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Times reporter Bob Condotta keeps the news coming about the Montlake Dawgs.

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July 30, 2008 1:41 PM

A couple of Donatell interviews

Posted by Bob Condotta

Washington defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has been a popular guy for interviews this week, and for good reason as he has a big task ahead in trying to revive a Husky defense that was statistically the worst in school history last season. How much improvement the defense shows will obviously be a key to success for UW this season.

Here's a Q-and-A with Donatell by ESPN's Ted Miller and an interview of Donatell on KJR-AM with Elise Woodward on Monday night.

In neither is Donatell probably as specific about his plans as some of you may like.

He even jokes about it in the interview with Woodward, reminding her that she was a college basketball player at UW and her coaches probably didn't often tell much about their plans prior to playing a team like Oregon, either.

As he has said since the day he was hired, however, Donatell did say again that he envisions UW playing a mix of defenses this year, likely using both the 4-3 --- which was about all the public saw in the spring --- and the 3-4.

"I want to keep them guessing,'' he said in the interview on KJR. "I just want them to have to prepare for everything.''

Maybe of most interest in the KJR interview was Donatell's discussion of the defensive line, where he said it remains pretty wide open and that ideally, he would rotate a number of players there.

Donatell said that heading into camp "we don't really have any first string and second-string. ... We're just trying to see how many guys we can get above a line where we can play them. If we could 12 guys I would do it but that's probably unrealistic. When you are losing five guys (to graduation) that takes a little wind out of your sails. But Daniel (Te'o-Nesheim) has really emerged as a leader. ... He'll be playing with a bunch of guys who haven't played much, but we made great strides in the spring.''

On the subject of the D-line, Donatell continued saying "Cameron (Elisara) is a guy who got a lot of work at nose (tackle) as well as Nick Wood, De'Shon Matthews, and Johnie Kirton, and Tyrone Duncan came back off an injury. So they are all in there competing. We want to have them compete as well as they can and raise their level and then play as many of those guys as we can.''

The use of "nose'' obviously will lead some to conclude a 3-4 is in the offing. Again, Donatell has said it's possible from the start, so it shouldn't be a surprise if some is used this season. But I really don't think anything is set in stone until camp starts and the coaches see what they have in the new guys coming in and see what options they will provide, as well.

In both, Donatell talks about being an attacking defense that will try to create turnovers.

"Some things we have beliefs about are takeaways and big plays and winning the down,'' he said in the KJR interview. "Those things are important, whether it's 3-4, 4-3, whatever it is. There are different ways with different players of getting (the job done).''

I've never heard a defensive coach say he didn't want to create turnovers, so I'd be shocked if he said anything else. But I know that UW fans will like any hint of a more aggressive defense after the last three seasons under Kent Baer, who tended to be a little more of a bend-but-don't-break type of coach (though in his defense, he said often he'd be more aggressive if he thought he had the personnel to handle it. He obviously didn't think so most of the time).

The Huskies actually weren't as bad as you may think in getting turnovers last season. They finished with 24, just about average in the conference last year. Oregon State led the league with 34 while Oregon had 33. Everybody else in the conference had from 27 (UCLA) to 23 (WSU). Oregon had a plus-nine TO margin, but otherwise, there wasn't a lot of difference in the conference last year as everyone else was from plus-three to minus-four. UW was right in the middle at minus-one for the season, tied for sixth with Arizona and only one fewer than Oregon State, which was at zero.

Guess that's a way of saying that while every team goes into every season hoping to force a lot of turnovers, there's still a healthy element of luck involved --- Stanford recovered 15 fumbles last year, Arizona State nine, yet nobody would say Stanford's defense was better than ASU's last year.

The Huskies really weren't as bad getting QB sacks last year as you might think, either. UW finished with 35, sixth in the conference, and only four fewer than UCLA, which was third (USC led with 44), though seven game in the opener against a feeble Syracuse team. Still, this may indicate UW's path back to defensive respectability will involve more than just attacking more.

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