We finally turn our attention to the defense, and the area of the team that often drew the most praise throughout the spring, the defensive line.
The Huskies return four players with significant starting experience and have some young players as promising as any to come into the program in some time.
Depth may be a concern, especially at the tackle spots, and we’ll have to see how much the dominance of the spring may also have been due to the struggles of the offensive line, always a tricky thing to read.
First, a look at the official post-spring depth chart
Everrette Thompson, 6-6, 244, Sr.
Talia Crichton, 6-3, 246, Jr.
Alameda Ta’amu , 6-3, 330, Sr.
Lawrence Lagafuaina, 6-0, 344, RFr.
Sione Potoa’e, 6-2, 285, So./OR
Semisi Tokolahi, 6-2, 297, Jr.
Hau’oli Jamora, 6-3, 238, So.
Andrew Hudson, 6-3, 231, RFr.
Josh Shirley, 6-3, 225, RFr.
One thing to keep in mind is that each spot is a little different. The top DE spot typically lines up on the strong side (or over the tight end, where you typically want a little bigger player). The other DE spot typically lines up over the weak side and usually is in a better position to rush the passer. Ta’amu’s DT spot is the nose tackle, lining up over the center. The other DT spot is more traditional, lining up between guard and tackle. And the rush end spot, manned by Shirley (pictured in a Jim Bates photo) is a new spot on the depth chart, signifying Shirley’s status as not necessarily a starting every-down defensive end, but a starter when the Huskies go with their five-man line (or in obvious passing down situations).
As the depth chart shows, four starters seem pretty set — Thompson, Ta’amu, Jamora and Shirley. The one real position battle in the will be at the other DT spot, assuming Tokolahi comes back healthy. But remember, the defensive line is ideally a spot where the coaches can rotate liberally, so the fact that guys like Crichton and Hudson are listed as backups doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have key roles this season and wouldn’t get on the field a lot.
All nine players listed above will be needed greatly this season, with UW having 12 games in 13 weeks.
The leaders are Ta’amu and Thompson, each seemingly poised for big senior years. Ta’amy appeared to finally hit his potential in the last two games of 2010, and reported in the best shape of his career this spring. He’s a legit all-conference candidate, if not more if he could play the way he did against Nebraska every week.
Thompson is finally healthy and settling in and has great value in his ability to play both end and tackle, if needed.
Jamora was a revelation late last season and if he can sustain that for the season, could make a real name for himself in 2011.
Shirley was one of the breakout stars of the spring, teaming with Jamora in the five-man alignments to form an end duo that was often unblockable. His size may mean that for now he plays more in obvious passing situations, though coaches said he was better against the run than might have been thought heading into the spring.
Crichton returned healthy and after a week or so to shake off the rust, had a strong finish to the spring. And remember, he was rushed probably a little before he was ready in 2009 as a true freshman and could be poised for a breakthrough this season.
Hudson also had some good moments in the spring, and helps give UW what seems to be the best depth it has had at end in a long time.
Tackle is a little more uncertain. Ta’amu is obviously a sure thing. But the other players are either young or still recovering from injury. Potoa’e showed flashes in the spring but needs to be more consistent. Lagafuaina likewise had his moments. But he also appears to need another good off-season to get in optimum shape. The team is optimistic that Tokolahi will return from the broken and dislocated ankle suffered against WSU. But coaches sounded a little more uncertain as spring ended.
And it obviously wasn’t a good sign that they didn’t list Chris Robinson on the depth chart. Robinson has battled knee issues throughout his brief UW career, and suffered another one midway through the spring. It was initially classified as not too serious, but by the end of spring, UW coach Steve Sarkisian was saying it might be career-ending. That could further put the onus on Danny Shelton — the only Class of 2011 signee listed specifically as a DT — to be ready to play this season. And that potential lack of depth in the middle is another reason for UW to experiment even further with the five-man alignments.
Regardless, there will be times when UW plays power running teams (notably Stanford) when that inside depth will be tested.
Getting continued progress out of the young players, and sustained health all around, will be critical in 2011.