Post-Spring Position Analysis: Defensive Line

Here’s a question: What has eight legs, eight arms, and is trying to replicate 329 total tackles, 65 tackles for loss, and 46 sacks? That would be the 2015 Washington defensive line, and they definitely have their work cut out for them. This spring's work went a long way toward figuring that out, but just how far did they get? Who impressed? Who will need to step up in the fall?

Defensive Line


Incoming Freshmen


Where does the defensive line group find itself after spring: Any group that had to replace the productivity of UW’s four senior defensive linemen are never going to immediately measure up - and this spring’s group of linemen were no exception. Nonetheless they did show a bunch of promise, players that simply need some seasoning to really cook.

So what we did find out about each offensive lineman during the 15 spring practices held at Husky Stadium? Here’s some quick Cliff’s Notes on each player:

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Taniela Tupou
6'2" / 293 / RSr.
  • DT
  • 90

Notes

Tupou continued his form that saw him play in all 14 games last year. Since gaining nearly a dozen pounds in the off-season, it became clear in the spring that Tani is ready to accept a leadership role, his normally soft-spoken demeanor enhanced with a more extroverted attitude.

Player Profile

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Jarett Finau
6'3" / 272 / RSr.
  • DE
  • 95

Notes

One positive development for the fifth-year senior defensive end; he wasn’t encumbered with the knee brace he had been wearing for so long after missing a number of games two years ago. It’s taken that long to get back to full go, but Finau should definitely factor in more after a full spring getting his fitness right

Player Profile

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Damion Turpin
6'4" / 275 / RJr.
  • DT
  • 66

Notes

Though he played five games last year, Turpin was probably one of the more anonymous performers in 2014. But this spring he was singled out by Jeff Choate more than once and this fall could be the moment the junior steps up and puts an authoritative stamp on his play.

Player Profile

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Joe Mathis
6'2" / 249 / Jr.
  • BUCK
  • 5

Notes

The heir apparent to Hau’oli Kikaha, Mathis came out in the spring and showed that he can definitely be counted on to get in the backfield on a regular basis. Mathis certainly seems more at ease with his role on the team as he gets ready for his third season on Montlake, and that comfort level should help him realize his potential.

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Elijah Qualls
6'1" / 305 / RSo.
  • NT
  • 11

Notes

Another player that found his ‘happy place’ this spring was Elijah Qualls. The sophomore admitted that he was having trouble settling in early on, but has since clicked with his surroundings, with school, with the college experience - and he’s hoping that means everything will fall into place for him on the football field this fall.

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Will Dissly
6'4" / 275 / So.
  • DE
  • 98

Notes

It was a bit surprising Dissly didn’t play more once his redshirt was taken off last season, but the Montana native didn’t take his foot off the gas at all this spring. He was a handful for any tackle that tried to get in his way. Expect Dissly to be a first choice player all season long.

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Shane Bowman
6'3" / 267 / RFr.
  • DT
  • 96

Notes

When it came to the defensive linemen building their bodies up, no one went through a transformation quite like Shane Bowman. He gained 20 pounds in the offseason and it really showed up in the spring. He was able to supplement that muscle with his trademark tenacity and effort, and that blend of intangibles showed up on the field. Of all the redshirt frosh, I think he had the best spring.

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Jaylen Johnson
6'2" / 266 / RFr.
  • DT
  • 92

Notes

Johnson is another redshirt frosh that did some major body sculpting in the offseason, as he gained 12 pounds. He was used as an end and also as a smaller tackle in pass-rushing situations. There’s no doubt Jeff Choate loves Johnson’s ability and I expect he will start to get decent playing time at some point this season.

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Greg Gaines
6'1" / 306 / RFr.
  • NT
  • 99

Notes

If Bowman and Johnson were the redshirt frosh that needed to bulk up, it was Greg Gaines and Vita Vea that needed to lean out. Gaines did just that, losing 15 unnecessary pounds and putting on vital muscle that he put to good use this spring. He still may be a year away from significant contributions, but I could see him being a ‘big’ part of short-yardage and goal-line defensive packages.

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Vita Vea
6'5" / 329 / RFr.
  • NT
  • 50

Notes

Vea burst onto the scene last fall, and with good reason; at 350 pounds he looked like a man-child, a taller replacement for Danny Shelton. Tim Socha locked him up in the weight room and he lost 15 pounds in the offseason, so Vea came into spring looking slim, trim and ready to make his mark. Unfortunately he suffered a knee injury half-way into camp and that derailed his plans.

Player Profile

Where will the defensive line be as UW heads to fall camp?: Vea’s injury was a real blow to a defensive line group that was definitely gelling and finding their particular roles. The front has to be as multiple as possible to handle the variety offenses they’ll see from one week to the next, and for the most part spots were starting to get nailed down.

The move of Kaleb McGary to the offensive line was certainly a blow to the interior depth, but if Vea can get healthy before fall camp he should be able to find his fitness in time for the Boise State opener.

Since Finau and Turpin are the wild cards in the room, their improvement over the spring and how that carries over to the fall will tell if Washington has the experience necessary to scare offenses the way last year’s front was able to. Obviously there’s no way the 2015 group will be as prodigious as the 2014 model, but this group came up with a mantra the moment preparations for the new season began - they would make it happen together.

In talking with the various linemen over the course of spring, they have bought into the idea that they are tighter than last year’s group, and that togetherness and understanding will help them to overcome whatever deficiencies they possess. We will certainly see if that bears itself out in a few months.

Based on history, as well as how each player finished spring, this is how I would see the starters for the first week of fall camp (given a four-man front):

  • BUCK/DE: Joe Mathis
  • DT: Taniela Tupou
  • NT: Elijah Qualls
  • DE: Will Dissly

Should any of the true freshmen play this fall?: Contrary to the offensive line group, as much as you’d love to redshirt every freshman in this group there may be one or two that pull the surprise and are ready to contribute the moment they step on campus.

The first one that immediately stands out among the crowd is Benning Potoae. Benning, the younger brother of former UW defensive tackle Sione Potoae, is more than just a Husky legacy. He fits an immediate need. Washington can use all the athletic, aggressive playmakers it can find, and they found one in Potoae. To make it easier for him to trust himself on the field I’m sure the UW coaches will try and streamline some things, but Benning won’t need to know shorthand when it’s time to go kill the quarterback. Some things are just based on instinct, and Potoae is a very instinctual player - a natural.

Jason Scrempos may be another player that comes in physically ready to take part, much in the same way Will Dissly did last year. Scrempos was a prospect that attracted interest from Steve Sarkisian and the previous Washington coaches well before Sark left for USC, so he may be one of those under-the-radar types that sneaks up and snags a spot before you figure out how he did it.


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