DEFENSIVE LINEPac-12 rank: 6The skinny: A few years ago, the Huskies defensive line was a pushover. They weren’t strong or fast or big. Not this year. Good recruiting and the maturation of senior Alameda Ta’amu have transformed the defensive line into a team strength. Ta’amu showed he’s a force inside late in the season and is a legitimate NFL first-round pick. Hau’oli Jamora showed glimpses of greatness as undersized freshman. He’s added 25 pounds of muscle and is undersized no more.Backups: The Huskies finally have depth and versatility. But this depth has talent. True freshman Danny Shelton has been outstanding in his first fall camp and will see plenty of snaps, particularly in run situations. Sophomore Sione Potoa’e has been inconsistent and beat up with injuries, but has talent. Speedy defensive end Josh Shirley gives UW the ability to switch up the defensive front look with a pure speed rusher from the outside.
LINEBACKERSPac-12 rank: 12The skinny: It could be an interesting season as middle linebacker Cort Dennison looks around and sees nothing but underclassmen and inexperience. The Huskies will start sophomore Princeton Fuimaono and freshman John Timu on either side of him. Both are talented but low on game snaps. Dennison is sturdy and steady. He was fourth in the Pac-10 in tackles last season, despite missing a game. Backups: There isn’t a ton of experience in the second team unit. Sophomore Garrett Gilliland started in place of Dennison last year and looked like a freshman. He was in the mix as starter at outside linebacker and will see reps. Junior college transfer Thomas Tutogi has looked good in fall camp and is physically ready to step in and play.
SECONDARYPac-12 rank: 7The skinny: There is some experience and some talent, now the unit just needs to make plays. Last year, the secondary was inconsistent, particularly its most talented player, Desmond Trufant. But this fall, Trufant has made it a point not to be hesitant and play aggressively on the ball. The result is a return to the promising player we saw in 2009. Strong safety Sean Parker is hard hitter in run support, while junior Nate Fellner has been steady in the games he’s started. Backups: Oft-injured safety Justin Glenn could see some time in place of Fellner and as the nickel back. When he’s healthy, Glenn has been productive. Sophomore Greg Ducre will be the first corner off the bench and could start early with Quinton Richardson still recovering from an ankle sprain.
KICKERS/SPECIAL TEAMSPac-12 rank: 5The skinny: Senior Erik Folk has made plenty of big kicks in his career with the Huskies. He made 13-of-20 kicks last season, but Sarkisian believes he can even better. He has range to 55 yards on a good day. The Huskies will use both Kiel Rasp and Will Mahan at punter based on the situation. Rasp has the bigger leg of the two. The Huskies ranked last in punt and kick returns in the Pac-12 in 2010. Sarkisian has made an effort to make both units better. Both Devin Aguilar and Kasen Williams will return punts with Williams being the more explosive of the two. Kevin Smith will likely take the bulk of the kick returns early with Jesse Callier starting at tailback. Backups: While he’s not listed on the depth chart, don’t be surprised to see true freshman Bishop Sankey figure into the mix on returns if he isn’t redshirted. The Huskies will want to find ways to get him the ball if he’s going to play.
Ryan Divish and Todd Milles, staff writers