Spring First Half Review - D-Line

After six practices this spring, it's pretty obvious Washington has a lot of work to do up front on defense. Defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi has some intriguing pieces to work with, but at this point a lot of questions need to be answered in the next nine practices and during the summer in order for the staff to feel confident in what they put on the field on August 31st against Boise State...

Have to get healthy: Three key cogs in Washington's defensive line are working to recover from knee injuries sustained last season.

Hauoli Jamora, who missed half of the 2011 football season with a torn ACL, injured the same knee in fall camp while Lawrence Lagafuaina played in only three games before going down with his knee injury.

Pio Vatuvei, who was one of the most impressive looking freshman to enroll last summer, played in nine games before suffering a season ending injury.

All three of those players figure to be in the mix for playing time this fall and two, Jamora and Vatuvei could be starters, so it's important for the Dawgs to get them back healthy. That being said, their absence will allow reps to go to other players this spring who desperately need to take this opportunity to show the coaches they are ready for work.

Shelton is the rock in the middle: While questions abound at pretty much every other position, junior nose tackle Danny Shelton is a very nice player to build around. He's down close to 300 pounds, allowing him to be much quicker, but he hasn't lost his outstanding strength and that means he can be a real menace to opposing offenses. The Husky offensive line has had their hands full when Shelton has been in the lineup and the hope is his presence will make them better along with improving the players who are next to him on the defensive line.

A battle at end: Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson have the most experience and when Hauoli Jamora returns, the Huskies will add quite a bit more to the mix. However, the productivity of these three has got to pick up. Hudson is an athlete, but he's more of an effort guy, who gets his sacks when there is good coverage down the field. He's versatile enough to play inside on passing downs, but the hope is he won't have to play there much this fall. The coaches have been all over Shirley to be a consistent pass-rusher for them, acknowledging that when the "hurry-up" offenses get into their rhythm, the fourth-year junior would disappear. He's shown flashes of that consistency, but that hasn't transferred from one practice to another.

Two players who seem to be pushing for playing time, at least so far, are redshirt sophomore Connor Cree and redshirt freshman Damion Turpin. Both have long arms and both have seen plenty of reps with the first unit.

Inside depth is a question: While Shelton is set at one spot, the player who plays next to him may not even be taking part in practice right now.

Pio Vatuvei, with his outstanding size, quickness and strength, seems like the logical choice to man the three-technique (pass-rushing defensive tackle) spot, but he is sitting out spring ball while he recovers from a knee injury. Battling this spring for playing time are Taniela Tupou, Jarett Finau, who can also play defensive end, as well as seniors Josh Banks and Sione Potoae.

The coaches haven't seemed to be enthralled with much inside, so the competition could be wide open for players like Marcus Farria, Elijah Qualls, Joe Mathis and Andrew Basham as long as they get in (all have question marks as far as getting qualified).

This is the chance for someone to step up and show the coaches they are ready for full-time duty alongside Shelton, but as of yet, none have done so.

Behind Shelton, Lawrence Lagafuaina, who is also recovering from a knee injury, is expected to get most of the reps, but Tupou has also seen some time at the nose tackle spot as well.

Versatility is the key: As was evidence last season, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox likes to use multiple fronts. He intermixes 3-4 and 4-3 sets, so determining who plays where all of the time isn't the easiest thing in the world. One thing the coaches really value in their players up front is versatility with the ability to play multiple positions their highest qualification.

Finau, Banks, Hudson, Vatuvei and Turpin all have the ability to play inside or outside while Shelton and Tupou can play either of the inside spots.

Potoae has played some defensive end, but he was never that effective in that role and Shirley can play some linebacker when asked, but his best role is rushing the quarterback.

The incoming prospects all have the ability to play multiple positions and they will be added to mix almost from the moment they arrive on campus.

A look at the depth: Here is my way too early, unofficial depth chart from the spring so far...

DE - Andrew Hudson (RS Jr), Hauoli Jamora (RS Jr)*, Connor Cree (RS So)
DT - Josh Banks (Sr), Pio Vatuvei (So)*, Sione Potoae (Sr)
NT - Danny Shelton (Jr), Taniela Tupou (RS So), Lawrence Lagafuaina (RS Jr)*
DE - Josh Shirley (RS Jr), Damien Turpin (RS Fr), Jarett Finau (RS So)

* = injured

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