A position-by-position analysis of the 2014 Washington Huskies roster before national signing day on Feb. 5. Today: Defensive line. Monday: Linebackers.
2013 review: No position had more question marks coming into the 2013 season than the defensive line, and no unit performed above and beyond expectations than did the D-line. Hau’oli Kikaha and Evan Hudson emerged as perhaps the two biggest surprises on the team, each starting every game; Kikaha was named UW’s defensive MVP and a second-team all-Pac-12 selection, finishing the season with 13 sacks, tied for the second-most in program history — and all that coming off two major knee injuries that wiped out most of Kikaha’s previous two seasons. Hudson, who at 6-feet-5, 277 pounds fits the length and height that is all the rage on Pac-12 D-lines these days, made the switch from tight end and seemed to grow more comfortable in the new role each week. Nose tackle Danny Shelton was as consistent as anyone for UW last season, earning all-conference honorable mention and capping the season with a dominant performance in the Fight Hunger Bowl.
2014 projected spring depth chart:
Hau’oli Kikaha, sr., 6-3, 250
Joe Mathis, so., 6-4, 250
Jarett Finau, jr., 6-2, 263
Evan Hudson, sr., 6-5, 277
Taniela Tupou, jr., 6-1, 281
Damion Turpin, 6-3, 260
Drew Schultz, sr., 6-1, 268
Danny Shelton, sr., 6-1, 327
Lawrence Lagafuaina, jr., 6-0, 334
Elijah Qualls, rs-fr., 6-2, 293
Stand-up end/outside linebacker
Cory Littleton, jr. 6-3, 230
Josh Shirley, sr., 6-3, 232
Marcus Farria, so., 6-5, 235
2014 outlook: Like the offensive line, the D-line returns its starting unit in its entirety — a great starting point for new defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who will run a scheme similar to what Justin Wilcox had implemented at UW the past two seasons. UW had 41 sacks in 2013, second-most in the Pac-12 (to Stanford’s 44), though credit goes to the entire defense in that. UW also ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in allowing 161 rushing yards per game, fifth in the Pac-12; the Huskies will surely hope to improve upon that next season. Establishing depth, as with any line, will be a priority heading into the 2014 season. Losing junior Connor Cree, who has opted to give up football, is a bit of a blow, but the Huskies have quality reserves, with more help on the way. Shirley, a former blue-chip recruit, showed flashes as a veteran backup last season while playing through some minor injuries, and two freshmen — Mathis and Farria — got sporadic playing tie in their first season. One UW insider was high on all three of the true freshmen from last season (including the Qualls, who redshirted), and noted that Farria has a chance to eventually be “the next Kai Ellis,” after working closely with the former UW standout last fall.
Position grade: B+