February 26, 2013 at 3:19 PM
Spring position previews — Defensive line
We’ll continue our preview of UW’s position groups heading into the spring with a look at the defensive line.
First, a look back at this position group in 2012.
As a reminder, here is what the depth chart looked like at the end of the 2012 season:
DE 93 ANDREW HUDSON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . So., 6-3, 249, Redlands, Calif.
11 Talia Crichton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sr., 6-3, 264, Lakewood, Calif.
NT 71 DANNY SHELTON. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . So., 6-1, 317, Auburn, Wash.
55 Sione Potoa’e . Jr., 6-2, 271, Fort Lewis, Wash.
DE 98 SEMISI TOKOLAHI. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sr., 6-2, 340, Hilo, Hawai’i
99 Josh Banks OR. Jr., 6-2, 265, Stockton, Calif.
55 Sione Potoa’e . Jr., 6-2, 271, Fort Lewis, Wash.
R 22 JOSH SHIRLEY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .So., 6-3, 230, Fontana, Calif.
42 Cory Littleton. Fr., 6-3, 230, Spring Valley, Calif.
91 Connor Cree. RS-Fr., 6-4, 245, Sammamish, Wash.
The Huskies also lost two players to injuries before and during the season — end Hau’oli Jamora and tackle Lawrence Lagafuaina. Each suffered knee injuries, Jamora apparently re-injuring the ACL that had sidelined him in the fourth game of the 2011 season while Lagafuaina was injured after playing in three games. EDITED — And as some of you have noted, Pio Vatuvei also missed the last few games of the season with a knee injury and should also be back at some point this season.
Shelton started all 13 games, as did Hudson. The other spots changed a little bit due to health, scheme and performance. Tokolahi started eight games, Crichton seven and Shirley six and UW also officially started two games in a 3-4 — against Oregon and Arizona, each of which run versions of the spread (Littleton, who is really more of a linebacker, officially started in each of those games).
It was a unit that was a little better against the run in 2012 in than it had been in 2011. UW allowed 160.08 yards rushing in 2012 compared to 168.7 in 2011 but that stat may not tell the tale as much as the way UW played against power running teams such as Stanford, when the Huskies were able to hold the Cardinal to 68 yards on the ground. The Huskies struggled a lot more defending the run against spread teams such as Oregon (299 yards) and Arizona (277).
The pass rush, though, remained vexing as UW finished the year with just 26 sacks after getting 27 in 2011 (and I realize that neither number is due solely to any one position group. But each number is often associated with defensive line play and I pass them along in that context).
A LOOK AHEAD
As the above depth chart illustrates, UW loses only Crichton and Tokolahi of significant contributors on the line from 2012. The Huskies may also eventually get back Jamora and Lagafuaina, though almost certainly not for spring ball. Jamora is a real wild card as he was maybe UW’s best defensive player when he was hurt in 2011 against Cal. But the fact he is now coming off two knee injuries and won’t have played in almost two years makes it hard to project what to expect from him going forward. Vatuvei should also be back at some point, though when he returns is also unclear.
Hudson and Shelton, though, return as fulltime starters, each now entering their third year as key players and serving as the anchors of the line, if not leaders of the entire defense. Shirley also has extensive experience and will look to continue to show he can make the move from being a situational pass rusher to an every down player.
Banks and Potoa’e each came on late in the season and will enter the spring as leaders to take over at the spot Tokolahi vacates — Banks started one game, against USC, in 2012.
But there will be plenty of competition along the line as the Huskies will continue to try to add depth — teams ideally rotate 8-10 players up front, something UW has not been able to do much in recent years but may be closer to doing now. UW will also really be looking to improve the pass rush and will hope that some of the younger players take some dramatic steps in improvement to help get that done.
Among those younger players are Cree and fellow sophomores Corey Waller, Jarett Finau and Tani Tupou. Cree, Waller and Finau are all ends while Tupou played some at tackle late in the season. All were pretty highly-regarded recruits who will now be counted on to emerge as key contributors, especially with a solid group of D-line recruits arriving in the fall.
Also getting into the mix this spring will be the lone defensive lineman in the Class of 2012 who redshirted last season, tackle Damion Turpin.
Also worth noting is walk-on Drew Schultz, who started at tackle against Utah. And it remains unclear where Shane Brostek fits in, if he will return to the offensive line or remain on defense, where he filled in at tackle late in the season. He continued on defense through the bowl practices but coaches said they would re-evaluate his status heading into the spring.
As noted, UW signed what many regarded as one of the top groups of defensive linemen for the Class of 2013 in tackles Andrew Basham and Elijah Qualls and ends Marcus Farria and Joe Mathis. UW coach Steve Sarkisian has on several occasions said he expects some of those players to make an impact in 2013. None, though, will arrive until after spring ball.