Post-Spring Review: Defensive Ends

When taking a look at the official 2011 Washington Post-Spring depth chart, there's one position posted that just doesn't seem to belong. It's called RUSH. When it comes to the defensive line, I've seen tackles and ends listed - but nothing like RUSH. But then again, Washington hasn't had a player like Josh Shirley in quite some time.

At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Shirley, the redshirt freshman from Fontana, Calif. - by way of UCLA - could be the missing piece to the Huskies' defensive line puzzle. With a productive spring, Shirley forced the Washington coaches to put him on the depth somewhere.

Problem was, he's not really big enough to be considered a true defensive end, and doesn't really fit the mold of a true outside linebacker either. The hybrid LEO linebacker spot makes sense for a player of Shirley's speed and athleticism, but I can see where RUSH makes sense. After all, it's what he's going to be asked to do - rush the passer, and then rush the passer some more.

The only tough part about the RUSH position is that it's not necessarily an every-down spot. The coaches would love to get Shirley physically to the point where he could be a big factor regardless of down and distance, but the reality right now is that he'll be asked to wreak havoc on obvious passing situations. During spring one-on-one drills, it became clear Shirley didn't have the lead in his pencil to handle offensive tackles when they get a hand on him. But if he can get to the corner untouched, that's when he's at his menacing best.

The two every-down ends now seem to have the benefit of depth, experience, and health - so that should go a long way toward complimenting the heft and athleticism shown by the tackles inside. Having both Everrette Thompson and Talia Crichton back and 100 percent will be essential for the success of this position group - and Crichton should be there by fall.

Thompson, who has been plagued by nicks and dings throughout his UW career, appears to have finally put the achilles tendon injury that sidelined him for all of last spring behind him. Despite having to work back to full fitness in 2010, he had his most productive season, racking up 35 tackles - including five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. With a full spring now behind him, the 6-foot-6, 244-pound senior enters his final year confident, healthy and raring to go. Expect Thompson to have a major impact along the defensive line from a leadership standpoint, as he's always been a mentor for the younger Poly linemen.

As he has done on numerous occasions during his Washington career, Thompson will move inside and play as a smaller, quicker 3-technique. He loves the contact and he loves the fight in the middle of the line. In the five-man DL that UW tinkered with during spring football, Thompson played a lot alongside Alameda Ta'amu, and that partnership could blossom this fall if the Washington coaches decide to include it as a staple in their defensive packages.

Until he injured his knee in Washington's double-overtime victory against Oregon State, Talia Crichton was rock solid. The 6-foot-3, 246-pound junior had started the first six games of the 2010 season, and really had anchored one end of the defensive line for the better part of a year and a half. Even though he missed half of 2010, it's still taken some time for his knee to recover. During this past spring, the Washington coaches wanted to take great care with Crichton to make sure he would be fully healthy for the Huskies' home opener against Eastern Washington, but they also wanted him to get as much work in as possible. They were able to do that - and while he's not quite back to being his best harassing quarterbacks and staying big on the edge containing runs, he's close. It's nice to know the Huskies have a player like Crichton they can rely on in their depth. It's a luxury they haven't had in some time.

At the other end, the player that benefited the most from Crichton's absence was Hau'oli Jamora, who was thrust into the starting spotlight the week after Oregon State. He immediately became a front-line stalwart, finishing the 2010 season with 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and three sacks. The craziest thing about Jamora's season is that he did it all as a true freshman. At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, Jamora doesn't get the job done being big enough, strong enough, or fast enough. He does it by maximizing the ability he has, coupled with a work ethic second to none. It's the reason he out-played former Kahuku teammate Kona Schwenke (now at Notre Dame), and it's the reason why he's now become a fixture along Washington's defensive line in only his second year on campus. If Jamora isn't the first guy on the scene when it comes to making plays happen in the backfield, he's not far behind - and when he gets his hands on the ballcarrier, they go down.

Backing up Jamora is redshirt frosh Andrew Hudson, a player who played at the same Redlands East Valley program that produced Washington players Chris Polk and Marquis Persley. The 6-foot-3, 231-pound Hudson had the benefit of watching Thompson, Crichton and Jamora last year, and hopefully he'll have that same luxury this coming fall - because that will mean the top three defensive ends were able to stay healthy and play the entire season. But knowing Hudson, he's going to make it difficult for the UW coaches to keep him off the field.

The reality is that they'll need Hudson to play, because you can't reasonably expect to go through the season with only three healthy defensive ends. When Crichton went down in the middle of the 2010 season, it was Jamora that was forced to step up. Hudson will have to do the same in 2011. Is it possible for Hudson to have a Jamora-like impact coming off the bench? I think it is, because he's in great shape, he's had two years to prepare mentally, and he has the physical makeup to cause offenses problems. It's also entirely reasonable to expect Hudson to struggle from the jump, simply because it's one thing to practice full speed; it's another thing entirely to try and defend it in a game.

Washington has two freshman defensive ends coming to Montlake this summer - Archbishop Murphy's Taniela Tupou, and Skyline's Connor Cree. They approach the game in different ways, which gives the class some balance and versatility at this position group. Tupou, at 6-foot-2.5 and 260 pounds, can play the game similar to Thompson - meaning both inside and out, while Cree, at 6-foot-4.5 and 220 pounds, is a straight-up defensive end. Ideally both of these players need to redshirt to get bigger, faster, and stronger - but if one had to play, it will be Tupou. Physically he's more prepared than Cree at this point to handle the aggressive nature of the Pac-12, and he's also preparing to serve his Mormon mission the following spring, so the UW coaches would love to try and get him some action before he begins his church service.

On the surface, this group of defensive ends appears to be the deepest, most veteran and talented group of DE's Washington has had in some time. But if you look at their combined starts, you'll find that the four players that fill the two DE spots for Washington have combined for 36 starts, over half of them (19) coming from Thompson. So minus the lone senior, that's an average of 6 career starts per defensive end position in the two-deeps (not including the RUSH position) - not horrible, but not massively experienced either. So while it feels like they've played a lot, players like Crichton and Jamora still need more games under their belt to really take that next step in their development.

That still doesn't take away from the potential of players like Shirley, and he could raise the effectiveness of the defensive line the way Donald Jones did in 1991, or Jason Chorak in 1997. Given the right circumstances, he's a game-changer, and the sooner those 'circumstances' include first and second down, the productivity of the Washington defensive line will take another jump forward.

Defensive End
Everrette Thompson (Sr.)
Talia Crichton (Jr.)

Defensive End
Hau'oli Jamora (So.)
Andrew Hudson (RFr.)

Josh Shirley (RFr.) Top Stories