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This could be the strength of the team, with nine starters returning from a unit that was better last year than its stats would indicate. The defense is in the hands of new coordinator Kent Baer, who is well- respected. He has been a coordinator for 18 years, including stints at Utah State, Idaho, California, Arizona State, Stanford and Notre Dame. His Notre Dame teams were particularly stout against the run. Expect Baer to do more situational substituting than the Huskies have done the past few years. The biggest question is cornerback, the only position where there are no starters returning from a year ago.
DE Brandon Ala > UW has been waiting for Ala to break out for several years now and this might finally be the time. Coaches say he looks in the best shape of his career. He has yet to make a sack in five career starts. Backup: Donny Mateaki.
DT Manase Hopoi > Hopoi is the most experienced, and maybe the best, player on the team. Has started all 36 games he has played for the Huskies. Needs 8.5 sacks to break Ron Holmes' school record of 28. Had 22 tackles for loss last season, one shy of school's season record. Backup: Wilson Afoa.
DT Mike Mapuolesega > Mapuolesega made the move from end in the spring and immediately claimed a starting spot. Combined with Hopoi, he gives UW its sturdiest up-the-middle defensive front in years. The talented Lobos is coming back from a broken foot suffered in the offseason. Backup: Erick Lobos.
DE Greyson Gunheim > Another of UW's linemen who was thrown into the fire earlier than hoped a year ago and now should be ready for action. Had seven starts as a true freshman last season and played his best game against California. Rayford played as a true freshman a year ago and is bigger and stronger now. Backup: Caesar Rayford.
ILB Joe Lobendahn > Appears primed for his best season after making 100 tackles a year ago to finish third in the conference. Heady player who was an '04 team captain and shared team co-defensive player of the year honors with Hopoi. Depth remains a concern here. Backup: Tahj Bomar.
SLB Scott White > White has at times lacked consistency and focus, but has the talent to be one of UW's best playmakers on defense. Had 83 tackles a year ago to rank among the Pac-10's leaders. Howell is one of the rising stars of the defense. Backup: Dan Howell.
WLB Evan Benjamin > Made a successful move from safety last year to lead the team with 105 tackles. Also had a team-high three interceptions. Has made 22 career starts. Backup Stevens is a true freshman who might be the fastest linebacker on the team. Backup: Chris Stevens.
FS Dashon Goldson > Goldson was bothered by shoulder injuries last year, his first at UW as a JC transfer. Now healthy, UW coaches expect him to be a big-time playmaker. The fast-improving Hemphill is sure to see some playing time as well. Backup: Chris Hemphill.
SS C.J. Wallace > Hasn't gotten a lot of notice so far, but coaches say he has big-time ability. Started the final nine games last season, making 66 tackles and an interception. Harris impressed last year on special teams. Backup: Darrin Harris.
CB Matt Fountaine > The only cornerback on the roster who has started a game for the Huskies, Fountaine appeared in every game last season as the team's No. 3 cornerback and had two starts. Handy is a transfer from Nevada who figures to play a lot as well. Backup: Chris Handy.
CB Roy Lewis > Lewis started five games at San Jose State in 2003 before transferring to UW and spending last season as a redshirt. Had 42 tackles for the Spartans, 14 in one game against Nevada. Simpson revived his career with a strong fall camp. Backup: Clarence Simpson.
P Sean Douglas > Douglas has a strong leg — his 42.6-yard average last year was second best in UW history — but has gotten a few too many blocked. Age should make him more consistent. Perkins averaged 46.7 yards at North Thurston High last year and can punt with either leg. Backup: Ryan Perkins.