NCF Nation: Justin Washington

Good to great: Who makes the jump?

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
3:31
PM ET
Who goes from good to great in the Pac-12 in 2011?

By this we mean which player goes from an above-average player to an all-conference sort? Here's some guess, one per team.

(And we don't want to include any players from this list).

DT Justin Washington, Arizona: Washington started fast as a redshirt freshman in 2010 then got banged up. If he stays healthy and takes a step forward, he's got a chance to be all-conference.

WR Gerell Robinson, Arizona State: The 6-foot-4, 222-pound senior has always looked the part. He just didn't play it. He played it this past spring, and he should put up big numbers in an offense that wants to throw it a lot.

[+] EnlargeKennan Allen
Dave Stephenson/Icon SMICal's Keenan Allen had 46 catches for 490 yards and five touchdowns last season.
WR Keenan Allen, California: Allen is a major talent. With his half-brother, Zach Maynard, playing quarterback, you'd think he's going to get plenty of chances to show it.

WR Paul Richardson, Colorado: Richardson is an A-list receiver on a team without much depth at the position. If he stays healthy, he's got a good shot to approach -- or eclipse -- the 1,000-yard receiving mark.

LB Michael Clay, Oregon: Smart and athletic -- very quick -- Clay saw a lot of action last year, and he did nothing to suggest he won't meet high expectations.

S Lance Mitchell, Oregon State: There are a lot of good safeties in the Pac-12. Mitchell, an NFL prospect, might be the most underrated of them all.

OLB Chase Thomas, Stanford: Very quietly piled up 14.5 sacks over the past two seasons but only earned honorable mention all-conference honors. Expect an upgrade when he gets double-digit sacks this fall.

DE Datone Jones, UCLA: Jones is like a super-secret guy who only folks who've watched UCLA practice the past two years know about. He was a nice player in 2009 who was expected to break out last year. Then he missed the entire season with a broken foot. If he stays healthy, he WILL be an all-conference player. Write it down.

DE Nick Perry, USC: Another talented guy -- the junior is firmly on the NFL radar -- who's been consistently riddled by injuries. If he stays healthy, he and Jones will be opposite each other on the all-conference team.

DT Star Lotulelei, Utah: At 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, he looks the part. By the end of the 2010 season, he played the part, too. Coach Kyle Whittingham believes he's a budding star in more than his name, and we concur.

OT Senio Kelemete, Washington: A two-year starter, he's the Huskies' most experienced O-lineman. Coach Steve Sarkisian has been singing his praises for a long time. A breakthrough year?

SS Deone Bucannon, Washington State: He led the Cougars in tackles as a true freshman and made plenty of big plays (see: two interceptions and two forced fumbles). He also made some mistakes. Expect the mistakes to go down and the big plays to go up.
No team in the Pac-12 wows you at defensive tackle. No team is a sure thing. There is a lot of "maybe" at the position. And probably some maybe not.

The uncertainty of quality -- both in terms of returning stars and depth -- made this a difficult position to rank. For example, Washington has a nice foursome at tackle, led by Alameda Ta'amu, who might be the best tackle in the conference.

That's great. Good for the Huskies. But they ranked 97th in the country in run defense last year. You sort of pause over that, you know?

So a lot of this ranking is feel thing, a projection of potential. And "great shape" here is relative to the conference. Nebraska, for example, wouldn't exchange its tackles -- Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler -- for any Pac-12 tandem.

Some of this figures to inspire a bit of debate.

Great shape

USC: This may be in some part based on fumes from the Trojans reputation at the position. It definitely includes a vote of faith that they will get a 100 percent Christian Tupou back from the knee injury that killed his 2010 season. If so, the threesome of Tupou, George Uko and DaJohn Harris is strong. And if you toss in Armond Armstead -- who missed spring with an undisclosed medical condition that threatens his career -- you'd have a clear No. 1.

Washington: Ta'amu seemed to find himself during the second half of last year, and the 330-pounder could end up getting some All-American consideration if he consistently plays like he did against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Sione Potoa'e and Semisi Tokolahi are both experienced, and Lawrence Lagafuaina a space-grabbing, 344-pound redshirt freshman.

Colorado: The Buffaloes are sneaky good here, even though they only ranked 48th in the nation in run defense in 2010. Both starters, Will Pericak and Curtis Cunningham, are back, but Conrad Obi was a revelation this spring. He looked like a future NFL draft choice, not a player who'd mostly been a bust. Nate Bonsu, who missed spring with a knee injury, also should help.

Good shape

Utah: The Utes, who ranked 11th in the nation in run defense in 2010, lost Sealver Siliga, but they believe they have a budding star in, er, Star Lotulelei, while James Aiono, LT Tuipulotu and Joape Peta are solid. Also, Dave Kruger, who played end this spring, is 280 pounds and can play inside.

Arizona: The loss of backup Willie Mobley to a knee injury hurts depth, but Justin Washington figures to take a step forward after an impressive true freshman season, Sione Tuihalamaka started four games in 2010. Depth is a question. The Wildcats ranked 33rd in the nation in run defense last fall.

Oregon: On the one hand, Oregon lost both starting defensive tackles in Brandon Bair and Zac Clark from a unit that ranked 27th in the nation in run defense. On the other, they played so many guys last fall, the new starters are experienced players. Further, Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Isaac Remington and Jared Ebert played well enough this spring to suggest the position will be a strength in the fall.

Arizona State: If Lawrence Guy didn't make his ill-fated decision to enter the NFL draft, the Sun Devils, who were 16th in the nation against the run last fall, would be in great shape here. As it was, Will Sutton had a great spring and looks like a potential All-Conference guy. Grinder Bo Moos is listed as the starter at the other tackle, though he could be eclipsed by Corey Adams. Toa Tuitea saw limited action last year.

UCLA: The Bruins defensive line was terrible last year, ranking 108th in the nation against the run, but the talent is there for a significant turnaround. Cassius Marsh, Nate Chandler, Justin Edison, Donovan Carter and Seali'i Epenesa should do a much better job plugging the middle.

California: Cal is actually fine here, despite the loss of NG Derrick Hill. For one, when you run a 3-4 defense, it's hard to rate your DTs, even if your DEs often operate like them. The Bears have two solid options at NG in Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne, and it's also possible that touted 350-pound incoming freshman Viliami Moala will eclipse both of them.

We'll see

Oregon State: Dominic Glover moves inside from end and Kevin Frahm has experience, but this unit didn't play well last year -- 89th in run defense -- even with one of the best DTs in the nation in Stephen Paea. 340-pound Castro Masaniai could help but he missed spring after shoulder surgery and has off-field issues. There's also Mana Tuivailala and Ben Motter.

Stanford: Like Cal, Stanford runs a 3-4, so it naturally it is going to suffer a bit in DT rankings. More important: The loss of Sione Fua is significant. Terrence Stephens and Henry Anderson had solid springs but neither has much experience.

Washington State: Brandon Rankin, a returning starter, was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Anthony Laurenzi after spring practices, with redshirt freshman Toni Pole No. 1 at the other tackle. Justin Clayton, Steven Hoffart and Xavier Cooper provide depth. It's not unreasonable for Cougars fans to expect improvement, perhaps significant improvement. But a team that ranked 115th in the nation in run defense the previous season is automatically a "We'll see" here.
On Friday, we looked at offensive three-headed monsters -- the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver troikas -- so it also makes sense to also look at their defensive counterparts, the best threesomes from each of the three levels of defense: defensive line, linebacker and defensive back.

Here's the tally from last season, if you are interested.

1. Arizona State

DE Junior Onyeali, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Omar Bolden

The Skinny: No question on No. 1 here. Onyeali was the Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Burfict is the nation's best inside linebacker. Bolden was unanimous first-team All-Pac-10.

2. Stanford

DE Matt Masifilo, LB Shayne Skov, SS Delano Howell

The Skinny: Masifilo, the lone returning starter on the Cardinal defensive line, was honorable mention All-Pac-10, as was Skov, who was playing as well as any linebacker in the conference over the final third of the season. Howell was second-team All-Pac-10.

3. California

DE Trevor Guyton, LB Mychal Kendricks, S Sean Cattouse

The Skinny: Guyton had 8.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks despite being a part-time starter. Kendricks was second-team All-Pac-10. Cattouse earned honorable mention.

4. Oregon

DE Terrell Turner, LB Josh Kaddu, CB Cliff Harris

The Skinny: Two solid returning starters and a second-team All-Pac-10 cornerback who figures to be a preseason All-American after earning second-team honors from the Associated Press and Walter Camp Football Foundation in 2010.

5. Washington:

DT Alameda Ta'amu, LB Cort Dennison, FS Nate Fellner

The Skinny: Ta'amu earned honorable mention All-Conference honors and seemed to find himself over the latter half of the season. Dennison had 93 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. Fellner tied for second in the conference with five interceptions.

6. Arizona

DT Justin Washington, LB Paul Vassallo, CB Trevin Wade

The Skinny: Washington's numbers fell off when he got banged up, but he still had 11.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks as a redshirt freshman. Vassallo was honorable mention All-Conference. Wade had an off year last fall, but was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2009.

7. USC

DE Armond Armstead, LB Chris Galippo, FS T.J. McDonald

The Skinny: This actually could be one of the best threesomes in the conference, but Armstead and Galippo have injury issues and only put up middling numbers last fall. McDonald was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010.

8. Washington State

DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, SS Deone Bucannon

The Skinny: Long was honorable mention All-Conference, Bucannon, who started as a true freshman, and Hoffman-Ellis were the Cougars' top two tackles in 2010.

9. UCLA

DE Datone Jones, LB Patrick Larimore, SS Tony Dye

The Skinny: A solid threesome that is down here more because it gets an "incomplete." Jones missed all of last season with a foot injury, but, if healthy, he's an All-Conference sort. Larimore was solid in seven games before suffering a shoulder injury. Dye led the Bruins in tackles and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10.

10. Colorado

NG Will Pericak, LB Jon Major, FS Ray Polk

The Skinny: Pericak earned honorable mention All-Big 12. Major was the Buffaloes leading tackler before he blew out his knee in Game 7 (a knee injury also killed the junior's true freshman season). Polk was the second-leading tackler.

11. Utah

DE Derrick Shelby, LB Chaz Walker, CB Conroy Black

The Skinny: Honestly don't know how to rank the Utes here. Shelby and Walker are returning starters -- Walker earned second-team All-Mountain West honors. Black was the top backup cornerback last season. But Star Lotulelei might be the Utes' best defensive lineman, and Brian Blechen has moved from strong safety, where he was very good, to linebacker. How highly do the Utes think of him? They list him as an All-American candidate.

12. Oregon State

DE Dominic Glover, LB Rueben Robinson, S Lance Mitchell

The Skinny: Three returning starters, but none of them even earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Mitchell was the Beavers' third-leading tackler, Glover had 2.5 sacks, and Robinson split time with Tony Wilson.
Arizona starts spring practice today, which means it can stop licking the wounds of a five-game losing streak to end 2010 and start looking forward to 2011.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireArizona enters the upcoming season with lofty expectations, thanks in part to returning quarterback Nick Foles.
But if taking a step forward toward 2011 is the carrot, a lingering backwards glance to 2010 is the stick. The Wildcats should be plenty motivated.

"The kids know we are close, but we need to do some things better to take that next step," coach Mike Stoops said. "We've gotten to this point. We need to go further."

On the one hand, the losing streak happened against a brutal schedule: Stanford, USC, Oregon, Arizona State and Oklahoma State combined for a 49-15 record. But the Wildcats aspire to being a team that wins those sorts of games.

"We just need to be stronger in some ways, stronger against stronger teams," Stoops said.

The Wildcats have intriguing talent coming back -- with quarterback Nick Foles and perhaps the Pac-12's best group of receivers leading the way -- but they also have two glaring holes: offensive line and defensive end. All the 2010 starters at those positions are gone.

Here are some notes:

Out of spring: Just two starters will not participate in full-contact work: defensive tackle Justin Washington and cornerback Shaquille Richardson. Both had shoulder surgery. Receiver Bug Wright was given the boot for repeated team rules violations.

Offensive line questions? All five starters are gone on the offensive line. Sophomore Mickey Baucus and redshirt freshman Fabbians Ebbelle are the front-runners at the tackles. Kyle Quinn, who started the Alamo Bowl for Colin Baxter, is the leader at center, though mid-year transfer Addison Bachman could make a challenge. Sophomores Chris Putton, Trace Biskin and Eric Bender-Ramsay are in the mix at the guards. Redshirt freshmen Trent Spurgeon and Carter Lees and junior Shane Zink also are in the mix. With a new offensive line coach -- Robert Anae -- there could be plenty of mixing and matching.

End of the line? Senior Muhammed Usman and redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato will be with the first unit to start spring, but defensive end might be an even bigger question than offensive line. The Wildcats are deep at tackle -- Washington, Sione Tuihalamaka, Willie Mobley, Chris Merrill, Dominique Austin, Jowyn Ward, Aiulua Fanene, etc. -- so it's possible things might be fluid on the defensive line. One of the more athletic tackles might move outside to become a big, strongside end. And junior college transfer Lamar de Rego arrives in the fall.

Good to receive: The Wildcats welcome back potential preseason All-American receiver Juron Criner, but the big news is the overflow of enthusiasm for Texas transfer Dan Buckner, who will give the Wildcats a second speedy, 6-foot-4 target on the outside. Said Stoops, "I think he gives us the two best outside receivers maybe in the country. Having [Buckner] and Criner on opposite sides is going to create problems for people." When you toss in Dave Roberts, David Douglas and Richard Morrison on the inside, you have a deep crew that Stoops called "the best receiving group we've ever had, without question." Oh, and don't forget: Terrence Miller, Garic Wharton, Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin. Lots of competition for touches here.

Backed by seven: The Wildcats welcome back all three starting linebackers and a talented secondary. Sophomore Marquis Flowers and junior Adam Hall figure to offer an upgrade in the secondary -- both saw plenty of action in 2010. Robert Golden, Trevin Wade, Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight provide talent and experience at cornerback. And Stoops thinks Wade, who suffered through a notable slump last fall, is going to bounce back: "Trevin has had a much better out-of-season already. I think he learned a great deal from some of his mistakes a year ago as well as his preparation. I look for him to come back strong." He added, "This is the most athletic back-seven we've had. Best group of corners we've had."

Not special: The Wildcats didn't get much from their kicker Alex Zendejas and punter Keenyn Crier last season. Zendejas is back, but he needs to step up. Said Stoops: "Zendejas needs to become a much better player... we need more out of him." Junior college transfer Jaimie Salazar arrives in the fall. Junior college transfer punter Kyle Dugandzic was signed to start, so he needs to come through.

Redshirt or backup for Scott: Stoops wants to redshirt backup quarterback Matt Scott, which means he could return for a redshirt senior season in 2012. But that might not be doable. Said Stoops, "In a perfect world, we'd love to redshirt him. But we've got to keep him ready to play if things slide or something happens to Nick." Junior Bryson Beirne would make things easier on his coaches with an inspired effort this spring.

This is Foles' team: Foles has been a good quarterback for two years. If he becomes an All-Conference or even All-American quarterback as a senior, the Wildcats could climb to the top of the Pac-12 South Division. Stoops expects a lot out of Foles. "Nick has to have total control of this team and this offense," he said. "He's a premier starter who will become, hopefully, a first-round NFL draft pick. He needs to assert himself in every way possible as a leader."

WSU isn't backing down

October, 16, 2010
10/16/10
10:07
PM ET
Arizona just wants to win and get out of Pullman without any other injuries, but Washington State is playing with a lot of fire and only trails 21-7 at the end of three quarters.

So far, the Wildcats have lost quarterback Nick Foles and defensive tackle Justin Washington to knee injuries. We'll have to wait to get formal word on the nature of those injuries.

The Cougars had some momentum. They got a TD on a 23-yard Jeff Tuel pass to Marquess Wilson and got a fourth-down stop to open the fourth quarter.

Then it turned the ball over to Arizona on a backwards pass.

Still, this game isn't over.

Pac-10 stock report

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
10:50
AM ET
Who's running with a bull market? Who's battling the bears (not the Golden ones)?

Stock up

Arizona: The Wildcats, the national team of the week, are 3-0 and ranked 14th after beating No. 9 Iowa, their first victory over a ranked nonconference foe at home since 1989. They are playing well on both sides of the ball and look like a legitimate threat in the Pac-10.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost 20-19 at Wisconsin, but they sure didn't look like the team projected to finish ninth in the Pac-10 this fall. Particularly intriguing is a transformation on offense, as QB Steven Threet seems adept at running Noel Mazzone's spread attack.

UCLA's running game: Last year, UCLA ranked 97th in the nation and ninth in the Pac-10 with 114.6 yards rushing per game. This year, despite playing three quality opponents, the Bruins rank 31st in the nation and fourth in the Pac-10 with 203.7 yards per game.

The return game: Three conference teams already have returned kickoffs for TDs. Oregon has returned three punts for TDs. USC one. Six conference punt returners rank among the top 21 in the nation. Four kick returners rank among the top 17.

Shane Vereen: Vereen ran for a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns in California's 52-31 loss at Nevada. He is now second in the Pac-10 and 21st in the nation with 108 yards per game.

Andrew Luck: As Stanford's fortunes rise, so does Luck's Heisman Trophy candidacy. The nation's third-rated passer has 10 TD passes and has not thrown an interception. He also has a 52-yard TD run.

Allen Bradford: A non-factor in USC's first two games, he rolled up 131 yards on just 12 carries with a TD in a 32-21 win at Minnesota.

Justin Washington: Guess who leads the Pac-10 in sacks with four? An Arizona redshirt freshman defensive tackle named Justin Washington, that's who.

Brandon Bair: Is Bair the most underrated player in the Pac-10? Maybe. The Oregon DT leads the conference with 6.5 tackles for a loss after a monster game vs. Portland State.

Stock down

California: The national ranking went poof amid a flurry of Nevada points last Friday.

Washington: Little went right as Nebraska pounded the Huskies in front of a supremely disappointed home stadium. Rumors of the program's return to national relevancy appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

USC's defense: The Trojans rank sixth in the conference in scoring defense (23.7 ppg), seventh in total defense (411.7 yards per game) and last in passing defense(291.0 ypg). And those numbers came against mediocre-to-bad teams.

Washington State's offensive line: The Cougars have surrendered 10 sacks -- three more than any other conference team -- and rank last in the conference in rushing (96.7 ypg).

UCLA's ball security: UCLA ranks last in the conference and 112th in the nation in turnover margin. The Bruins are minus-five on the year, with their 10 giveaways being twice as many as any other conference team.

Oregon State's pass rush: The Beavers only have two sacks in two games, which might be a big reason opponents are completing 60 percent of their passes, which is the second-worst completion rate in the conference. Up next: Boise State's Kellen Moore.

Jake Locker: You might have heard that Locker turned in the worst performance of his career vs. Nebraska. It's hard to become a Heisman Trophy candidate -- and justify a high NFL draft grade -- when your QB rating ranks ninth in the Pac-10 and 65th in the nation.

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