Post-Spring Review: Defensive Line continues its series of articles where we break down all of the position groups to see where the Washington Huskies stand after the first 15 practices of the Chris Petersen Era. Up next is the defensive line, the deepest and most talented group on new Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski's defense.

Much like the tight ends, the defensive line group was able to pretty much play through spring ball intact, and that had to come as good news to new Defensive Line Coach Jeff Choate. He inherited a talented, productive group from 2013, and the best part about that is they basically didn't lose anybody of note. Only Connor Cree and Josh Banks departed after last year, and they accounted for 13 total tackles and two sacks. The rest of the returners combined for 190 total tackles and 26 sacks, including 13 from Hauoli Kikaha - second-best all-time at Washington. That sack total isn't including the four of outside linebacker Cory Littleton.

"It comes back to mentality," new Washington Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski told about defensive linemen back in January. Even though Kwiatkowski is a DC, his defensive speciality is along the line. "They need to be physical. They need to want to be physical. And then competitors. You're not going to win every battle, but once you get knocked on your tail get up and do it again. Here I come…that type of attitude and mentality."
Defensive End:
22 Josh Shirley - Sr. OR
93 Andrew Hudson - Sr. OR
23 Marcus Farria - So.
28 Psalm Wooching - So.

Defensive Tackle:
71 Danny Shelton - Sr.
11 Elijah Qualls - RFr.
91 Jaimie Bryant - Fr.

Defensive Tackle:
80 Evan Hudson - Sr.
90 Taniela Tupou - Jr.
66 Damion Turpin - So. OR
57 Drew Schultz - Sr.

Defensive End:
8 Hauoli Kikaha - Sr.
5 Joe Mathis - So.
95 Jarett Finau - Jr.

What did they do in the spring? - Despite the occasional missed practice due to a schedule conflict, the entire defensive line group got all their work in, and that group even included a couple of newcomers.

I won't add Andrew Hudson into the newcomer category, but it's important that his situation be discussed. Hudson made the decision near the end of last season to walk with the seniors. He thought the relationship he had built with Steve Sarkisian and the rest of the old UW staff had run its course, and he was going to look at possible fifth year options. When Sarkisian left to take the same job at USC, Hudson and the new staff, led by Chris Petersen, talked about staying on with the Huskies.

Obviously it's still a ways to go before we'll know if Hudson can fulfill the promise that earned him two starts as a redshirt frosh in 2011. Hudson has always been an effort player, and so far through 15 practices he took his opportunities well.

Hudson will be battling with Josh Shirley at the one defensive end spot. It appears after 15 spring practices that Shirley will once again be asked to rush the passer and have some limited responsibilities in space after he was asked to be that hybrid REB-style DE/LB under Justin Wilcox. Shirley is who he's always been; a pass-rush first, contain the edge second, defensive end - and there will be need for that in Kwiatkowski's defense. Shirley probably won't develop into an every-down defensive end. At 225 pounds he's never grown into that bigger end that can do it all.

Another obvious point - Hudson and Shirley are a veteran presence on an already senior-laden squad. More to the point, Hudson was an Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 performer as a sophomore. When you have seniors along every one of the defensive line spots, and they are backed up mostly by more seniors and juniors - that's a great thing to have.

"It's really interesting because that room is really diverse. You've got a handful of kids - about five or six kids - that are seniors that have played a lot of football, because of all those downs have a lot of football IQ," Choate said mid-way through spring camp. "And then we've got a lot of young kids. There's not a lot of juniors, not a lot of sophomores. It's kind of a small middle group, big inexperienced group and a group that's played a lot of football. So it's been kind of a balancing act in terms of how we feed them the information, because you want to make sure you're challenging the older guys and continue to see them develop and progress, but you don't want to lose the younger guys in the room. So we've watered down some of our calls when we've gotten some of those younger guys in the game. We started to accelerate those older guys and I think we're seeing some stuff in terms of the energy and the effort that they're playing with and they are understanding the basic schemes that we're putting in. I feel good about where we're at, I really do. We're blessed to have some depth there, which is really, really critical."

The defensive line starts with Kikaha and defensive lineman Danny Shelton, who - according to Choate and Kwiatkowski - benefited as much from the conditioning aspect of spring football as much as anything else. They also started to build relationships with their coaches, learned how they like to run practice and their style of coaching. Kikaha, in particular, missed much of the off-season when Petersen allowed him to travel to Samoa to work on research he is doing for his UW schooling. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Kikaha started slowly during the first part of spring, but definitely picked it up at the end, notching some touch-sacks during the Spring Preview and definitely making life uncomfortable for Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Shelton, though, took his spot as one of the chief leaders of the defensive line very seriously. He's wearing the number 55 now instead of 71, a tribute to his fallen brother Shennon. He's as powerful as he's always been, standing 6-foot-2 and 332 pounds. But now he's added another trait during his maturation as a Husky and as a student-athlete; vocal leader. Jaydon Mickens is the one player on offense you can always hear, but Shelton is challenging Marcus Peters and John Timu as the vocal leaders of this year's defense. His whooping and hollering is unmistakeable. He knows what's at stake with a strong senior season; he could be seen as the next Star Lotulelei or Haloti Ngata for the 2015 NFL Draft, and has taken this spring to heart. He's gotten his work in as you would expect as the middle rock of the DL, and now just has to avoid injury to take his game to the next level.

Elijah Qualls is Shelton's heir apparent, an athlete at 302 pounds that can do a standing backflip. When Petersen looked to Shaq Thompson to run the ball a little bit in spring, I'm sure Qualls - a former high school running back - was offering up his services for third down and red zone opportunities. It was important for Qualls to get beat up a little during his first spring ever at Washington, and there's no doubt the veteran centers and guards along the offensive line tried to make it as uncomfortable as possible for the redshirt frosh. But getting through spring for the first time relatively unscathed is a great thing for Qualls, and make no mistake - he got his licks in too when he was able to.

Besides Qualls, the interior backups continue to be Tani Tupou, Damion Turpin, and Drew Schultz. Tupou took the most of his opportunities in the spring, continuing on the surprising flourish he had at the end of the 2013 season. With his presence along the defensive line coming slow but sure, the 6-foot-2, 280-pound Tupou had a couple of tackles in the Fight Hunger Bowl. Tupou will never be the biggest guy inside, but he won last year's defensive weightlifting award and played in all 13 games - so he'll now be expected to contribute even more.

One of the newcomers alluded to before is defensive tackle Jaimie Bryant. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Bryant delayed his enrollment so he could sign with the Huskies in February, giving him an extra spring before his eligibility officially begins. Bryant, who also played tight end at Tumwater High, is a gifted big man with quick feet and impressive agility for a player his size. The previous coaches wanted him at 300 pounds, and they got their wish - but they aren't around anymore and the new staff wants Bryant to slim down about 15 pounds or so. At 280 to 285 pounds, Bryant could be the next Evan Hudson - a rangy, tough defensive end who is athletic enough to use their length and levers to their advantage. Obviously the first couple of practices were a bit rough for Bryant as S&C Coach Tim Socha started implementing their dietary plan of attack - but by the end of the nine practices Bryant participated in you could already see a weight reduction.

With no full pass rushing opportunities afforded the Huskies DL this spring (no live quarterbacks), it's hard to gauge where the younger defensive players made improvement - players like Joe Mathis and Marcus Farria. There's no doubt those sophomores will be asked to do some big things for the Huskies moving forward, and their athleticism will be tough for Kwiatkowski to keep off the field. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Farria missed a couple of practices early in spring, but the fact that he was able to get through his first spring basically intact and got a ton of work in should be taken as a great sign moving forward. Farria is a natural pass-rusher and incredibly talented - maybe the best raw talent Choate has to work with.

Mathis also missed a small chunk of time during spring, but not enough to derail his efforts to get better and put himself in position to challenge for a spot in the two deeps come the Hawaii game. Mathis's game is versatile; he can be a bigger defensive end in a 4-3 or he can play the three technique in obvious pass situations when Kwiatkowski wants to stack the box with aggressive linemen who love to rush. I can't think of one aspect of Mathis' game that literally jumped off the page this spring, but his first spring was the same as Farria's - to get used to the demands and work hard on his conditioning in anticipation of a great position battle this fall.

There was another newcomer that definitely did jump off the page; Psalm Wooching. Wooching was recruited for offense by Sarkisian, only to move to the other side of the ball after his position was scrapped by Petersen and new Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith. Wooching was always a bit of a hell-raiser on offense, and that's a great thing; you could tell during fall camp last year that he was getting under the nerves of the defensive players he had to go against, and he always had that contained chippiness you like to see in football players. Now the 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore gets to turn the tables on the offense as a defensive end, and it really is suited to his personality and athleticism. Wooching has always been a stellar athlete, and now he get to really cut loose with his nasty play out on the edge. It showed up at times during the 15 spring practices, but as you would expect from even the best athletes learning new positions - it's the consistency that will determine how much playing time he gets down the road.

Lastly, with Jarett Finau out a large part of spring, it's unfair to know exactly where he is in Choate's pecking order at this point. But there's no doubt the junior will have a lot of catch-up to do in the fall to make up for lost ground.

Where does the position stand heading into the summer? - Frankly, it's hard to think how this position group could be in a much better position to attack the summer PRP's (Player Run Practices). They have senior leaders like Shelton and Kikaha to organize and hold players accountable for the workouts, and everyone should be healthy and available to participate. Not only will the group continue to work on their conditioning in preparation for fall camp, but the newer and younger players will be able to get great teaching and reps from the seniors as they work their way up the ladder. There's a lot of redshirt freshmen and sophomores that will be looking to make their mark this fall, and one of the ways they can do it is to watch and learn from the seniors and maximize all the reps they get in the one-on-ones with the offensive linemen in the summer.

What to look for in the fall - There's a few storylines to follow, but they mostly deal with the youngsters. Of the upperclassmen, will Andrew Hudson continue to get back to the point where he becomes a regular contributor again - and the same could be said of Josh Shirley as well. They have immense value as veteran linemen, with 25 career starts between them, so you know there's going to be spots where they can contribute. But where? And for how long?

Secondly, where will the sophomores - Farria, Mathis, Wooching, and Turpin - make their mark? This is the next wave of talented defensive linemen to come through, and their time to really start ramping up their development is now. Obviously there is a number of seniors they have to compete with, but there's no doubt these players have the ability to directly impact the Washington defensive line in a positive manner.

Third - will they use any of the true freshmen in the fall? With the numbers of upperclassmen already along the defensive line, it would seem to be an absurd question. Yet when we got a chance to see Jaylen Johnson in person this spring, it was hard not to see the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Johnson playing early. He just has that kind of physique that the bigger, natural defensive ends have.

And speaking of physiques, what about Kaleb McGary? At 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, it would be a luxury to be able to redshirt him and allow him to develop at a normal pace. But there's rarely anything normal about being 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, especially with the way McGary runs - so could he be another player that sees playing time earlier, rather than later?

Lastly - this defensive line group was incredibly productive - one of the most productive in recent memory. Will they be able to continue their prodigious output despite a coaching change, or maybe in spite of it? Kwiatkowski and Choate have developed a number of quality defensive linemen during their time at Boise State. In a way, it's possible their best coaching job this year would be to allow the seniors a lot of latitude to continue what they did last year, assimilate bits and pieces of what they need to get out of the group, and really start to focus a lot of their attention on the younger group, the players coming through that will be the heart of the defensive line going forward. Top Stories