The big story in the NCAA college football offseason is the refurbishing of Pac-12 weakling Washington Huskies' defense. In fact, refurbishing might be an understatement. Steve Sarkisian's program has received a complete overhaul, starting with coaching and finishing with recruiting.
UW hired a new defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, who spent the early part of his career bouncing around.
After graduating from Oregon, he spent some time in Boise working on his post-grad credentials where he landed a position as a linebackers coach. After a short stint, he moved to Berkeley to become Cal's linebacker coach, where he “was credited with turning his linebackers into a unit that epitomized the Cal defense’s swarm-to-the-ball philosophy” (via UTsports.com). His big break came in 2006 where he rejoined Boise as their defensive coordinator.
While with the Broncos, Wilcox made a name for himself when the highly disregarded Mountain West Team defeated his alma mater Oregon and shutout TCU in the Fiesta Bowl in 2009. Also in that season, the team finished with an overall 14th rank in defense and a No. 3 rank in turnover margin.
Then Wilcox was promptly picked up by Tennessee where after two more years, he returned to the Pac 12 with Washington. Wilcox will help shape the young Husky defense, starting with sound strategy, lots of film and whiteboard studies and plenty of drills. He implements hustle and chaos into his heavy doses of preparation to make for a well suited defense.
Sarkasian also hired Wlicox's former roommate at Oregon and assistant at Tennessee, Peter Sirmon, who will handle the linebackers, and without being said, has a good relationship with Wilcox.
Also a good fit and new to the mix is Oregon State's ex-defensive back coach Keith Heyward. “Keith is a bright, young coach and a terrific recruiter,” Sarkisian told the News Tribune. “I think he’ll be a great fit with our new defensive staff, in particular Justin Wilcox, our new coordinator."
The Husky's final coaching addition, and the real difference maker, was Cal's former defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi. ESPN describes it as "no ordinary assistant-coaching move."
The Bay Area native and ex-Cal football player ditched his roots for Seattle. Besides rallying an aggressive fury of a D-line, Lupoi is a master recruiter and had no shame in stealing Cal's eighth ranked overall incoming commits. Safety Shaq Thompson and Jordan Peyton followed Lupoi.
Washington has a bright new future, while Cal was left with a terrible taste in its mouth and perhaps a new conference rival. Lupoi certainly tops Berkeley's Most Wanted List after a season of shifty moves.
Here are the five promising players that will reshape Washington's defense, and perhaps their chances at a Pac-12 title.
Thompson was a top-tier recruit, ranked No. 2 in California and No. 3 at safety. He had his eyes on California, having a close relationship with Lupoi. Plus, his older brother—Denver Bronco's CB Syd'Quan—played for the Golden Bears.
Nonetheless, he made a pact with teammate Arik Armstead to commit to the same school, and will be rejoining former teammate James Sample. He will be a comfortable fit in Seattle.
Thompson brings a 6'2" 210-pound frame and excellent speed (4.57 40). He will be flying around the Husky secondary, where Wilcox and Heyward will have the next couple of years to mold Thompson into a top prospect, much like his brother. Quarterbacks beware with this young man in the face of receivers and tracking down passes.
Redshirt Freshman Josh Shirley will be entering his second season in the starting role on the D-line. Last year he had a total of 28 tackles and nine sacks, including a very impressive performance in the Alamo Bowl against Baylor where he had three sacks and five tackles.
No doubt Lupoi will have Shirley foaming at the mouth come fall. That is, if he stays at defensive end.
Despite a fairly decent season in 2011, Shirley is severely undersized for his position and often runs the risk of getting dominated by massive offensive tackles. His speed allows him to come off of the edge hard and track down anyone with the ball—whether it be flight footed running backs or quarterbacks who dare to hold on to the ball too long. Perhaps he will be utilized as an Aldon Smith or James Harrison.
If he adds some pounds this offseason, with his linebacker athleticism and D-line techniques, it wouldn't be a stretch to compare him to a DeMarcus Ware type pass-rusher. Husky fans will be thrilled if Shirley lives up to these comparisons.
Shirley also has the advantage of one year of experience, but he is young and will help fortify the Husky D for the next couple of years. However Wilcox and the Washington use him, Maximus03 notes that "Shirley is a very good player right now with the potential to become an all-time Husky great."
Desmond Trufant brings the experience to the Husky defense. The three-year starter at cornerback boasts decent speed to envelope opposing wideouts.
He was honorable mention for All-Pac-12 with 46 tackles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. His best performance came against Eastern Washington, where he had 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a game-sealing pick, all of which earned him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.
No doubt Heyward and Wilcox will be looking to Trufant to show the Huskies' young secondary—such as Shaq Thompson—the ropes.
Andrew Hudson, another redshirt sophomore defensive end, will be anticipated to have a breakout year.
Hudson had limited playing time in 2011, but while in the game showed great promise. He finished the season with just 10 tackles, 14 assisted, four sacks and a forced and recovered fumble. He brings more size and strength than counterpart Josh Shirley, making Lupoi's new line dynamic and threatening.
According to Go Huskies News, both Shirley and Hudson were "unblockable" in the spring intersquad game.
Beaver, No. 12 at cornerback, was highly recruited by Utah, Nebraska and Arizona, but chose to head to Seattle to play for Wilcox and his new system.
Beaver is young and most likely wont contribute next year. However, he is fast and dynamic. Coupled with Shaq Thompson and redshirt freshman James Sample for the next three years, he makes Washington's secondary an intimidating threat for Pac-12 passing games.
He will learn a lot from veteran DBs such as Glen, Fellner, Trufant and several others who make up a very experienced—and soon to graduate—secondary. The keys will soon be handed over to these Husky pups.