James Sample would be limited to non-contact work in spring because of late-season shoulder surgery - a once-deep position has now been thinned out to the point where it's back to all hands on deck. As long as Feeney and Sample are able to return in the fall to full health - as well as the expected emergence of true frosh All-Everything safety Shaquille Thompson - safety should once again become a big strength for the Huskies.

At the free safety position, Nate Fellner and Will Shamburger should be the ones battling for the starting spot come fall, with Fellner getting the edge as last year's returning starter. At the strong safety spot, Sean Parker and Justin Glenn have the position on lockdown, having combined for 50 appearances so far in their UW careers.

Cornerback - It was initially thought that Ventura (Calif.) College ATH Antavius Sims would be tried first at cornerback, but that idea has seemingly been nixed by the Washington staff, so the Huskies have five corners on scholarship available for the spring - assuming that Adam Long will be 100 percent after returning from a serious knee injury.

At the one spot, senior incumbent Desmond Trufant is an easy pick with 38 appearances to his name. Expect Long and Anthony Gobern to fight hard for that back-up spot to Trufant. As far as the other cornerback spot, I believe the competition between junior Greg Ducre and redshirt frosh Marcus Peters is going to be the toughest battle on the defensive side of the ball. UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian singled out Ducre for his off-season work, and Peters was all-everything coming out of high school. He had to bide his time in 2011, but starting Monday has everything to prove to Coach Sark and the rest of the new defensive coaching staff.

Spring Battles to Watch - Offense

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