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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

March 12, 2012 at 10:35 AM

March questions and answers, Volume Seven

johnson.jpg

James Johnson and redshirt frosh among the topics, uh, tackled in out latest set of questions and answers. …

Q: Will James Johnson be able to shake off the injury bug and finally be a consistent force and leader at WR?

A: It’s obviously impossible to predict someone not getting injured. But certainly the hope is that Johnson (pictured at right) will be able to stay healthy through the season and have the kind of consistent year from start-to-finish that figured to be routine when he had such a good freshman season.

Johnson was on his way to a solid season last year before suffering an ankle injury against Arizona that knocked him out for two games and limited him for a few more. But he came back healthy for the Alamo Bowl making two catches, including a touchdown, and has been running indoor track. So he appears recovered. He finished with 28 catches for 366 yards last season, but with Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar now graduated, he’ll have a chance — and may be needed — to boost those numbers quite a bit in 2012.

Q: Among the redshirt freshmen, who do you see as possibly making the biggest impact this fall?

A: I’ll pick two, and both on defense, where UW will obviously be looking for whatever answers it can find and putting a fresh set of eyes on everything — defensive backs James Sample and Marcus Peters.

The 6-2, 191-pound Sample is from Grant High in Sacramento, Calif., where he played with Shaquille Thompson, and was one of the more highly-touted members of the Class of 2011. He was in the rotation at safety and saw playing time in the first game before suffering a shoulder injury. He also came back later to play against Colorado before having season-ending surgery. He is expected to receive a redshirt for last season (the last report we got was that it was expected to happen but not yet official), so he would be back in 2012 as a redshirt freshman. He spent some time practicing last year at cornerback, as well, and could be moved there for good if the Huskies deem him a better fit at that spot, especially with the depth at the safety spot that will only be bolstered by the addition of Thompson.

Peters is from McClymonds High in Oakland and also a pretty highly-touted member of the Class of 2011. A 5-11, 185-pounder, he impressed with his instincts and physical play during fall camp, and was on the depth chart for most of the season. But the coaches wanted to save his year if they could, and ultimately were able to as he did not play. He’ll be right in the mix now to replace Quinton Richardson at the cornerback spot opposite Desmond Trufant.

Q: In reading your reviews of the different position groups, I’m not too excited about the level of talent on the Huskies’ defense (other than at safety). Is this because the defense just lacks talent overall or is it that the talent on defense is untapped and we just haven’t seen it yet because the previous defensive coaching staff didn’t know how to use it to its fullest?

A: I know this is the kind of answer some of you don’t like — it would be simpler if it were just one or the other. But these things are always a combination of everything when it comes to something as complicated as a college football program.

Obviously, Steve Sarkisian himself thought the coaching was lacking or he wouldn’t have fired three assistants on the defensive side of the ball. The hope will be that the new additions can either find schemes that better fit the players, or simply get more out of them (or again, more likely a combination of both).

But the hope is also that they can recruit better players. While you’d have to think there was more there to get out of the players than was evident on the field last season, UW also simply needs to upgrade the talent on defense. Since recruiting is also a key part of coaching, that responsibility ultimately falls back on the coaches, as well.

UW coaches were optimistic late last season that a lot of young players would take big steps up this year — guys like ends Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson, linebackers John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono, and cornerback Greg Ducre. So the hope will be that some maturation of those players and maybe schemes that better fit what they do will result in improvement on defense.

Q: This has been on my mind since the end of bowl season and I think I know how you are going to answer, but what the hay. I go back to the late 60s and 70s as far as watching football goes and its well documented that the rules have changed over the years to open things up for the offense. In the mid-to-late 70s it was felt that the competitive balance was tilted strongly in favor of the defense (particularly at the NFL level) and so the modification of the rules began to open things up. Well with bowl games setting records for offense and scores resembling basketball scores, the game is almost becoming as unwatchable in the other direction, ie can’t anyone stop anyone? It’s getting dangerously close to not being football anymore. So my question is have there been any rumblings about tightening the rules a bit or rolling some back to give the defenses a better shot at least of being competent? I know of LSU and Alabama but they are the exception to the rule right now. But 54-48 or higher is not football IMHO.

A: That’s a pretty hefty question. And your general theme is something I’ve stated on here often — offense is simply way ahead of defense right now, especially a lot of the spread attacks for which defenses just haven’t yet figured out how to stop.

You are also right that rules have generally favored offense.

That offensive numbers are so much higher now than they were even just 20 years ago is something that has to be remembered when reviewing how a defense is playing. All of us in the media often use charts to compare teams from one season to another, and sometimes those can be a little misleading in not remembering the context of how the game has changed.

Consider that UW led the Pac-10 in offense in 1990 averaging 409 yards per game. UW again averaged 409 yards per game in 2012 (409.8, to be exact), only that total ranked seventh in the new Pac-12 (Oregon leading the conference at 522.8).

As you note, LSU and Alabama still played the kind of defense that was much more common 30-40 years ago, and the SEC in general has a rep for being a step ahead of everyone else defensively, the reason it is acknowledged as the best conference in the country right now (and we can all debate how true that really is — the fact is the SEC’s title game performances give it the right to pretty much make whatever boast it wants right now).

As for your other assertion that you don’t like the kind of football being played now, that’s probably a real eye-of-the-beholder kind of thing. Really low-scoring games tend to be ripped as boring. Those that feature really high scores tend to be viewed derisively as nothing more than video games — though I’m sure there are fans who like each of those.

I guess that means there’s an acceptable level of scoring at which a game is neither boring, nor bereft of defense. Say the 31-27 range or something. At least, as long as your team is on the winning side.

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