Why the Huskies defense is already better

When the Huskies went out and landed defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, both formerly of the Tennessee Volunteers, to replace Nick Holt and the majority of his staff, they immediately improved defensively.
In came a passionate, young, up-and-coming defensive mind. Out went a tired, old and out-coached coordinator. In came a leader of two rebuilt defenses with different personnel at each stop. Out went a man who was allowing opponent’s to chew up his defense to the tune of 453.3 yards per game.
Wilcox has yet to make it clear whether the team will run a base 4-3 defense or a base 3-4, but I think we can be confident that we will see both formations used frequently.
What’s good about this flexibility — and why it helps the Huskies instantly — is it gives the current personnel their best chance to succeed.
Defensive end Josh Shirley closed out the season in a fantastic way. The 6-foot, 3-inch redshirt freshman had three sacks against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl and 1.5 sacks against the Cougars with an additional 2.5 tackles-for-loss. All of this despite playing completely out of position.
Shirley is a very good player right now with the potential to become an all-time Husky great.  Last year he found success despite playing as a defensive end at barely 225 pounds. Everything about him — his size, his speed, his strength — spells linebacker but for some reason Holt had him playing completely out of position as a defensive end where he was routinely dominated at the point of attack by 300-plus pound offensive linemen in the running game.
That isn’t a good recipe for success. And that’s the clear difference between Wilcox and his predeccesor — Wilcox will put his players in the best spot for them to succeed.
It’s not just Shirley, who has all the tools to become a dominant outside linebacker. It’s a player like James Sample who was only kept off the field last season as a true freshman because of some lingering injuries. Sample has the talent and the size to be a starting linebacker or a safety or a cornerback. He’s that versatile. Where he eventually settles in will be decided by Wilcox, something that should be comforting to all Husky fans.
Washington will also benefit this season from an influx of talent from its 2012 recruiting class as well as some players it redshirted last season.
Keep a close eye on players such as Antavious Sims, Marcus Peters, Thomas Tutogi, Scott Lawyer, Lawrence Lagafuaina, Matthew Lyons and, of course, Shaquille Thompson.
There is a plethora of young talent on the Washington roster that will be put in the right place to succeed by a man that understands how to build a stout defense with the personnel he is given.
That alone is reason to celebrate.

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