Spring Battles to Watch - Defensive Line

The 2013 football season will see a lot of different prospects rotated through along Washington's defensive line. Over the next five weeks, during the Huskies' 15 spring practices, there will be several players who will be given every opportunity to show the coaches they have what it takes to see the field this fall...

Defensive End
Andrew Hudson RS Jr. 6-3, 250
Hauoli Jamora RS Jr. 6-3, 260*
Josh Shirley RS Jr. 6-3, 230
Corey Waller RS So. 6-0, 225
Connor Cree RS So. 6-4, 245
Jarett Finau RS So. 6-2, 260
Pio Vatuvei So. 6-2, 281*

(* denotes recovering from injury)

The Background: When Steve Sarkisian and his staff showed up, the Huskies needed a huge influx of both youth and talent into the defensive end position. They went out and made it a focus and have brought in some very intriguing prospects who can play multiple positions along the defensive line. Last season, of Washington's 27 total sacks, only 15 came from the defensive line with 13 of those coming from Hudson and Shirley who had 6.5 sacks each. The coaches, especially Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, have made getting pressure from the players along the defensive front a priority, so this spring will be some of these players' best chance to show the coaches they deserve to see playing time this fall.

The Players: Hudson, Shirley and Jamora are all fourth-year players and all three have shown they can be productive in the right system.

Jamora has struggled with injuries the past two seasons and he will be brought along slowly this spring. He likely won't take part much in contact drills. However, when healthy he was definitely one of their better players off the edge.

As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Shirley looked like the next great pass-rusher to come from Washington, however, he didn't every seem to get comfortable in Wilcox's scheme and only showed flashes of his speed-rushing potential. He may wind up being used more at linebacker this fall, so it will be interesting to watch how he fits into things this spring.

Hudson has been the most consistent of the three, demonstrating a great motor and the ability to move inside on passing downs and bringing the heat off the edge in first and second down. The only problem with Hudson is he's more of an effort guy, rather than a true difference-maker off the edge. Don't get me wrong, he's an impactful guy, but most of his sacks are the result of good coverage downfield, rather than him getting into the backfield before the QB has the chance to set up.

Because of the influx of young talent that will arrive this summer when the 2013 signees enroll (Joe Mathis and Marcus Farria) this may be the last chance for Cree, Finau and Waller to show the coaches what they can do. Cree and Finau both appear to have the size and athleticism the Huskies are looking for at the position, but they both need to show more in practices in order to get on the field. Waller seems to fit into that 'tweener role that Shirley is currently occupying and he needs to find his place and niche within the system or he could be on the outside looking in when things shake out.

As far as Vatuvei is concerned, he was having a very solid freshman season until going down with an undisclosed injury. Word is he's expected back by the start of fall camp, but in the meantime he isn't expected to see much in the way of reps this spring.

Battles to Watch: Depending on how much Jamora and Vatuvei can work out, you should see some serious competition at the strongside defensive end spot. Hudson usually occupies that spot with Shirley on the weakside, when the Huskies go to a 4-3 front, but if both of them are healthy, Hudson can switch to the weakside and get reps there.

Finau was a workout warrior last winter and came in a chiseled 260 pounds. However, that progress physically didn't result in much playing time last fall. He should be raring to go this spring and he has the ability to push the players in front of him, but he needs to put it all together or he risks being passed up. Cree should also be in the mix with his long arms and athleticism, but, like Finau, he has yet to prove he's ready for much of a workload.

Defensive Tackle
Sione Potaoe Sr. 6-2, 271
Josh Banks Sr. 6-2, 275
Lawrence Lagafuaina RS Jr. 6-0, 317*
Danny Shelton Jr. 6-1, 317
Taniela Tupou RS So. 6-1, 272
Damion Turpin RS Fr. 6-1, 256

The Background: Heading into the final stretch of the 2013 recruiting cycle, it became apparent the Huskies were desperately looking add talented bodies to the intieror of their defensive line. The Dawgs will lose two seniors this season and their best player up front, Shelton, will be a junior this coming fall. Behind him, there isn't much in the way of proven depth and that's definitely a concern moving forward. Thus, Washington added three players who will definitely play defensive tackle (Elijah Qualls, Andrew Basham and Jaimie Bryant), but only one is expected to enroll this fall (Qualls). Both Mathis and Farria could wind up getting big enought to play inside, but right now, they will be given their first look at end. Qualls will likely see a lot of playing time this fall and Vatuvei may see some reps too, but as you can see, the Huskies won't be able to count on a lot of productivity from them, at least at this point, so getting most out of the upper-classmen in the system is a priority.

The Players: Shelton was the rock inside for the Dawgs at the nose tackle last season and he played at a high level for most of the season, but he isn't a player that will collapse the pocket as a pass-rusher. That is where players like Banks and Potoae need to make their presence felt. Revisiting the sack totals from last season, the Huskies got just one sack (Shelton) from their interior players and that is definitely something that needs to change.

Potoae has the quickness and strength to be a real factor for the Huskies, but he's struggled with nagging injuries since he stepped on campus in 2010. Naturally pretty passive, the senior-to-be needs to find it within himself to play with a much better motor because if he does, he's got the talent to make a difference in his final season with Washington.

Banks showed up in the summer and had his moments where he looked like he could be a player, but he needs to be much more consistent and play with that high motor the coaches loved when they saw his film. With a year in the system, Banks should be able to play much faster and that could mean very good things this fall.

As far as the youngsters are concerned, Lagafuaina has the size and quickness to be a very good nose tackle, but, like Shelton, he really can't be counted on to provide much of a pass-rush. Tupou and Turpin have yet to show much, but both have some size, but both are unknowns at this point.

Battles to Watch: Shelton is a lock for the nose tackle spot, but who plays next to him won't be decided for a while.

The two players the Huskies would love to see jump up and take the three-technique spot are Potoae and Banks, but if they don't, you could see a plethora of players getting reps there including Qualls, Vatuvei and even Mathis and Farria.

This is the two seniors' best and last chance at forcing the coaches to play them, so they'd better take advantage of the opportunity or they could see their Husky careers end with a fizzle rather than a big bang.

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