In part two of our look at the state of the Husky defense with UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt entering spring practice, today we examine the linebacking corps.
It’s a group that’s a little bit of a mixed bag. There is the return of two starters in senior Mason Foster — an all-conference candidate; and junior Cort Dennison — who while not a full-time starter last season, did get five starts last year, enough to consider him experienced heading into this season. (By the way, I’m now listing the years for all players as they will be for the 2010 season).
But after that there’s no real experience with the Huskies losing out on a bid to get a sixth year for E.J. Savannah, which would have helped fill the void of the loss to graduation of Donald Butler.
“We weren’t getting our hopes up,” Holt said of the appeal for a sixth year for Savannah. “We were expecting that (a denial) to be the case, not getting the year back. It would have been great to have him back.”
With the losses of Savannah, who started last year at weakside linebacker, and Butler (middle linebacker) the Huskies will shuffle things around to get players in the roles they feel are the best fit.
So Holt said Dennison, regarded as one of the most sure-handed tacklers on the team, will move to the middle with Foster, who played last year at strongside (the side where the tight end lines up) to the weakside (where the tight end does not line up).
“Mason can play all three spots and Cort can play all three,” Holt said. “Cort will go to Donald’s position in the middle and we’ll have Mason at the (WLB) and then we’ll have to find a (SLB). That’s the easiest position to play mentally.”
The two who will start there this spring are senior Matt Houston and junior Alvin Logan.
But Holt said coaches will look over the roster to see if there are players at other positions who maybe can make the move and help out, as well.
“We might end up moving some DBs to linebacker,” he said. “We’re looking at all those options right now. By the end of spring ball, we would have explored those options. We may move a couple of linebackers to defensive end, but there’s not that many candidates. None of them are very big except Alvin Logan and he’s an ex-receiver. But we’ll see what he can do.” So Logan may get looks at both SLB and DE in the spring.
For now, Holt said Tim Tucker will start out behind Dennison, and he expects that Victor Burnett — a true freshman who will arrive in time for spring ball — will also start out in the middle.
Jordan Wallace — like Tucker, a redshirt freshman — will start out behind Foster.
“Houston, Logan, Wallace, Tucker, those four have a huge opportunity this spring and they need to take advantage of it or else they might not ever see the field,” Holt said.
Holt said Victor Aiyewa is a safety who could be moved to linebacker, but he will miss the spring after having had shoulder surgery.
Holt said the positions for Foster and Dennison aren’t set in stone as it will depend in part on who emerges as the No. 3 linebacker.
“We might move Mason back inside and find an outside linebacker such as Alvin Logan or Matt Houston or Victor Aiyewa that can play out in space and get more speed out there,” Holt said. “Hopefully we can field a fast defense when it’s all said and done.”
Of some of the younger players, Holt said that Wallace “has had a good winter and is doing a really good job. Tim (Tucker) has had an okay winter and he needs to keep on getting stronger.”
As for Burnett, Holt said he’s anxious to see what the incoming frosh can do but warned that it’ll be a big adjustment for Burnett to take his first college class on Monday and then practice on Tuesday.
As for an overall assessment of the position, Holt says: “We’re very thin. And it’s just due to the problems the program has had in the past recruiting. It’s hard to make that up quickly in just a year’s time, or two recruiting classes. We’re just going to have to do a good job this spring of keeping healthy and doing some things to find the best guys to put on the field, whoever those guys are.”