Because of that move, players like Joe Mathis won’t be in this analysis, but will be included with the linebackers.
Where will the defensive line be as UW heads to fall camp?
When half the 2015 drafted players were entrenched along the defensive line, it means those left in the wake of Danny Shelton and Hauoli Kikaha are going to have to step up, and step up in a hurry. They are going to have to figure out a way to re-produce 329 total tackles, 65 tackles for loss, and 46 sacks. Yup, those are the numbers from last year’s senior defensive line.
Can they do that? Of course they can, but it would be a story of monumental proportion. It would be unlike anything ever seen on Montlake, simply because what last year’s defensive line did was the stuff of school records. For it to take place in back-to-back seasons would be like lightning striking twice in the exact same spot. It’s happened before, but I don’t think you want to take those odds to Atlantic City.
Typically we would be talking about redshirt freshmen and sophomores as being ‘x’ factors heading into any particular season, but for the Huskies this fall, it’s all about the upperclassmen left and how well they show up. Tupou, Finau and Turpin are the wild cards in the room, and how they do during fall will go a long way toward showing whether or not Washington can come close to putting the same kind of fear in offenses last year’s group did.
It’s wishful thinking to believe the 2015 defensive line will come close to 2014’s productivity. For example, Hauoli Kikaha and Andrew Hudson each had single-season sack totals that put them in the UW All-Time top-five, and they did that last year. Obviously there’s no way the 2015 group will be as prodigious as the 2014 class.
But, as they’ve been saying all spring, there’s something about this group - a togetherness or different spirit - that is bringing them closer together. They feel they can pick up the slack and continue what last year’s senior-laden line was able to accomplish. If they can collectively pool their talents and do just that, it would be the story of the Pac-12 season for sure - and would also set the Huskies up magnificently for years to come.
In the middle there seems to be a nice ‘seating chart’, as Petersen would say. Qualls is the returner, and Gaines is looking to make his mark. Vea is the one that could really turn the position into a strength depending on how healthy he is and how quickly he seizes on opportunities to play. Ricky McCoy is waiting in the wings, soaking things up like a sponge.
At either end, you’ve got players that need to break out - or as coach Choate would say - SPLASH. There’s not one real bonafide star there yet, but several could emerge. Will Dissly is the one that stands out right now, but Jaylen Johnson, Shane Bowman are two others that could be big surprises this fall.
Taniela Tupou (6-2, 293, RS Sr.) - Tupou showed he had a more forceful side during spring, belying his normally low-key on-field personality. The senior defensive lineman is never going to match Shelton in terms of being extroverted in his leadership, but Tani has found his own way to get his points across. He’s going to need to continue to develop those skills, as well as show he can consistently produce as well.
Jarett Finau (6-3, 272, RS Sr.) - Ever since dealing with knee issues the past couple seasons, Finau has never quite been up to speed. But this spring was productive in the sense that he was able to get through unscathed, and he did it without the help of a leg brace. It’s obvious to say Finau’s time has to be now; he’s going to get a chance to compete for a lot of playing time. How he performs may say a lot about how the Huskies do up front in 2015.
Damion Turpin (6-4, 275, RS Jr.) - This past spring Turpin was singled out by Choate a few times. That’s good news for Washington fans; along with Tupou and Finau, Turpin has to stay healthy all year and provide solid, dependable play if the Huskies’ front is going to have any chance at success. There’s a player somewhere inside Turpin, and even though we really didn’t see it last year 2015 has to be his breakout season.
Elijah Qualls (6-1, 305, RS So.) - Qualls had his ‘ah ha’ moment this past spring. He admitted to the press that he was having issues settling into college and all that it entails, but is now comfortably bedded in and ready to take over from where Danny Shelton left off. We may not see bear rolls from the sophomore nose tackle, but Qualls is still athletic enough to do a standing backflip at 300 pounds. Shelton talked about taking Qualls under his wing so he could push on in 2015. This fall we will find out how well those lessons have taken hold.
Will Dissly (6-4, 275, So.) - One way we knew the UW defensive coaches were keen on the Montana native this spring is that he got moved all over the defensive line - and even got some time playing the BUCK linebacker position. Such is the quality Dissly brings to the Husky front. The experience gained from playing as a true freshman should pay off handsomely for Dissly moving forward, starting this fall. He’s got size, quickness, array of moves, football intelligence, and instincts for the game. I fully expect Dissly to be one of the more productive linemen for UW in 2015.
Shane Bowman (6-3, 267, RFr.) - Bowman had arguably the best spring of all the redshirt freshmen. He gained 20 pounds in the off-season, and looks like he could really take the bigger ‘Husky’ defensive end position via stranglehold. The Bellevue star is immensely talented and could be a real factor this fall for UW. But a lot will depend on what fronts they use, what their base defense will be, and how much depth they’ll require. Either way, Bowman’s development trajectory is trending up and hasn’t slowed down since he got on campus.
Jaylen Johnson (6-2, 266, RFr.) - I could have included Johnson with the linebackers, as I expect he will - like Joe Mathis - get plenty of playing time at BUCK, but with 12 pounds gained during the off-season I also believe Johnson will be used a lot along the defensive line. He’s a player Choate and Kwiatkowski have coveted for a long time, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he came in and had a very strong 2015. He’s only a redshirt freshman, so hopefully people will cut him a little slack if he doesn’t hit the ground running. But Johnson is certainly one Washington fans need to look for as the future of the defensive line.
Greg Gaines (6-1, 306, RFr.) - Gaines is the next in line behind Qualls when it comes to playing nose tackle in an odd front, and he did a good job of exchanging fat for muscle last off-season when he lost a few pounds. He got quicker as a result for spring and there’s no question the redshirt frosh will be counted on inside as a run-stuffer. How much playing time he’ll get initially will have as much to do with how consistently Qualls performs as the scheme called.
Vita Vea (6-4, 329, RFr.) - No one player attracted more interest for the 2014 class than Vita Vea. I mean, just look at his size and the way he moves! But then he suffered a knee injury during this past spring and that derailed his progress. Vea is expected to be fully ready to go for fall camp, but how quickly will he get back up to speed? He redshirted last season, so there’s no reason to hold off using him. But how much playing time will he get as his development is assessed?
Benning Potoa’e (6-3, 265, Fr.) - On paper, the younger brother of former UW defensive lineman Sione Potoa’e seems to be the one true freshman that’s not only physically ready to play, but has been gearing for this part of his football career for years. Obviously it would be great if Washington could redshirt all their true frosh along the defensive line, but they may not have a choice with Potoa’e, rated the No. 1 in-state prospect by Scout.com for 2015. He’s blessed with superior athleticism for his size, and frankly football is just part of his blood. He’s only going to get better under the tutelage of Choate and Kwiatkowski, but he could already be good this fall. Like Mathis and Johnson, Potoa’e could also play the BUCK position, as well as defensive end. There’s going to be a lot of mixing and matching involved, depending on the situation.
Jason Scrempos (6-6, 252, Fr.) - Size-wise, the Bay Area’s Scrempos is physically ready to play. He was a player coveted by both Steve Sarkisian (who initially offered him to UW) and then by Chris Petersen. With his height and range, Scrempos could absolutely be the next Evan Hudson type defensive tackle given a year in a proper college weight and conditioning program. Ideally Washington would redshirt Scrempos to get him bigger, faster, and stronger - and then unleash him to the world next spring.
Ricky McCoy (6-3, 294, Fr.) - The nose tackle pecking order looks pretty squared away, with sophomores, redshirt freshmen, and then Ricky McCoy bringing up the rear - for now. Originally recruited to Arizona to play tight end, there’s no doubt McCoy is a top, top big athlete that should be a difference-maker down the road. But his time shouldn’t have to come for at least another year. It’ll be fun to watch his journey, as he brings that Shelton-type extroverted attitude to the middle. McCoy will get fired up on the football field, and I don’t doubt for a second he’ll be a fan favorite in no time.
Bryce Sterk (6-4, 229, Fr.) - With all the bodies coming in, it’s not a surprise the Huskies took a flyer on a lower level athlete with incredible upside. Sterk, from Lynden, ran hurdles in high school at 225 pounds; not too many guys to that at any level. He’s a pass rushing specialist, but don’t be surprised if Choate and Kwiatkowski also think about Sterk’s potential at the BUCK spot. Whether he ends up as a linebacker or a defensive back, Sterk is going to have plenty of time to acclimate himself to college life, as well as the weight room - where he’ll most likely be locked inside for the next 12-18 months.
Projected Fall DL Depth Chart (assuming 3-4 base defense)
Taniela Tupou (6-2, 293, RS Sr.)
Jarett Finau (6-3, 272, RS Sr.) OR
Damion Turpin (6-4, 275, RS Jr.) OR
Shane Bowman (6-3, 267, RFr.)
Elijah Qualls (6-1, 305, RS So.)
Greg Gaines (6-1, 306, RFr.) OR
Vita Vea (6-4, 329, RFr.)
Ricky McCoy (6-3, 294, Fr.)
Will Dissly (6-4, 275, So.)
Jaylen Johnson (6-2, 266, RFr.) OR
Benning Potoa’e (6-3, 265, Fr.)
Jason Scrempos (6-6, 252, Fr.) Bryce Sterk (6-4, 229, Fr.)