Today we’ll step over to the other side of the ball and tackle the defensive line group.
In general, the UW offensive staff did a pretty good job of assessing needs and signing guys that could impact the Huskies on the field this fall.
The UW defensive staff did a better job.
Starting with the defensive line, the Huskies were basically able to replace like-for-like numbers, and they were able to upgrade their athleticism at the same time.
Hold the phone! Replacing two with three isn’t like-for-like, at least upon first inspection. Here’s the answer to that: Washington Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski employs a hybrid DE/OLB position called the BUCK that Travis Feeney played to perfection in 2015. It’s a rangy athlete that has responsibilities at the line of scrimmage, but also out in space. The BUCK is charged with a lot to do, but they can also cause a lot of havoc.
So the reality of Kwiatkowski’s scheme is, you really have to look at the entire front seven as a unit, because their numbers can change between defensive line and linebackers from play to play and situation to situation, depending on down and distance.
Not jumping too far ahead, when you combine the numbers of the defensive linemen and linebackers that graduated after the 2015 season, that’s five - Tupou, Finau, Feeney, Cory Littleton, and Scott Lawyer.
Washington replaced those five with five players - Onwuzurike, Williams, Rice, Camilo Eifler, and Brandon Wellington.
And looking at that swap on paper, it’s a positive move. With Rice already on campus and Williams expected to jump in for spring football, it’s an added bonus.
Going back to take a look at just the defensive linemen, Pete Kwiatkowski and incoming defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe earn high marks.
They made inroads to Texas and nabbed a couple of linemen, and arguably the best defensive lineman from the Lone Star State. How often does that happen for a Pac-12 team, let alone Washington? For a staff that routinely went to Texas and nabbed solid talent for Boise State, getting a player like Levi Onwuzurike to commit to Washington is a real feather in the cap for Kwiatkowski and shows him as a coordinator to be reckoned with as a recruiter.
Onwuzurike had offers from - at least according to the Scout.com database - 27 FBS offers. I’m sure that number is much higher. But here’s a sampling; Washington, Arizona State, Arkansas, Baylor, Georgia, Miami (FL), Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford, and TCU.
Now typically the rule of thumb for out-of-state recruits is to see if the top in-state schools offer. If they don’t, it’s a red flag. Sorry, not buying it with Onwuzurike. With offers from schools like Baylor, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, and TCU - that’s five reasons alone to not worry about why Texas and Texas A&M didn’t shove all in for Levi.
Rice is already enrolled and ready to participate in spring football after sitting out a grayshirt year rehabbing a knee injury. At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, Rice is set to compete for that pure pass rushing defensive end spot now occupied by Joe Mathis.
Again, Rice is a year older and stronger because he delayed his enrollment. Since he is originally from Texas, that can only help when the UW coaches decide to take a longer look into the Lone Star State for talent. They can sell the idea that Texas players can move to the 206, and they can point to players like Rice, Onwuzurike, Aaron Fuller, and Trevor Walker as examples.
As far as Amandre Williams, he’s the kind of raw football talent that coaches drool over. He’s a dream prospect for any program; the finest clay in the world by which a coach and development staff can sculpt into whatever they want. At 6-foot-3 and 223 pounds, Williams is basically the same size Travis Feeney was as a senior. That means he could start out at BUCK and learn that spot, or grow and play more of a true rush end - depending on the situation and requirements. Only his body will dictate what is the best position for him. The beauty of BUCK is that he can do a little of both for right now and see which spot fits the best for the long haul.
There’s no doubt the defensive coaches would love to stockpile talent like Onwuzurike, Williams, and Rice, stick them in the weight room for a year under the supervision of Tim Socha, and come out next spring that much bigger, faster, and stronger.
But Williams has a chance to play simply because he’ll be ahead of the curve due to attending spring football, and Onwuzurike just might be good enough in general to force the coaches to play him early. There’s already 262 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame, so on paper those numbers work. Outside of the nose tackles, Onwuzurike’s size already matches up well with Benning Potoa’e (270), Jason Scrempos (280), Will Dissly (277), Shane Bowman (273), and Damion Turpin (276).
And Rice, with that added year of maturity, could come out of the blocks this spring flying - although coming off a knee injury means the coaches will be a little more patient with him than normal to make sure he gets up to speed and stays that way without any setbacks.
So to assess a grade value to what Washington got along the defensive line, we have to see how they addressed need and the quality of those replacements - especially within the context of the front seven and the BUCK hybrid position. As stated earlier, they matched like-for-like numbers, and they did so with superior talent - at least on the outside looking in.
That's the kind of result Washington fans want to see.