Husky Defensive Line: How did we get here?

Like the offensive line situation that has been brewing the past couple of years, the depth along the defensive line is very young and so it's time we take a look at how Washington got into the mess they are in along the defensive front-four as well as what is being done to rectify the problem…

Washington's defense was once known at "Purple Rein" where they hammered and utterly befuddled offenses every Saturday and sent players like Dennis Brown, Reggie Rodgers, Jason Chorak and Steve Emtman among others to the NFL.

Recently, the Huskies have lacked top-end talent along the defensive line and have had to make due by blitzing and that has opened up countless other problems behind them.

Here's a look at how Washington got to where they are along the defensive line and how they can recover down the road as long as they keep recruiting well…

2006 Recruiting Class (Redshirt Seniors)
DT/DE Cameron Elisara
DT/DE De'Shon Matthews
DT Derek Kosub
DE Anthony Atkins

At this point, it appears that Elisara's career is over as a Husky as a result of his constant neck problems. Last season, as a junior, he struggled with "stingers" and numbness and his one or both of his arms and worked all offseason to get back to health in time for the start of the season.

When he was healthy, Elisara was a solid player with the ability to cause some problems inside for opposing offensive linemen, but he never lived up the being the dynamic inside pass-rusher he showed in his high school days in Spokane.

A lot of that his problems to do with his size or lack thereof. He weighed in at 269 pounds at the start of fall camp, which suited him better outside than inside, however, Elisara doesn't have the quickness or that explosive first step to be much of a threat as a pass-rusher off the edge; thus the dilemma for the Husky coaching staff.

Matthews is all effort, but he isn't a top-end athlete and rarely got much in the way of pressure on the quarterback. His skills made him a better fit inside, but again, his size (255 pounds) caused him a lot of problems with holding his ground against offensive linemen who outweighed him by at least 50 pounds most of the time.

Atkins played linebacker at Compton College, but was asked to bulk up so he couple play defensive end.

He had trouble getting qualified and when he did arrive he had some off-field problems that dictated his exit from the program before he played a down.

Technically, Atkins wouldn't be on campus anyway, so his loss isn't really affecting things now.

Kosub only lasted on season before leaving the program in 2007.

2007 Recruiting Class (Redshirt Juniors/True Seniors)
DT Nick Wood
DE Kalani Aldrich
DT Tyrone Duncan

Wood looked like he could end up being an ideal nose tackle prospect, but lacked the athleticism and size necessary to really hold the point like a nose tackle needs to. The coaching staff moved him to the offensive line in 2009 for depth purposes to play guard and he's since been relegated to third string on the depth chart.

Aldrich was a highly recruited player from the Islands that the Huskies were able to pull away from the likes of Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee among others. His problem has been health. Early in his career he struggled with a shoulder injury and last year he suffered a badly sprained ankle that required surgery over the offseason.

Aldrich rehabbed all offseason and came back in September and has slowly started to see more playing time. The problem is he probably wasn't ready to play so early in his recovery, but the coaching staff has been forced to use him more due to the lack of depth on the outside.

Duncan left the program before the start of spring football after realizing he wouldn't be seeing much in the way of playing time.

2008 Recruiting Class (Redshirt Sophomores/True Juniors)
DE/DT Everrette Thompson
DT Senio Kelemete
DT DT Alameda Ta'amu
DT Craig Noble

Thompson started and played from nearly the time he arrived at Montlake and was a big contributor last fall inside for the Huskies, but he blew out his Achilles shortly before the start of spring football and spent the entire offseason recovering and rehabbing.

The problem?

Thompson could have used a redshirt this season while he regained the strength in his lower body, but because there was little else up front to rely on at defensive end or at tackle, the Husky coaching staff was forced to play him and the results have been so-so.

While not a dynamic pass-rusher, the coaches love Thompson's contributions inside and what he brings to the table with his length and frame. He needs to add some weight, but he could be a solid situational player next year as long as he remains healthy.

Ta'amu is probably the first player who has actually lived up to his billing, but it has taken a while.

While many see him getting pushed off the line and struggling to hold the point this season, what Ta'amu has dealt with are double and triple-teams, from some of the top interior offensive lines in the country. Could he be playing better? Sure, but it isn't all his fault things are so dicey up front.

As a freshman Ta'amu didn't do much other than stuff the run, but as a sophomore last fall, he seemed to "get it" as the season progressed and was one of the Washington's best players as they finished the season with big wins over Washington State and California.

Kelemete was moved to the offensive line after a non-descript freshman season along the defensive line as a freshman in 2008 and Noble was lost to a serious, but non-life-threatening heart condition during the 2009 season.

2009 Recruiting Class (Redshirt Freshmen/True Sophomores)
DT Johnny Tivao
DT Semisi Tokolahi
DT Chris Robinson
DE Talia Crichton
DE Andru Pulu

The 2009 class was thrown together by Steve Sarkisian and his staff in less than six weeks as, by the time Tyrone Willingham was fired, there were no defensive linemen committed to the Huskies.

Crichton was the biggest contributor from this class, but struggled as a freshman in 2009. He was really starting to play well this season before he suffered a knee-injury three weeks ago against Oregon State.

Tokolahi has been playing the three-technique (pass-rushing) defensive tackle spot since he arrived at Washington, but appears better suited as a nose tackle with his strong lower body. More than anything, it appears the Husky coaches are doing what they can to get some size along the defensive front.

In eight games so far this season, Tokolahi hasn't done much while playing sparingly, but defensive coordinator Nick Holt said last week that fans can expect to see him play more in the coming weeks.

Robinson is a real plugger inside, but needs to gain more size and strength in order to be a contributor at the Pac 10 level. Ideally, he will work his way into the rotation as a fourth-year junior, able to stuff the run and get penetration with his quick first step.

Pulu showed some promise as a freshman in 2009 and had the size necessary to play the strongside defensive end position, but was arrested for an off-field incident and kicked off the team.

Tivao signed with Washington, but was never able to qualify.

2010 Recruiting Class (True Freshmen)
DT Lawrence Lagafuaina
DT Sione Potoae
DE Hauoli Jamora
DE Andrew Hudson

As far as freshmen go, Jamora and Potoae have been outstanding for the Huskies.

Jamora has proven to be the best pass-rusher on Washington's roster and is one of the few players who is capable of getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. The problem is that his best contributions came as a situational player that wasn't asked to play every down.

Now, with Crichton's injury and the lackluster play of the rest of the linemen, he's been forced into heavy action.

Potoae got his first start last week against Stanford and showed why he was such a highly sought-after prospect. He's very quick off the ball and naturally strong and it will be interesting to see how he finishes off the season these next four games.

Lagafuaina and Hudson both are redshirting, but both appear capable of being players down the road as long as they aren't asked to do too much too early in their careers.

So there you have it.

Washington's defensive line currently consists of two fifth-year seniors (Elisara and Matthews), one of which will not likely play another down for the Huskies, one fourth-year junior in Aldrich, who has been injury prone, two true juniors (Ta'amu and Thompson) who both could have used a redshirt season to maximize their abilities, two true sophomores (Crichton and Tokolahi) and one of those two is out for the next few weeks, a redshirt freshman in Robinson who isn't seeing a lot of playing time at this point and shouldn't and two true freshmen (Potoae and Jamora) who are being asked to play in against Pac 10 talent way before they were ready to do so.

That paints an ugly picture up front and is probably the biggest reason the Huskies have struggled so much this season on defense.

Don't get ready to jump off the Aurora Bridge just yet though.

The Huskies will add one of the top sack artists from California when Brent Williams, who signed with Washington back in February but greyshirted this fall, arrives hopefully bulked up and ready to go.

Washington has also done well recruiting the defensive line this year with commitments from Archbishop Murphy (Everett) DT Taniela Tupou, Skyline (Sammish, Wa.) DE Connor Cree and Juanita (Kirkland) DE Jarett Finau, all of whom are having outstanding senior seasons and they are getting a lot of attention from some big time kids in California.

Tupou projects inside while Cree has natural pass-rushing ability.

Finau is raw, but with his size and athleticism, he's a prospect that has a chance to be a very good player after he returns from his LDS mission in 2013.

Also worth keeping an eye on is Paramount's Maataua Brown who committed to Washington back in the spring. He could be a devastating interior defensive lineman or play along the offensive line. His only issue right now is getting qualified and we've learned recently that he has quite a ways to go before that picture becomes clearer.

The Huskies have also made in-roads in the Golden State which has several top defensive line prospects located within its borders including Taft (Woodland Hills) DT Antwaun Woods, Grant (Sacramento) DT Viliami Moala, Beverly Hills DE Greg Townsend, Crespi (Encino) DE Reggie Coates, Lakewood DT Todd Barr and Point Loma (San Diego) DT Christian Heyward along with in-state talent Danny Shelton from Auburn and all are considering what Washington has to offer.

At this point, Shelton still appears to be a heavy Husky lean while Townsend and Woods appear close to making a final decision, choosing between Washington and USC.

Expect the Huskies to bring in at least two or three more defensive line prospects in this class and in the future expect them to take at least five or six per class to make sure the depth remains where it needs to be even with the expected attrition every year.

The future is in the Husky staff's hands in regards to bringing in talent and coaching them up, but with more depth things should improve over the next few years.

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