As spring practice ends tonight, UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt is a pretty happy man (kind of like he was, pictured at right, the night of the win over Arizona last year).
Worried heading into the spring about depth issues on the defensive line and some uncertainty in the back seven, Holt says the Huskies have gotten a lot of answers in the spring.
And that led him Thursday to say that “I think we have a chance to surprise some people on defense. I really do.”
Holt’s mood has been buoyed by the way Will Shamburger has progressed at free safety, teaming with sophomore Nate Fellner to give UW what Holt thinks is a good duo going forward at that spot; by the ability of Cameron Elisara to play defensive end, which Holt says helps solve the depth issues at that spot; the progress of Alvin Logan in his move from safety to strongside linebacker; and the improvement of veterans such as Vonzell McDowell Jr., and Quinton Richardson at cornerback and Mason Foster and Cort Dennison at the other two LB spots.
“I think it’s been a really productive spring ball,” he said. “Number one, we stayed relatively healthy. We didn’t have a lot of depth going into spring ball, but we didn’t lose anybody, therefore everybody got better that was able to go. Pround of that fact and feel good about that fact, and there are a lot of guys that got better. Every kid, every person on our defense got better in these 15 days of spring ball, and that’s all you can ask for. So we finish up tomorrow and have a great summer condioning and get bigger and stronger and faster and hit it in the fall.”
Holt says that “we need some help up front. There are still glaring issues there as far as our depth,” due largely to the injuries that held Kalani Aldrich (knee) and Everrette Thompson (Achilles) out for the spring.
But he said Aldrich and Thompson are on course to return in the fall “and that will really help because they have played a lot of football for us and are good football players.”
When they do return, Holt said Thompson will go to the strongside spot (lining up over the tight end, usually) where Elisara and De’Shon Matthews have played this spring. Aldrich will go to the weakside spot where Talia Crichton has been the starter through the spring.
“Kalani plays where Talia does, although he can do both, and Everrette plays where De’Shon and where Cameron has picked up the slack,” Holt said. “Everrette did not do that this last year because we had to mix and match this last year, but hopefully he can go back outside where I think he feels more comfortable and hopefully his mobility allows him to play outside. If not, he’ll go back inside.”
Holt said the ability to move Elisara there if needed — he also spent plenty of time at DT and will likely go back and forth between the two spots in the fall — has improved the depth and given UW more options (such as that Thompson could go back inside to tackle if it proves best for him). “I’m really excited about Cameron being able to stay healthy — we’ve got to protect him in the fall and fall camp,” Holt said. “But Cameron got a lot better. I didn’t think he’d be as good a defensive end as he has become, and he’s really taken his game to the next level.”
Holt said UW will still need one or two true freshmen to play this fall.
“That postiion, you always need more, better guys, because it’s just so important and such a volatile position as far as (being) physical,” Holt said. “But I think those two guys (Aldrich and Thompson) will really help us, and then hopefully one or two of the freshmen will come in and really help us out. I don’t know which ones, hopefully all of them, but at least one or two of them can help us out.”
One of the other big questions remains strongside linebacker, where UW moved both Logan and Victor Aiyewa from safety.
With Aiyewa recovering from shoulder surgery, Logan has run with the ones throughout the spring, and Holt says that “I think he got a lot better.”
As for where it stands heading into the fall, Holt said: “Because Victor didn’t get to practice, yeah, Alvin right now is a first-teamer, and he will have great competition with Victor and Matt Houston. So those are three SAM (strongside) backers that hopefully can help us win.”
Holt also said that Foster and Dennison each “got even better” and solidified their hold on their jobs, as well as simply improving the outlook at linebacker.
In the back end, the story of the spring was Shamburger, a redshirt freshman who sat out last fall while recovering from a knee injury suffered playing basketball as a senior in high school.
“Heck, really the pleasant surprise of spring ball is Will Shamburger,” Holt said. “We always thought he was a great player out of high school and then he got hurt in basketball. He is going to get better and I think when it’s all said and done, whether it’s this year or two or three years, he’s going to be a special player — he has that ability. And I think he is going to be a good player this year.”
Holt said Shamburger was a surprised in part because “I didn’t think he would be as far (along) as he is physically because of his knee, that it would hinder him a little bit. But he has just been really good and gotten better every day. He’s a football player and he listens and he’s tough. I love the kid.”
The emergence of Shamburger at free safety means UW will put Sean Parker at strong safety when he arrives in the fall. “Put him at strong safety behind Nate Williams and a couple of the other guys, because I think we have two really good free safeties (Shamburger, Fellner). Shamburger started off at strong safety so he knows it, we’ve got some depth, but I think we’ll put Sean Parker starting at strong safety. So I think we’ll have a couple of good safeties by the end of August, I’m hoping.”
The cornerback spot, he thinks, improved with the way veterans Richardson and McDowell rebounded. “I think Quinton Richardson got a lot better and I think Vonzell McDowell got a lot better,” Holt said.
The goal for the spring game tonight, Holt said, will be to just let the players play, without a lot of big scheming.
“We’re going to be pretty basic,” he said. “Not try to throw everything at each other. Just do a couple things and get out of the scrimmage and be real sharp and have fun and get everybody in the game.”
And if the Huskies can do that and emerge healthy, as they have throughout the spring, Holt will head into the summer feeling good.
“I feel happy,” he said. “We got the whole season in, we got the defense back in and the kids know it really well and are excecuting it really well. Now just have to wait for our reinforcements in July and get those guys ready to go and see which one of those new guys will help us win. .. there are a lot of good things that came about the last 15 days. The biggest thing is we stayed healthy and they all got better at their trade.”