University of Washington

Huskies develop culture on 'D'

Only partially discovered, a real sleeper in the future of the University of Washington defense is linebacker Cort Dennison.

As the team scrambled around to find options for the ailing E.J. Savannah last season, Dennison – a part-time player whose primary role was on special teams – was given a chance.

He debuted as a midseason starter at Notre Dame, and totaled a pair of tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including a sack of NFL-bound Jimmy Clausen.

It was clear from that point on that the Savannah era was likely coming to a close, and a new one was warming up in the garage.

At the outset of the Huskies’ spring camp, coach Steve Sarkisian made a bold, matter-of-fact proclamation about Dennison, his junior-to-be from Utah.

“I want him to play well, really,” Sarkisian said. “I want him to be physical, and tackle well and lead our defense in a manner that it’s not all on Mason Foster’s shoulders.”

Yes, a Batman – even in a linebacking corps – needs his Robin.

“Mason is the oldest one,” Dennison said. “I’m the second-oldest one, so the coaches came up to me and said Mason can’t do everything. I knew that from the beginning, one guy can’t help lead a whole defense.”

The defensive staff will recycle the same model as last season. That’s when Donald Butler, expected to be a mid-round pick in this month’s NFL draft, was the senior. Foster flanked him.

The two emerged not only as the top tacklers on the team, but they pretty much led the charge in the position group – and the defense, alongside defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and safety Nate Williams.

It worked. That’s why when Foster enters his senior season of football, he’ll have a sidekick helping him the entire way.

“I’m here for him,” said Dennison, now a middle linebacker.

The two paired up as offseason workout partners for a reason. They took care of their own responsibilities, then rallied the rest of the group to follow their lead.

It’s a young group, by experience and age. Victor Aiyewa is a senior, but is in the first week of playing outside linebacker. Matt Houston and Brandon Huppert are also seniors, but have often been injured.

Alvin Logan is a junior. Like Aiyewa, he’s a converted safety still learning the position. Then there are up-and-comers Tim Tucker and Jordan Wallace, who are expected to play more.

And in the fall, as many as five new linebackers will enter the program.

“It’s our job to let these guys know that the offseason programs … that is what gets you on the field,” said Dennison, who finished fourth on the team last season in tackles with 52. “It’s not going to be your athletic ability.”

That point has been emphasized over and over – in conditioning, even encouraging extra work away from practice.

“(He’s) extremely smart, extremely tough, (an) excellent leader, great kid,” UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “He is going to have a great career for us. We count on him a lot. I think he’ll elevate a lot of people – and Mason Foster’s play, as well as all the other guys.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442