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Originally published December 6, 2009 at 5:59 PM | Page modified December 6, 2009 at 8:01 PM

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2010 outlook bright for Washington defense

While the Washington Huskies will have to wait until Jake Locker decides whether to return to see what they'll have on offense in 2010, the defensive picture is more concrete.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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While the Washington Huskies will have to wait until Jake Locker decides whether to return to see what they'll have on offense in 2010, the defensive picture is more concrete.

And suddenly, it looks like a good thing that the Huskies will lose just four of the 11 players who started on defense in Saturday's 42-10 season-ending win over California.

The victory capped what has been, in the eyes of defensive coordinator Nick Holt, steady improvement throughout the first season of the Steve Sarkisian era as the Huskies finished 5-7 after going 0-12 in 2008.

"We have gotten better throughout the season," Holt said Saturday night. "It's been really good to see this defense play the last couple of weeks."

Indeed, the last two games were the only times all season UW held its foes to under 300 yards — WSU had 163 in Washington's 30-0 Apple Cup win and Cal had 296. Washington also had five sacks in each game to finish the season with 30, almost double last year's total of 16. The Huskies had 20 sacks in the last six games, and held four of their last six opponents to 24 points or fewer after having allowed 31 or more in four of the first six.

Holt says there was no real magic to the improvement, just a young team gradually getting more comfortable with the team's system.

"When you have a new staff and have to teach new stuff again, you hope they learn it quick, in spring ball and in fall camp," he said. "But it just doesn't happen that way. We didn't change the way we did things and our kids didn't change the way they approached the game, and that's why we kept getting better.

"We did what we do and the kids just kept getting better at it. They believe in the system, they believe in themselves, they believe in each other."

All of that has Holt believing that 2010 should see even more drastic improvement from the Huskies.

"Our expectation level is going to be high," he said. "I think the kids have really good confidence going into spring ball and winter conditioning, and will go in with a great attitude and say, 'Hey, look what we can do.' "

The Huskies will suffer some significant losses — the four senior starters Saturday were ends Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Darrion Jones, middle linebacker Donald Butler and free safety Jason Wells.

Te'o-Nesheim finished as the school's career sack leader with 30; Butler was the team's leading tackler this season with 94; Jones, hampered by injury early in the season, came on strong to make two sacks in the last three games; and Wells, also hampered by injury much of the year, started the UCLA, WSU and Cal games, contests in which the Huskies gave up just 34 points combined.

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The two end spots may be the hardest to fill, though the Huskies were encouraged by the play of true freshmen Andru Pulu and Talia Crichton.

The linebacking corps could be bolstered if E.J. Savannah is granted a sixth year of eligibility. If Savannah returns, Holt said this week he could envision a starting trio of Savannah, Mason Foster and Cort Dennison, who filled in for Savannah (broken hand) the last four games.

At free safety, Holt liked what he saw of true freshman Nate Fellner late in the year, and the Huskies also should get back Justin Glenn from a leg injury.

"You won your last game and played well down the stretch the last couple of weeks. You have a little kick in your step and you feel pleased with the things that are going on," Holt said. "Now we just keep moving forward."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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