Where They Stand: A look at UW’s DL Position

We continue our position-by-position look at what happened this past season, the returning players and we give our thoughts on what things might look like in 2015. Today, we look at the defensive line group, which has several different pieces to work with, but no clear-cut starter heading into the offseason after losing their entire front 4…

2014 Review – Numbers-wise, the 2014 defensive line was arguably the most productive defensive line ever at the University of Washington, accounting for 329 total tackles, 65 tackles for loss, and 46 sacks. Boasting two All-Americans, Hau’oli Kikaha finished his UW career as its all-time sack master, accounting for 19 in 2014 and 36 overall. Danny Shelton anchored the middle, finishing his UW career with 97 tackles and nine sacks from his nose tackle position. He was the first interior defensive lineman to be named a UW All-American since Steve Emtman. Perhaps the biggest revelation from the defensive line was the reclamation of Andrew Hudson. A player put on the scrap heap by Steve Sarkisian and Justin Wilcox just a year earlier, the defensive end went from having no tackles for loss and no sacks in 2013 to 15.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks - nothing short of an incredible turnaround. And Evan Hudson - the other ‘Hudson Brother’ - played his part too in every single game for the Huskies in 2014, creating a front four that was as good as any in the country when it came to getting after the quarterback. They also held opponents to a measly 3.3 yards per carry every time they tried to run with the football.

Returning Players

Jarett Finau (6-3, 261, RS Sr.)
Taniela Tupou (6-2, 282, RS Sr.)
Joe Mathis (6-2, 250, Jr.)
Damion Turpin (6-4, 266, RS Jr.)
Elijah Qualls (6-1, 311, RS So.)
Will Dissly (6-4, 273, So.)
Vita Vea (6-4, 346, RS Fr.)
Greg Gaines (6-1, 321, RS Fr.)
Jaylen Johnson (6-2, 254, RS Fr.)
Shane Bowman (6-3, 247, RS Fr.)
* denotes walk-on
Incoming Freshman

Ricky McCoy (6-4, 273)
Jason Scrempos (6-6, 250)
Myles Rice (6-4, 225)
Position Overview

Jarett Finau - The senior-to-be finished with seven tackles, one tackle for loss, and one sack on the season, mostly in mop-up duty. With the four departed seniors basically starting every game of the 2014 season as a complete unit, it was hard for anyone to get substantial playing time behind them. Finau, as a veteran, will be asked to help shore up the Andrew Hudson true defensive end role.

Taniela Tupou - Tupou finished the 2014 season with 16 tackles to his name, up from 8 the year before. The Marysville native has slowly come along and will be expected to take over the Evan Hudson 3-technique spot for his senior season. Under the guidance of Pete Kwiatkowski and Jeff Choate, Tupou has started to come along and show spurts of the player that was a four-star prospect coming out of Archbishop Murphy.

Joe Mathis - The true junior from Upland, Calif. had 17 tackles, two tackles for loss, and two sacks in 2014. There’s no question that, with increased playing time, those numbers will go way up. How far? Obviously that’s yet to be determined, but what isn’t in dispute is Mathis’ intensity and drive. He is on go 100 percent of the time, and he’ll need to harness that energy and push to maximize his performances.

Damion Turpin - Coach Choate continued to extoll Turpin’s improvement this year, despite the fact that the junior only played in only five games, the last one Colorado. The 6-foot-4, 266-pound Turpin is by far the biggest enigma of the UW defensive line; we don’t know that much about his play. There’s no question he’ll need to step up in 2015, as his eligibility is starting to waste away. There’s plenty of room to move in this newfangled defensive line two-deeps, and this spring has to be Turpin’s time to make a move.

Elijah Qualls - The nose tackle had 13 tackles, including two tackles for loss, in 2014 backing up Danny Shelton. In fact, the sophomore is Shelton’s heir apparent, and he will be asked to anchor the middle just like Shelton did. Even for a big man like the 6-foot-1, 311-pound Qualls, that will be a mammoth task. We already know how athletic Qualls is; he once showed up on YouTube doing a standing backflip at 302 pounds. What we don’t know is how effective he’s going to be in the middle constantly attacking double-teams. 2014 was Elijah’s year to soak up all he could learn from Shelton; 2015 is when he puts that learning to good use.

Will Dissly - Many might think Dissly’s freshman year was a waste; he only had two tackles in a season where he only played in six games. But with four defensive linemen already redshirting, the coaches knew Dissly was ready to handle the physical workload at 275 pounds, and he showed he was up to the challenge at Cal, helping to hold the Bears off during a goal-line stand. There’s no doubt Dissly will continue to grow and work into that role left by Evan Hudson.

Vita Vea - You can never have enough impact interior defensive linemen, so it was no surprise when the 6-foot-4, 346-pound Vea showed up for the first day of fall camp you could hear the jaws drop. Haloti Ngata? Star Lotulelei? At least from a physical standpoint, the Huskies had found their next big-time Poly stud, and not a moment too soon. In fact it’s hard to remember a time when the Huskies had a guy like Vea in their lineup. If passing the look test meant everything, this guy would be an All-American today. What is yet to be determined is how he progresses in Kwiatkowski’s system and under Choate’s tutelage. But he’s got all the pieces to be a great one if he can keep it all together.

Greg Gaines - Like Qualls, Gaines is more of a prototypical nose tackle. At 6-foot-1 and 321 pounds, the La Habra, Calif. native is a real fireplug, and even earned enough mention during his first fall camp to make it on a few game two-deeps before it became clear the UW staff was going to be able to redshirt him. Depending on if the news that the Huskies may try more 3-4 in 2015 is true, Gaines might be counted on more than expected to provide support clogging up the middle.

Jaylen Johnson - Choate said that Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 250-pounder from Corona, Calif., is being groomed as a Kikaha type, meaning he should have the ability to rush the passer first and foremost, but might also be expected to cover in space if need be. Johnson was the one defensive linemen the Huskies signed in 2014 that looked like a true pass rushing threat, and it would be great to get him involved as soon as possible. A bookend DL of Johnson on one side and Mathis on the other is a tantalizing thought!

Shane Bowman - There’s a lot of expectations already for the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Bowman, who came from powerhouse Bellevue. Will he play inside? Outside? 3-Technique? That’s certainly one of the questions, but Bowman has the versatility and athleticism to do a lot of things. A lot of his future will obviously be decided by what plan his position coaches, as well as Strength and Conditioning Coach Tim Socha, do with him in the off-season. Will they try and lean Bowman out so he can be more of an end? Will they bulk him up to play inside? We’ll get the answer to those questions the moment he lines up in the spring.
2015 Preview - There’s no question that replacing a couple of All-Americans - as well as all that production - is going to be a monster task for the remaining Washington defensive linemen. Let’s be realistic; they aren’t going to do it overnight. They aren’t going to be able to pick up where players like Kikaha and Shelton left off. It’s just not going to happen. But instead of relying on four main players because they were playing so well, Kwiatkowski and Choate have a chance now to build some legitimate depth, quality in numbers that could really help them over the long stretch of the season. For starters, they can redshirt all the true freshmen, something they weren’t able to do last year. There’s a chance that Rice, who suffered a season-ending knee injury, might even delay his enrollment until next winter to work on his leg strength and to even out the numbers a little bit. We’ve already seen glimpses of what Mathis, Tupou, and Qualls can do; now it’s up to the other upperclassmen like Finau and Turpin to start pulling their weight. Since their bios are mostly incomplete, is it possible they could come out of the woodwork and big 2015 seasons? Anything is possible, but so far there’s nothing to suggest that’s going to happen. More than likely the surprises are going to come from last year’s redshirting class, as well as true sophomore Will Dissly. Dissly, already at 275 pounds, will continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger, and could be paired inside with either Gaines or the massive Vita Vea. Bowman also has a chance to break out, and Johnson appears to be a Kikaha-Type in waiting, a true pass rusher that does so relentlessly.

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