August 14, 2008

Spotlight: Linebackers

The linebacker's will be the rock of the 2008 Husky defense. They only lost one key contributor to graduation in Dan Howell who notched 34 tackles last season. However, just how strong they will be is still up in the air. Outside linebacker E.J. Savannah, the teams leading tackler with 111 stops is still not practicing. He's recovering from an injury and is also haunted by persistent academic troubles. His loss would be big, but not the end of the world. There are six talented outside linebackers ready to step up and fill the void in his absence. In fact, nine of the top 15 tacklers return from last season and six of those are linebackers.


E.J. Savannah
Bellevue, WA (Bellevue HS)
6-foot-2, 230-pound, Redshirt Junior
2007 STATS: 111 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception

Savannah was a stud last season, leading the team in tackles while starting 10 of 13 games at weakside linebacker. He earned KJR 950 player of the year honors and is the Pac-10's third leading returning tackler. He ranked sixth in the Pac-10 last season with 8.5 tackles per game and his 111 tackles placed him No.70 in the nation. Out of high school Savannah was ranked the No.14 outside linebacker in the country after helping lead Bellevue High School to four straight state championships. His physical skills are unquestioned, but his mental lapses have actually slowed what could be an All Pac-10 type of career.

Who knows? At this point Savannah's situation is up in the air, but on a positive note he has been spotted at some fall practices watching from the stands with an educational advisor. There is no way he'll be a starter for the opening game, but if he gets his academics on track, it will be impossible to keep him off the field long.

Mason Foster
Seaside, CA (Seaside HS)
6-foot-1, 230-pound, True Sophomore
2007 STATS: 25 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery

Foster is the definition of a diamond in the ruff. Out of high school he was considered the No. 68 outside linebacker in the nation and only had one offer from a BCS program. He was only 201 pounds when he left high school and didn't amaze recruiters with average speed. Then all he did was arrive on campus, put on 15 pounds of muscle and significantly improve his speed and explosiveness. He improved so much that he saw playing time in all 13 games at a deep position. For his efforts he earned the Husky Fever 12th Man of the Year Award for the defense and a spot in the starting rotation as a true sophomore. He has added even more muscle since last season and is poised to be a leader of this unit for years to come. In high school he was named the Monterey County Player of the Year, a first-team All-Sectional and two-time first-team All-League linebacker.

Foster is a budding star! He has all of the tools to dominate at the Pac-10 level and will be the most likely candidate to pick up the slack left by Savannah. He came in as a freshman and blew the coaching staff away with his understanding of defensive schemes and picked up the Husky defense in a hurry. Coaches claim he has made even bigger steps in becoming a great player and you should expect to see him on the field for the majority of snaps as only a true sophomore.

Joshua Gage
Huntington Beach, CA (Edison HS)
6-foot-2, 235-pound, Redshirt Junior
2007 STATS: 7 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries

Gage came to Montlake in 2005 as a walk-on and has seen the field often since. Originally from Orcas Island, WA, Gage moved to California for his junior and senior seasons. As a senior he had 100 tackles, over 500 yards of total offense and nine touchdowns as a senior. For his efforts he was named the team MVP, and an All-League defensive player. In 2006 Gage earned the Brian Stapp Special Teams Scout of the Year Award and impressed coaches enough to earn a scholarship last season. As a redshirt sophomore Gage saw playing time in all 13 games mainly on special teams. This season his roll has increased and is the expected started at strongside linebacker.

Gage is going to get his chance to impress with Savannah out. He is currently listed as the starter and will see a lot of snaps this season. There are more athletic players listed behind him, but he understands the game and just continues to impress coaches with his consistent production. The Washington program is littered with many great walk-ons and Gage has a chance to be the next.

Chris Stevens
Mojave, CA (Mojave HS)
6-foot-0, 220-pound, True Senior
2007 STATS: 24 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 sack

Stevens is a quality player who has seen action every season since he stepped foot onto campus. He's an extremely athletic linebacker who actually rushed for 1,751 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior in high school. That same season he collected 121 tackles and ended up choosing Washington over offers from Oregon and Fresno State. He has 66 tackles for his career and is probably the best special teams player on the roster. But his talent doesn't stop there, as he's an effective linebacker, especially as a pass rushing specialist. Last season he scored a touchdown after recovering a fumble and has the athletic ability to make special things happen on the field.

Stevens will be a big part of the defense and special teams again in 2008. He's one of those players that people don't talk about much, but he's so important to the Huskies success. He will fly around the field on special teams, provide depth at linebacker, and will be used often to get after the quarterback on third down and long.

Matt Houston
Goleta, CA (Dos Pueblos HS)
6-foot-1, 235-pound, Redshirt Sophomore
2007 STATS:2 tackles

Last season Houston saw action in nine games as a redshirt freshman. He was mainly a contributor on special teams, but also provided depth at outside linebacker. In high school Houston played running back and safety for Dos Pueblos, where he rushed for 838 yards and 11 touchdowns while collecting 55 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles. For his efforts he earned first team All-League honors.

Another athletic former high school running back turned outside linebacker, Houston will make an impact at some point for the Huskies. This season he will mainly provide depth and quality special teams play. However, he's improved his strength and could see more reps at linebacker if he continues to improve.

Cort Dennison
Salt Lake city, UT (Judge Memorial HS)
6-foot-1, 220-pound, Redshirt Freshman
2007 STATS: NA

Dennison was a monster in high school where he earned state player of the year and first-team All-State as senior. That season he had over 1,000 yards receiving as a tight end and recorded 23.5 sacks. He spent last season as a redshirt and earned the Mark Drennan Defensive Scout award for his work.

He wasn't the most sought after guy coming out of high school, but he knows how to play the game. H will strictly provide depth this season, but could be a factor down the line.

Bradly Roussel
Baton Rouge, LA (Redemptorist HS)
5-foot-11, 210-pound, True Freshman
2007 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: 109 tackles, 5 sacks,

Roussel amassed an incredible 341 tackles over his three years at Redemptorist High School. He was a two-time all-state selection and a one-time honorable mention all state selection for his efforts. Roussel was considered the No. 35 linebacker in the country and the No. 27 player in the talent rich state of Louisiana. Roussel is an above average athlete, but is an excellent fundamental tackler and just has a noise for the ball. He uses every bit of his 215-pounds to fly around and hit hard. He chose Washington over offers from Tennessee, Kansas State and Tulane.

With the depth ahead of him I would be surprised if he saw the field at all as a freshman. Roussel will use this year to get his weight and strength up. The talent is there and he is just further reason to be excited about not only the present, but also the future at linebacker.


Donald Butler
Sacramento, CA (Del Campo HS)
6-foot-1, 245-pound, True Junior
2007 STATS: 52 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss

Donald Butler came to Montlake as an underrated 205-pound outside linebacker. He had great speed and athletic ability, but his place at the next level was unknown. The Huskies took a flyer on Butler and boy did it pay off. As a true freshman Butler played in 10 games and earned the Travis Spring Most Outstanding Freshman Award for defense. As a sophomore Butler completely remade his body, bulking up to 245 pounds and looked the part of a star. He was off to a monster season with 11 tackles against Ohio State, nine against USC and eight versus Arizona State and Oregon. Those were the only games he started as he battled through injuries all season. He still managed 54 tackles and will improve upon that number greatly now that he is healthy. He will be one of the leaders of this inexperienced defense.

Butler will be a mainstay at the middle linebacker position. However, for the first time since he's been on campus, both he and Trenton Tuiasosopo are healthy at the same time. This should help take some pressure off Butler and allow him to rest when needed.

Trenton Tuiasosopo/db]
Lakewood, WA (Lakes HS)
6-foot-2, 240-pound, Redshirt Senior
2007 STATS: 39 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception

Tuiasosopo came to campus with a ton of promise. A major head injury caused by a bicycle accident caused him to miss two seasons for rehabilitation. He made his comeback in 2006 and saw playing time on both special teams and linebacker. Last season he played in all 13 games, starting eight while Butler was injured and racked up 39 tackles. Out of high school Tuiasosopo was thought to be a defensive end prospect. In fact he was considered the No. 21 weakside defensive end in the nation and the No. 8 player in the state of Washington. He was a three-year starter for Mariner High School and earned all-state honors at both tight end and linebacker his senior season.

Tuiasosopo was being used often during spring practices on the line of scrimmage. The coaching staff has commented on numerous occasions that he is too good to keep off the field. He can provide depth inside and outside at linebacker and can also be moved into a three points stance when they want extra pressure on the quarterback. With the plethora of athletes available at the linebacker spot, expect Donatell to use both Tuiasosopo and Stevens in creative ways.

[db]Kurt Mangum
Chandler, AZ (Chandler HS)
6-foot-2, 230-pound, True Freshman
2007 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: 140 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions.

Mangum flew under the radar in high school since he moved to Arizona from Michigan in the middle of high school and then attended three different schools. He finally settled down and truly excelled at Chandler as a senior, earning a place at the Offense-Defense All-American Game in Miami's Orange Bowl. Mangum has all of the physical tools to be a good Pac-10 player. He has the size to play in the middle, the speed to play in coverage and NFL bloodlines. His great uncle is Hall of Fame great Gale Sayers and his father player football at the University of Minnesota. He was considered the No. 21 rated player in Arizona, but many believe he should have been rated much higher than that. His senior season he was an all-state selection and chose Washington over an offer from Colorado State.

Mangum will be the third inside linebacker on the depth chart and will only see action if injuries occur. He is a very talented player with great upside and he will spend the season learning from two good players in front of him.

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