Usually adjectives such as tough, nasty, relentless, athletic or physical are uttered.
And while Washington sophomore John Timu is all those things, the first word Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox used to describe his middle linebacker and captain might be a little surprising.
"John is a very cerebral guy," Wilcox said.
It's a surprising sentiment to those unfamiliar with Timu. But around Montlake, people know it's fitting. Timu is an outstanding student, who has a grade-point average above 3.5.
So instead of solely focusing on cracking heads on the field, he uses his head to make himself a better and more productive player.
"He really understands the concepts of what we were doing and what the offense is trying to do to us," Wilcox said. "He understands that as well as anybody."
Some of that understanding comes from natural instincts, but Timu is maniacal when it comes to preparation. He watches hours of film, but it's more than just watching -- he studies it.
He uses the analytical skills that make him a great student to embrace Wilcox's gameplan. He takes the information provided by Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon and embeds the opponent's formations and personnel groups and tendencies into his mind.
"I want to know my opponent more than they know themselves," Timu said. "I put in the extra time."
That level of commitment is a reason why his play has elevated.
"He wants to do well," Wilcox said. "It matters to him. Football is very important to him."
His two interceptions this season show Timu's dedication. Both times Timu was in the right place at the right time, but not by accident. He was there because that was where he was supposed to be. Timu read the formation and knew exactly where Utah quarterback Travis Wilson wanted to throw the ball. He anticipated the play and got the interception. A lesser-prepared player might've just dropped into normal coverage and given up the completion.
"You aren't just running to a spot in that situation," Wilcox said. "You are playing routes; you know what your responsibility is in that defense and exactly what the offense is trying to do to you."
Not all players are capable or prepared enough to do that.
"Good players cheat at times," Wilcox said. "They cheat off of backfield sets, cheat off splits in the pass game. He is getting better and better at that recognition. That's a credit for Pete for preparing him and John taking that coaching and applying it on the field."
Timu's success in pass coverage -- four pass breakups and six passes defensed -- is also aided from his experience as a high school quarterback.
"I think it gives him a better understanding," Wilcox said.
It's not just in coverage where Timu has excelled. He leads the team in tackles with 61 to go with two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
He's nothing like the hesitant, undersized outside linebacker he was last season. He's bulked up to 235 pounds. He knows how the game is played. He understands preparation.
"I wasn't experienced; I hadn't seen it before and I didn't trust myself," Timu said after the 20-17 win over then-No. 7 Oregon State on Oct. 27, when asked about the player he was last season. "It's preparation. It's a belief in that preparation. I have confidence that I will make those plays."
Greg Ducre didn't panic when his name was called. The junior cornerback stepped into a pass-happy fray at the end of Saturday's win and the Huskies' defense didn't lose a beat.
With standout cornerback Desmond Trufant battling a sore hamstring the past few weeks, Ducre stepped in and showed some of the potential that made him a candidate for the other starting cornerback spot during fall camp. He may have to do it again Saturday at Colorado if Trufant isn't able to play.
"Every day I go hard in practice and listen to what the coaches say and work on my technique, so when my name is called, I'm ready," Ducre said.
Ducre, Marcus Peters and Tre Watson were battling for the spot opposite Trufant. Watson won the job coming out of camp, Peters took the job a few weeks ago and Ducre still hasn't got his chance to start. Most of his playing time has come in certain passing situations and special teams.
"It was disappointing," Ducre said. "Those are my guys. We are a family. And I just kept working and waited for my chance."
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