Pac-12: Everrette Thompson
Oregon State finished 3-9, the Beavers' worst record since going 3-8 in 1997, coach Mike Riley's first season. The Huskies fired defensive coordinator Nick Holt and paid big bucks to lure Justin Wilcox away from Tennessee.
And in 2012 both made huge improvement on defense.
The Beavers ended up ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up just 20.6 points per game. That's a 10.2-point per game improvement.
Washington ended up fourth in the conference, surrendering a respectable 24.2 points per game, which was 11.2 points better per game.
Our, er, point? Units can make major improvements from one year to the next.
So who is poised to make a big jump this fall?
Well, the first question is can we glean anything from Oregon State and Washington?
Oregon State welcomed back eight starters, and that doesn't include space-eating, 354-pound tackle Castro Masaniai. Moreover, there was plenty of star power at all three levels: DE Scott Crichton, LB D.J. Alexander and CB Jordan Poyer.
The personnel losses didn't leave big questions. In fact, it seemed likely in the preseason that the Beavers' defense would be better, even if there's a minor application of hindsight there.
Washington welcomed back seven starters, but there were plenty of questions, starting with a new base 3-4 scheme. There was some veteran talent, topped by CB Desmond Trufant, and promising young players such as DT Danny Shelton, rush end Josh Shirley and LB Shaq Thompson, but dramatic improvement wasn't a certainty. The personnel losses -- DE Everrette Thompson, DT Alameda Ta’amu , LB Cort Dennison and CB Quinton Richardson -- were multiyear starters.
Yet the Huskies, probably in large part due to much better coaching under Wilcox and his rejiggered staff, were dramatically better.
And so we have the bottom five defenses from 2012:
Wow, Colorado ... 46 points per game. That was worst in the nation by nearly three points. I know Buff fans are tired of hearing this but, well, that can't get any worse.
California is transitioning to a 4-3 after being pretty successful with a 3-4 under Clancy Pendergast. The good news is solid talent at all three levels, though some of that talent has yet to live up to its formally big-time recruiting pedigree.
As we've previously touched on, UCLA needs to get better on defense if it wants to again become a national presence. Barr is a great place to start, seeing that he's on the short list for national defensive player of the year. That said: The entire secondary is being rebuilt.
Washington State is filling the biggest void -- Long was the Cougars' four-year sack leader -- but it has a better-than-you-think crew coming back next fall.
But if you were betting on improvement, the Wildcats might be the best place to start. The grounds for that is pretty straight-forward: Everyone is back, so you'd expect most of those guys to be better this fall, with the added bonus of some youthful reinforcements. Further, coordinator Jeff Casteel knows what he's doing. Year 2 with his 3-3-5 scheme is almost certainly going to be better.
The Wildcats' defense might even get a boost from its offense: With QB Matt Scott gone, the offense might lean more on the running game, topped by Ka'Deem Carey. It also might slow things down just a bit, though Rich Rodriguez isn't likely to huddle up and go pro style.
Richardson, a sophomore from Gardena, Calif., caught 11 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns (66, 78 yards) in the Buffs 36-33 overtime loss to California. Ten of his 11 catches earned first downs (school record for a receiver), 162 of the yards came after the catch and he had 297 all-purpose yards including one rush for nine yards and a punt return for four yards. He set the Colorado record for the most receiving yards in a single game, and it third most all-time in Pac-12 history. Richardson now has six career plays of 50 yards or longer, and his 10 career TD catches have covered 362 yards.
Dennison, a senior from Salt Lake City, Utah, led all players with 12 tackles in the Washington’s 40-32 win over Hawaii. Ten of his 12 tackles were solo stops. Dennison also provided a key play when he stripped the ball from a Hawaii receiver on the UW 12-yard line at the end of a 34-yard reception. Washington recovered the fumble and drove for the game's first score.
Thompson, a senior from Renton, Wash., blocked two PAT attempts in the Huskies' win over Hawaii. The second was key to the game as Hawaii had just scored a touchdown with 1:39 remaining in the game to cut the score to 38-32. That blocked PAT was picked up and returned for a two-point defensive conversion by UW cornerback Desmond Trufant to give Washington an eight-point lead. Thompson also contributed three tackles, including a sack.
Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Zach Maynard of California, Darron Thomas of Oregon, Andrew Luck of Stanford, Keith Price of Washington, Marshall Lobbestael of Washington State, and running backs Derrick Coleman of UCLA and Marc Tyler of USC, and wide receivers Aaron Pflugrad of Arizona State and DeVonte Christopher of Utah. Also nominated on defense were linebackers Colin Parker of Arizona State, D.J. Holt of California, Michael Clay of Oregon, Chase Thomas of Stanford, Sean Westgate of UCLA, Dion Bailey of USC and Matt Martinez of Utah. Also nominated for special teams play were punters Josh Hubner of Arizona State and Bryan Anger of California, place kickers Will Oliver of Colorado, Jordan Williamson of Stanford and Kip Smith of UCLA, running back/punt returner LaMichael James of Oregon, and tackle Matt Kalil of USC.
- There is no offseason for Arizona.
- What's on Arizona State's to-do list heading into the final week of spring practices.
- Checking in with former California DE Cameron Jordan, who figures to be a first-round NFL draft pick on April 28.
- Oregon rover Eddie Pleasant should be better in year two after switching from linebacker, and that should help erase a bad memory.
- Oregon State coach Mike Riley praises his backup QBs.
- Did the UCLA offense take a step back?
- Has the USC offensive line found its leader?
- Washington D-lineman Everrette Thompson is happy to be healthy.
- Some Washington State post-spring game ruminations.
- An NCAA academic rule change could affect football.
The Huskies ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring defense (31.2 points per game) and seventh in total defense (401.2 yards per game). Both totals are worse than 2009. The Huskies did play better down the stretch, but that that might have been a function of less competition: UCLA, California and Washington State.
Will a Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl rematch provide an opportunity to make an opposite statement? We checked in with Holt to get his take.
What's your overall feeling on how the defense played this season?
Nick Holt: We got better as the season went on, more confident in what we were trying to do. Our problems started when we got some guys hurt upfront, losing two starters on the defensive line [DT Cameron Elisara and DE Talia Crichton]. We didn't have a lot of depth going into the season. That was one of our worries going into the season -- hey, we've got to stay healthy for us to be a solid defense, not a great defense. We couldn't lose anybody. Sure enough, we lose two defensive starters by mid-October. But anyway, we got better as we went back and re-focused on some of the simple calls we have. We just started doing some of the ordinary stuff a lot better. Getting off blocks. Tackling. Stuff that we thought we were good at, or better than we have been. It really started quite honestly with Nebraska. We just didn't do the fundamentals very well [in that game]. We got distracted. Maybe guys were trying too hard. Throughout the course of the year, we just went back to teaching and coaching, the ordinary things. And we just got better. Nothing flashy. We're really not that flashy. We just played solid tough defense, at times.
The defense played better over the final three games: Who were some guys who took a step forward over those final three games?
NH: Well, the last four or five games of the season, I think our corners, our two starting corners [Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson], played really solid football. Tackling and playing the ball, those two guys come to mind. I think a couple of in the defensive line in played better as the season went on. Everrette Thompson was more consistent and more physical. And I think our true freshman, [defensive end] Hau'oli Jamora, we always thought he would be a good player, and he's not huge, but he was very effective. And then [defensive tackle] Semisi Tokolahi, he played the last four or five games and gave us some added girth inside. He was really solid for us. Unfortunately, he got hurt in Washington State, broke his leg, so he won't be able to play in the bowl game. Those guys come to mind. [Linebacker] Mason Foster, week-in and week out, played well. The same with [strong safety] Nate Williams.
The Nebraska game on Sept. 18: What went wrong?
NH: Number one, we didn't play very well up front, especially our front four. We just weren't aggressive. We got knocked off the ball. We played soft, quite honestly. When that happens, it doesn't matter what you do with the linebackers and defensive backs. They can't cover up that stuff. When you are letting a team basically run an inside zone play for eight, nine or 10 yards a pop, and you are not stopping it with your base defenses, something is up, something is wrong. That game opened our eyes. We've got to get back to being physical. We just got distracted with maybe all the option stuff, trying to do too much. We lost the emphasis of good fundamentals. Number two, we didn't tackle very well. At all. We let some runs get out on us with some arm tackles. We gave away a lot of explosion plays where we had guys there on the line of scrimmage, and we just didn't make the tackle. We lost our leverage, or missed a tackle. Number three, we didn't play very well on third down. We had a couple of third and longs, and they ran some rudimentary things, and we missed tackles. Some slants and some other things. We had guys out there. But that's just the way it is right now in our program. We didn't do some of the fundamental football stuff in that game very well. We really had to go back and teach some stuff, get back to the fundamentals.
You guys bounced back pretty well, though, after a bye, winning at USC.
NH: We didn't lose patience with our kids. We just coached them up and coached them up, and they got better. And in the future we will be a lot better if we keep recruiting well.
What's your feeling on your guys' mindset for a rematch with Nebraska?
NH: I think they're motivated to play well. I think they are excited about the opportunity to just be in a bowl game and finishing the season strong. I think they would be motivated regardless of who they're playing. But we are playing Nebraska, and I think their focus is, hey, we didn't play very well the first time. They got after our butts a little bit. We need to play better. We need to make this a better football game than in was in September. I think that's the mindset.
What's the first priority for slowing down the Cornhuskers this time around?
NH: You've got to stop their running backs first, really. They have all these trick plays and stuff, but looking back on it, I think their running backs -- No. 10 and No. 22 [Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead] -- are really good football players. Their offensive line is good. So you got to stop the two running backs first and then you've got to contain the quarterback. You can't let him get 80 yards on a run or run 60 yards for a touchdown. He might get a couple of yards here and there, but you've got contain him, contain plays with him scrambling, or busting the line with a quarterback run. And then no gimmick-type plays. They do have some nice gimmicks. They get in the wildcat formation and the running back throws long balls for touchdowns and things like that. They are a run team, but because they are so effective running the ball, their play-action is really good. Guys get open.
What's the No. 1 off-season priority to get better in 2011?
NH: Recruiting. But that being said, our linemen in our program -- defensive linemen and offensive lineman -- need to get bigger and stronger and faster. Our front seven on defense -- linebackers and defensive line -- we need to get bigger and stronger and faster. We're getting there. But that's why we are where we are right now. Our interior guys, whether it's on offense or defense, we need to get more physical, we need to get bigger. We're getting there, but we're playing some young guys. Those young guys should be redshirting, but we don't have that luxury. The weight room is huge for us this year.
How close are you guys talent-wise -- one recruiting class, two more recruiting classes -- to being where you want to be?
NH: I think we have some talented guys, especially on offense. Our running backs and our receivers are as good as there are. But we're a ways away at the non-glamor positions. But those non-glamor positions are where you win championships: up front. Our guys are battling. But we're not there. Our guys are making progress. How long? Hopefully, it's not long, but quite honestly it's a process -- it's another two or three years before you're really good up front.
It's about something that has been doing a perhaps surprisingly good job making Locker's life difficult the past few weeks: The Washington defense.
I know. No way. The Huskies lost their two best defensive players -- linebacker Donald Butler and end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim -- to the NFL from a unit that ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in total defense (389.5 yards per game) and ninth in scoring defense (26.7 ppg).
But the Huskies defense has consistently hinted during fall camp that it's not going to be the weakling counterpart to what should be an explosive offense.
"They've caused us some problems on offense," said coach Steve Sarkisian, who calls the offensive plays. "They've caused turnovers. They've gotten after the quarterback."
Foster, a senior and all-conference candidate, said the young guys who were forced into action last year are in far better physical condition. Along those lines, Sarkisian noted that junior noseguard Alameda Ta'amu is no longer just a massive mound of inert space filler -- who at his best is merely hard to move. After dropping 30 pounds to 330, he's a guy who can get into the backfield and make plays.
The secondary also appears significantly improved with corners Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson and safeties Nate Fellner, Nate Williams and Will Shamburger. The apparent successful return of end Everrette Thompson from a torn Achilles should bolster the pass rush.
But it's not just about maturing physically, getting healthy and conditioning better. A year ago, coordinator Nick Holt was only that slightly menacing guy who was always barking at them about not understanding what it takes to play great defense. Now the defensive guys and Holt are playing the same tune, one that probably sounds a bit like Rage Against the Machine.
"They've got a real mentality right now," Sarkisian said. "What I like most about it is they've really adopted Nick's personality. They are aggressive. They are tough. They are smart."
Of course, this also merely could be preseason optimism (or maybe the Huskies offense won't be all that potent). The unit certainly will be tested at BYU on Saturday. Sure, the Cougars only have 11 starters back and are replacing quarterback Max Hall. But they have won 43 games over the past four seasons: They are fairly close to the proverbial "reload not rebuild" category.
While there may be some sentiment about the trip for Sarkisian -- he was BYU's quarterback in 1995-96 -- the Huskies players probably don't look too fondly at the Cougars. In their 2008 game in Seattle, Locker scored what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown in the waning moments -- pending the PAT -- but he was flagged for a celebration penalty after flicking the ball into the air.
Just about everyone thought the penalty ridiculous, at least outside of Provo. Of course, barely anyone would remember the call if the Huskies hadn't blown the extra point and subsequently lost 28-27.
That was about as close to respectability as the Huskies would come during an 0-12 season that ended the Tyrone Willingham Era and brought in Sarkisian.
Moreover, one of BYU's quarterbacks -- it appears two will play versus the Huskies -- is true freshman Jake Heaps, a product of Washington State powerhouse Skyline High School. He picked BYU over Washington last winter, and there are just a few whispers that some of the Huskies might be eager to make him feel like he made a mistake.
"I didn't even really know he was from around here until a couple weeks ago," Foster said. "That's going to make it a little more exciting -- a big-time recruit from the state of Washington that went to another school and will play as a true freshman. It's going to be fun to get a couple of hits on him."
The Huskies -- suddenly -- have high expectations. Only two years removed from an 0-12 season, they are thinking about more than just earning their first bowl berth since 2002.
"It's a total turnaround," Foster said. "No more losing every game. The mindset is different. We're really looking forward to coming out in competing at the top of the conference this year."
A total turnaround likely would make Locker a leading Heisman Trophy candidate.
But that's not going to happen if the defense can't make stops.
- If it stays healthy, Arizona's three-headed backfield monster should pile up yards.
- Arizona State's James Brooks is ready to chase quarterbacks. Speaking of quarterbacks: The Sun Devils' decision figures to come soon, and Steven Threet appears to be making a move.
- California's talented, but oft-injured, noseguard Derrick Hill is having a bout with gout (and, yes, I didn't see that one coming either). Depth chart decisions are coming for the Bears.
- An educated guess at what Oregon's depth chart looks like. Still an "or" between the quarterbacks because the competition is still too close to call.
- Split end and linebacker remain concerns for Oregon State. Another look at some issues.
- Ole Man McGillicuddy is fighting for the lone void on Stanford's offensive line.
- Five observations from UCLA's scrimmage.
- Marc Tyler has decided to stay at USC, and he may still get a chance to shine. There may be an opportunity at tailback.
- Now that Washington is headed back to respectability, Bob Condotta takes a look at why it might have fallen in the first place. And it's good news that defensive end Everrette Thompson apparently will be ready for the opener with BYU.
- Youngsters will provide Washington State with depth at receiver.
- A Q&A with Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott.
Who's back: Nine starters on offense, eight on defense, both specialists.
Big names: Quarterback Jake Locker, running back Chris Polk, receiver Jermaine Kearse, linebacker Mason Foster.
What's new: The Huskies staff returns intact in Steve Sarkisian's second year.
Key competition: With 17 position players back, most of the competition is for backup roles. The biggest question is how things will stack up at defensive end, with Kalani Aldrich and Everrette Thompson trying to regain their form after injuries. The pecking order at free safety is still in question. Backup quarterback behind Locker is unresolved.
Breaking out: Chris Izbicki needs to step up at ight end after Kavario Middleton was kicked off the team. Receiver James Johnson figures to take another step forward after a strong true freshman season. There's a sense that junior tackle Senio Kelemete has All-Conference potential, as does sophomore cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Quote: Sarkisian on the value of having Locker back for his senior year: “Historically in this conference, the teams that have won Pac-10 championships or have been in that race at the end have had veteran leadership at that position. Ultimately, if you really want to win a Pac-10 championship, you have to find a way to win on the road. We will take the advantage of having that senior quarterback who has been in those environments.”
Notes: Defensive end Andru Pulu, a potential starter, was kicked off the team after he was sentenced to six months in jail for breaking a man's nose in an off-campus fight in March ... The Huskies added touted linebacker Josh Shirley to their recruiting class after he was booted from UCLA for allegedly participating in a purse theft with three other freshmen ... Locker made two East Coast trips in support of a Heisman Trophy campaign. You can keep up with Locker on his website ... Two members of the 2010 recruiting class will grayshirt: defensive back John Timu and defensive end Brent Williams ... Safety Justin Glenn, who broke his leg at Notre Dame last season, is still not ready for contact.
Even the two teams that fall in the "We'll see" category here don't lack for talent or experience. They just have obvious questions heading into preseason camp.
So how do things stack up?
- Arizona: The Wildcats were in great shape at the spot last year with the same two players, though Ricky Elmore eclipsed Brooks Reed when he recorded 10.5 sacks while Reed was hurt (ankle) much of the season. Word on the street is Reed has been a maniac in the weight room this offseason. Solid depth here, too.
- USC: Two players worth buying stock in: Armond Armstead and Nick Perry. Perry had eight sacks as a backup in 2009 and Armstead was dominant this spring. Transfer of Malik Jackson hurts depth.
- Oregon: Kenny Rowe led the Pac-10 with 11.5 sacks in 2009, while Dion Jordan was perhaps the breakout player of the Ducks' spring practices.
- California: Cameron Jordan has been good, but he has a chance to be great: Is 2010 his year? Trevor Guyton is the leader to replace first-round draft pick Tyson Alualu, while Deandre Coleman and Ernest Owusu provide high-quality depth.
- UCLA: Datone Jones had a great spring, while Keenan Graham looks like the favorite to start on the opposite side. Solid depth with Damien Holmes, Iuta Tepa and touted incoming freshman Owamagbe Odighizuwa.
- Oregon State: The Beavers struggled to rush the passer in 2009 and returning starter Matt LaGrone quit, but Gabe Miller is a talented athlete who came on late and had a good spring. Sophomore Taylor Henry is No.1 on the other side.
- Arizona State: The Sun Devils must replace four-year star Dexter Davis. James Brooks and Greg Smith are the likely starters. Solid depth here but no standouts.
- Washington State: The Cougars are sneaky good with sophomore Travis Long and senior Kevin Kooyman.
- Stanford: The Cardinal is hard to rate because they are switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4, so Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas, returning starters at end, are now outside linebackers and don't qualify. Meanwhile, Matt Masifilo and Brian Bulcke are experienced tackles but are new to end.
- Washington: This is as pure of a "we'll see" as you can get. Four-year starter Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is off to the NFL and potential starter Andru Pulu got kicked off the team. If Everrette Thompson and Kalani Aldrich are healthy and ready to play 12 games, the Huskies are solid. Maybe even better than solid. If not, things are iffy.
2009 overall record: 5-7
2009 conference record: 4-5 (seventh)
Offense: 9, Defense: 7, punter/kicker: 2
Top returners: QB Jake Locker, RB Chris Polk, OT Senio Kelemete, WR Jermaine Kearse, WR Devin Aguilar, LB Mason Foster, CB Desmond Trufant
Key losses: FB Paul Homer, DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, LB Donald Butler
2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)
Rushing: Chris Polk* (1,189)
Passing: Jake Locker* (2,800)
Receiving: Jermaine Kearse* (866)
Tackles: Donald Butler (94)
Sacks: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (11)
Interceptions: Mason Foster* (3)
1. There's depth at tailback: While sophomore Chris Polk, who rushed for 1,113 yards last year, sat out because he's still recovering from shoulder surgery, backups shined, starting with a pair of true freshmen who enrolled early: Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier. Toss in impressive efforts in the spring game from Johri Fogerson and Demitrius Bronson, and there are five tailbacks competing for touches.
2. The interior D-line should be tough: Senior Cameron Elisara saw time at end and tackle, which allowed Alameda Ta'amu, Tyrone Duncan and Semisi Tokolahi to show what they can do. Senior De'Shon Matthews and touted incoming freshman Sione Potoa'e also could be in the mix. Being able to rotate four or five reliable tackles is a luxury the Huskies defense hasn't had in recent years.
3. Uncertainty in the secondary is a good thing: Nate Williams will start at strong safety, and Desmond Trufant, who missed spring with a sports hernia, is almost certainly going to be one cornerback. After that, though, things are uncertain. The good news is that's about competition, not a lack of capable players. Redshirt freshman free safety Will Shamburger was one of the spring stars, while Quinton Richardson, Vonzell McDowell, Adam Long and Anthony Boyles are in the mix at corner.
1. Will the injured ends mend? The Huskies defense needs ends Everrette Thompson (torn Achilles) and Kalani Aldrich (knee) to be healthy in 2010. Both sat out spring practices with worrisome injuries. Both are expected back but it remains to be seen whether they will be 100 percent (or even close to it). Even though Elisara showed that he could play end, if needed, and Talia Crichton had a good spring, there's just not enough depth at the spot to be a top-level defense without them. It's possible a true freshman will see action here.
2. SAM I am? Mason Foster is an all-conference candidate on the weakside and Cort Dennison is solid in the middle. But who's the SAM -- strongside -- linebacker? Two former safeties, Alvin Logan and Victor Aiyewa, are candidates, though Aiyewa saw little action this spring due to a shoulder injury, as well as Matt Houston.
3. Who backs up Locker? After junior Ronnie Fouch opted to transfer, there are only two scholarship quarterbacks after Locker: true freshman Nick Montana and redshirt freshman Keith Price. Coach Steve Sarkisian has repeatedly said he's in no rush -- and not worried -- about his backup spot. Of course, the screws tighten a bit if Locker gets hurt.
The school announced Tuesday that Clarence Trent, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound freshman from Tacoma, will participate in spring practices, a decision that was fully endorsed by basketball coach Lorenzo Romar.
"Clarence approached me earlier in the year and expressed his interest in playing football at the University of Washington and I told him we'd revisit it after the season," Romar said in a statement. "I had some conversations with [head coach Steve Sarkisian] Sark about it and when they agreed to do it, Clarence was excited and we were excited for him. He will still remain a part of our basketball team and it will be much like the situation when Nate Robinson played football at Washington and yet walked on for basketball that year. So, he is still very much a part of our basketball team and he will do both."
Robinson was a starting cornerback for Washington before quitting to concentrate on basketball.
Defensive end is a need position because the Huskies lost starting defensive ends Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Darrion Jones, and Kalani Aldrich and Everrette Thompson are both out of spring practices with injuries. Meanwhile, Andru Pulu faces a second-degree assault charge and has been indefinitely suspended from the team. The Seattle Times reported that Pulu pleaded not guilty in a hearing Tuesday.
- Quarterback Jake Locker may play some baseball with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this summer but a schedule has not been set. Sarkisian said it won't interfere with his football work.
- Players who won't practice due to injury include running back Chris Polk (shoulder), offensive tackle Cody Habben (shoulder), defensive end Kalani Aldrich (knee), Everrette Thompson (Achilles), safety Victor Aiyewa (shoulder).
- Running back Brandon Yakaboski (knee), cornerback Desmond Trufant (groin) and Justin Glenn (leg) will be limited.
- Defensive end Andru Pulu is still suspended indefinitely and is not on the roster.
- Tight end Dorson Boyce has moved to fullback.
- Marquis Persley has moved from cornerback to safety.
- Drew Schaefer has moved from tackle to center. Ryan Tolar from center to guard.
- The starting offensive line as of Monday: Schaefer, Senio Kelemete at left tackle, Tolar at left guard, Mykenna Ikehara at right guard and Skyler Fancher at right tackle
- Linebacker Alvin Logan could see action as a defensive end. Sarkisian said the lack of depth at end due to injuries and suspensions means that some other players, including defensive tackles, could see time at end.
- Players who have left the program: quarterback Ronnie Fouch, running backs Willie Griffin and Curtis Shaw, linebacker Kurt Mangum, cornerback Matt Mosley and receiver Vince Taylor.
- Four freshmen will participate this spring: linebacker Victor Burnett, running back Jesse Callier, running back Deontae Cooper and quarterback Nick Montana.
- The priority is adding depth on the offensive and defensive line.
- Sarkisian said he's interested to see how receiver D'Andre Goodwin and tight end Chris Izbicki perform. Goodwin was the Huskies best receiver in 2008 but fell behind other players in 2009. Izbicki is fighting for touches behind Kavario Middleton.
- He also said that there should be plenty of competition in the secondary between cornerbacks Desmond Trufant, Adam Long, Quinton Richardson, Vonzell McDowell and converted receiver Anthony Boyles.
Strong: Jake Locker
Why it's a strength: Well, when you have a senior quarterback who is the potential top pick in the 2011 NFL draft you might feel fairly good about things. Locker rushed for 388 yards and seven touchdowns last fall and completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,800 yards and 21 scores. Those numbers almost certainly will go up in Year 2 under coach Steve Sarkisian. But it's even more than that. Locker's supporting cast was young and promising in 2009, so it could take a big step toward fulfilling star potential in 2010. Locker doesn't have to run all the time because sophomore running back Chris Polk rushed for 1,113 yards. Receivers? Everyone is back, including the Pac-10's No. 4 receiver, Jermaine Kearse, and its seventh, Devin Aguilar. They combined to catch 13 TD passes in 2009. Moreover, receiver James Johnson and tight end Kavario Middleton appear poised for breakthroughs. If the line, which is thin but returns four starters, holds up, Locker and the Huskies should be able to score a lot of points.
Weak: Defensive end
Why it's a weakness: The Huskies lose both starting defensive ends, most particularly Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, the Husky career sacks leader who finished second in the Pac-10 with 11 sacks and earned second-team all-conference honors. The backups combined for four sacks: sophomore Talia Crichton, junior Kalani Aldrich and sophomore Andru Pulu. Moreover, Pulu is presently suspended for a violation of team rules and Aldrich has been troubled with knee problems. It's possible some guys will get shifted around, including Everrette Thompson, who played inside at tackle last year. And it's likely some of the incoming players will get an early shot to contribute (maybe Darius Waters?)
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Based on news reports and this this useful Web site: The latest on injuries heading into week one.
TE Rob Gronkowski, back, questionable
OG Vaughn Dotsy, finger, probable
WR Delashaun Dean, hamstring, probable
OT Tom Njunge, biceps, questionable
C Garth Gerhart, toe, questionable
C Thomas Altieri, concussion, probable
OG Zach Schlink, knee, out
DT Lawrence Guy, biceps, probable
DE James Brooks, suspension, out
RB Jahvid Best, toe, probable
TE Tad Smith, knee, out
OT Mitchell Schwartz, leg, probable
S Marcus Ezeff, ankle, questionable
WR Michael Calvin, knee, probable
LB Robert Mullins, knee, out
TE Skylar Curran, ankle, probable
WR Rory Cavaille, shoulder, out,
OT Bo Thran, knee, questionable
WR Darrell Catchings, wrist, out
WR Markus Wheaton, NCAA Clearinghouse, questionable
WR Geno Munoz, abdominal, questionable
QB Lyle Moevao, shoulder, out
RB Ryan McCants, knee, out
CB Brandon Hardin, leg, out
OT Timi Oshinowo, knee, out
LB Tony Wilson, knee, out
S Josh LaGrone, knee, out
S Lance Mitchell, hamstring, probable
OT Allen Smith, knee, out
S Taylor Skaufel, knee, out
OT Chris Marinelli, shoulder, probable
LB Alex Debniak, knee, out
OG Micah Kia, knee, out
OL Nick Ekbatani, knee, out
DE Reginald Stokes, knee, out
DT Jess Ward, knee, doubtful
RB Christian Ramirez, ankle, questionable
DE Chinonso Anyanwu, hip, out
WR Gavin Ketchum, hamstring, questionable
OG Stanley Hasiak, stinger, probable
FB Chane Moline, hip, probable
CB Shareece Wright, knee, academics, questionable
WR Ronald Johnson, collarbone, out
DE Armond Armstead, foot, out
C Kristofer O'Dowd, knee, doubtful
DT Averell Spicer, ankle, questionable
OG Nick Howell, ankle, questionable
LB Luthur Brown, academics, out
TE Blake Ayles, heart condition, probable
QB Aaron Corp, leg, questionable
QB Mitch Mustain, illness, probable
CB Patrick Hall, knee, out
CB Justin Glenn, knee, questionable
DT Cameron Elisara, shoulder, probable
RB Johri Fogerson, ankle, probable
RB Chris Polk, concussion, probable
WR James Johnson, ankle, probable
DE Darrion Jones, illness, probable
TE Kavario Middleton, hamstring, probable
DE Everrette Thompson, ankle, questionable
S Jason Wells, Achilles, doubtful
WR Jeshua Anderson, hamstring, probable
RB James Montgomery, knee, probable
CB Brandon Jones, ankle, probable
WR Jeffrey Solomon, ankle, probable
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, foot, questionable
Only Oregon State and USC are replacing both defensive ends. Both, however, have strong traditions at the position, and the Trojans Everson Griffen has started five games and has recorded 11.5 career sacks. California, Arizona and Washington have both starters back. UCLA also does, but Reginald Stokes is out with a knee injury; he may have lost his starting job in any event.
Lots of good players and NFL draft picks here. The competition for first-team All-Pac-10 honors will be intense this fall.
California: The Bears welcome back both starters from their 3-4 defense, Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan, and both have All-Pac-10 potential.
Arizona: Juniors Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore combined for 15 sacks last year and both backups, D'Aundre Reed -- who started four games and had 2.5 sacks in 2008 -- and Apaiata Tuihalamaka are back.
USC: Yeah, yeah, the Trojans must replace both starting ends. Yeah, yeah, Armond Armstead got hurt. But the ends have been outstanding in practices, with Griffen looking poised for a breakout and Wes Horton, Malik Jackson and Nick Perry also ready for star turns.
UCLA: Senior Korey Bosworth had 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2008, while sophomore Datone Jones looks like a budding star.
Stanford: Tom Keiser had six sacks last year and earned freshman All-American honors while Erik Lorig has started 20 career games. Tom McAndrew provides experienced depth.
Oregon: Will Tukuafu had 7.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last year. Kenny Rowe has looked good in camp
Arizona State: Dexter Davis had 11 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. This ranking takes into account that James Brooks has been suspended for three games. Dean DeLeone, a junior college transfer, and sophomore Jamaar Jarrett will step in for Brooks.
Oregon State: Ben Terry and Kevin Frahm have looked good in practice and past performances by unproven Beaver ends through the years are reasons for optimism, but the lack of experience forces an observer to take a wait-and-see attitude.
Washington: Daniel Te'o Nesheim was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2008 after posting eight of the defense's 16 sacks in 2008. Senior Darrion Jones returns at the other end and youngsters Kalani Aldrich and Everrette Thompson have potential.
Washington State: The Cougars only had 16 sacks in 13 games last year. Kevin Kooyman had a good off-season in the weight room, but youngsters and newcomers, such as Travis Long and Casey Hamlett, will need to step up.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Nick Holt left the seven-time defending Pac-10 champions, USC -- and sunny Southern California -- to follow Steve Sarkisian to Washington, which has won 11 games over the previous four seasons, including a 0-12 finish in 2008.
|Jeff Golden/Getty Images|
|Nick Holt knows he has his work cut out for him at Washington.|
He left the Trojans' defense -- the nation's best unit -- to oversee the Huskies defense, which ranked 116th in the nation in 2008 after giving up 38.6 points per game.
The good news is things can only get better under Holt and Sarkisian. The question for long-suffering Huskies fans: How long is it going to take?
Washington is heading into the home stretch of spring practices, so it seemed like a good time to check in with the man charged with restoring a once-proud program's defensive tradition.
So, how are you adjusting to a beautiful Seattle spring?
Nick Holt: [Laugh] I'm adjusting. I have to get used to all the wetness. Heck, when it's sunny, it's really beautiful. You've just got to get used to wearing rain gear sometimes.
How hard was it to leave USC? You guys kind of had a nice thing going down there, particularly on defense?
NH: It's always hard to leave a really, really good place. But you look for opportunities, and you look to keep motivated and keep stimulated and to keep moving up the professional ladder. You keep on changing. That makes the world go around. It was a good opportunity and I think the world of Steve Sarkisian. I think he's a tremendous football coach and I wanted to be part of the program.
When you were at USC, what did the Trojan coaching staff think of Washington? Was it hard to get guys motivated to play the Huskies?
NH: In 2006, they played us tough [26-20 final]. It came down to the wire and we won on the last series of the football game. They were driving and time ran out. And in 2007, it came down to the last part of the fourth quarter [27-24 final]. We barely got out of Seattle. They always played us really competitively. Down at USC, we always respected the University of Washington. When we first got into the conference in 2001, during our early years at USC, Washington was one of the better teams in the Pac-10. It just so happens this past year they had a disappointing season. But whenever they had Jake Locker in the football game, we always had to be ready because he's such a good athlete. We were fortunate we didn't have to play him last year [58-0 final]. He was hurt. That kind of hurt their season. So, to answer your question, we've always respected the University of Washington. We've always thought it was a tough place to play because Husky Stadium is so loud and they have such great fans.
After you were hired at Washington, what did you do to evaluate the talent presently on the roster?
NH: The first thing we always do is look at film and make evaluations through cut-ups. Obviously, when we first got here we were recruiting, so we were multi-tasking. We're doing a bunch of things all at once. But we had our graduate assistants on the job right away, getting them to make evaluations cut-ups of all the returning players and all of the freshmen. The kids that didn't have game film, we went through practice films. We got about 20 to 25 plays on each player who was coming back. That was one of the first things we did after signing day -- we started evaluating what we have coming back and how they are going to fit into our package. And obviously during winter conditioning we got to see kids do agility drills and conditioning drills and you get further evaluations and information on these kids.