Someone boldly earlier described it as one of the top defenses nationally. While that was overstating it quite a bit, the University of Washington stop unit still might become formidable.
Once they stop tinkering with it.
If you haven't noticed, Jimmy Lake's coaching staff, which is defensive-minded to begin with it, continues to move pieces around each week, looking for the right combination of playmakers.
The safeties have been swapped out. The defensive line has had four different starters in the two slots. Even hard-driving inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio, slowed by some sort of physical malady, stepped aside last weekend and let someone else handle his job.
And everyone thought it was the UW offense that needed the most work and a continual personnel shuffle.
As the Huskies prepare for their Pac-12 opener against the California Bears, they've turned in two solid defensive efforts against lesser opponents. They weren't bad for a half against Michigan. They rank high in various conference stat columns, though it's early for that.
But it's far from a finished product, especially with edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui still in rehab for his Achilles tendon tear and surgery. With the sampling provided so far, here's a Husky position-by-position review.
Edge rusher — Sixth-year senior Ryan Bowman has been solid with 11 tackles, held by blockers much of the time (some called, some not) and reliable as a three-game starter. However, the second-team, All-Pac-12 selection in 2019 hasn't logged a tackle for loss, which is his calling card. Behind him is touted second-year freshman Sav'ell Smalls, biding his time with a lone tackle so far and waiting for more serious time. Position status: Set
Down lineman — Sam Taimani remains the lone survivor up front. He's the only DL who's started all four games last year and all three this season. The 6-foot-2, 330-pound sophomore brings the needed bulk up front and has 14 tackles, third on the team, but his coaches are still waiting on him to become a disruptor. His big-play progression could make all the difference in this unit. Position status: Set
Down lineman — Four different players have started in this slot over two seasons, with redshirt freshman Faatui Tuitele drawing the opening assignment against Arkansas State. He came up with the defensive play of the season so far, sacking the quarterback so hard the ball popped out and into Bralen Trice's hands and resulted in a 72-yard touchdown return. Tuli Letuligasenoa appeared to take a step backward in becoming the big D-line presence, giving way to Tuitele as the starter, but he's reclaimed his job for Cal. Position status: In flux
Edge rusher — Cooper McDonald, as promising as he may be, is holding down this spot for whenever Tupuola-Fetui is healthy enough to play again from his Achilles injury. McDonald, a second-year freshman, has 5 tackles and a sack. ZTF often gets that in a half. We're still projecting an October 16 return against UCLA, Oregon on Novemer 6 at the latest, for the man with the orange frosted hair who's in a big hurry to get back. Position status: In flux
Inside backer — Ulofoshio didn't start against Arkansas State, but this wasn't a permanent move. The heart and soul of the Husky defense is physically banged up. Replacing him in the lineup was Daniel Heimuli, a one-time big-name recruit who's needed time to comprehend through the UW system. Heimuli got the starting call over MJ Tafisi, thought to be the third backer in the depth. Ulofoshio, with 19 tackles this season, returns for the Cal game and we'll see if his play his still restricted. Position status: In flux
Inside backer — Jackson Sirmon, not Ulofoshio, leads the Huskies in tackles with 25 and often is an under-appreciated player. The sophomore covers a lot of ground and demonstrates innate toughness. Making a big move at the position for extended playing time is second-year freshman Carson Bruener, the son of former UW and NFL tight end Mark Bruener and a mirror image of Sirmon. Position status: Set
Corner — Trent McDuffie, so savvy and speedy, might be the best cornerback in the conference. He's been rated higher than everyone else on the mock drafts. In what likely is his last swing through the Pac-12, the sophomore gets to show how good he is. Behind him is Jacobe Covington, a talented freshman waiting for him to move on. Position status: Set
Corner — Kyler Gordon is off to a good start, accumulating 11 tackles and providing sound coverage. It will be interesting to see if this starter for parts of three seasons and still only a starter plays well enough to leave with McDuffie for the NFL draft after this season. Position status: Set
Nickel — It was probably hard to imagine the Huskies would find someone as proficient at this position as Elijah Molden, but Oklahoma transfer Bookie Radley-Hiles enrolled in the UW's graduate DB program. He's working on a Masters degree. He's been very good so far, with 14 tackles, including a pair of tackles for loss, and has a fumble recovery. Position status: Set
Safety — Alex Cook had to work hard to reclaim his starting job of a year ago, but the junior never backed away from the challenge. He replaced redshirt freshman Kamren Fabiculanan in the lineup at Michigan and has 11 tackles overall. Mind-boggling is the fact that sophomore Asa Turner, who has more UW secondary starts than anyone on the roster with 9, is the third-teamer here. Position status: In flux
Safety — Stepping as the starter for the Arkansas State game was sophomore Cam Williams, who opened 7 games in 2019 but couldn't unseat Turner a year ago. He played his way back into good graces, though he dropped a potential interception against the Sun Belt team. He replaced sophomore Julius Irvin, who came up with the secondary's only pass theft against the same opponent later in the game. Position status: In flux
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