By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
The rumor mill is churning, some possible names have surfaced, and now all the University of Washington football team has to do is pick the right man to put the Huskies defense on the road to respectability.
But with nothing concrete in terms of the man who might replace Nick Holt, the bigger question is how much UW’s next defensive coordinator will have at his disposal.
For the third year in a row, the Huskies will lose their top tackler (middle linebacker Cort Dennison) and a probable pick in the first three rounds (defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu). UW currently projects to have seven of its defensive starters from the Alamo Bowl back, along with eight other players with starting experience — the most notable of which is defensive end Hau’oli Jamora.
But with the way the UW defense has performed in recent years, returning players is not nearly as important as offseason improvement.
What is clear is that the Huskies have some of the pieces that, if brought up to their full potential, could make for a quick turnaround.
Senior-to-be Desmond Trufant is UW’s best cover cornerback. Safety Sean Parker has emerged as a defensive leader. Defensive end Josh Shirley was, at times, a dominant force in the Alamo Bowl.
But there are also plenty of questions, mainly at linebacker. Returning outside linebackers Princeton Fuimaono, John Timu, Jamaal Kearse and Garret Gilliland all started at times during the 2011 season — due mainly to inconsistency at the position. Gilliland or senior-to-be Thomas Tutogi could be asked to replace Dennison, a tall task considering his leadership and productivity.
There are also questions at defensive end, despite the expected return of Jamora, the emergence of Shirley and some rare depth that includes part-time starter Andrew Hudson. In Jamora and Shirley, the Huskies have undersized ends who weren’t nearly as productive as pass rushers as Holt and the Huskies needed them to be.
Even when Jamora was healthy, his sack numbers were underwhelming. And even when Shirley was dominant as a pass rusher, teams could still use a bulky tackle to blow him off the ball in the run game — as evidenced by Baylor’s Alamo Bowl performance.
UW has some potential stars in massive defensive tackle Danny Shelton and Parker, and there are reasons to believe young players like Timu and cornerback Gregory Ducre have better football in front of them.
But the truth is that whoever steps into Holt’s shoes will have to find a way to make these spare parts into an engine that can run with some of the racecars of the Pacific-12 Conference.