With spring football just around the corner, here's a position-by-position look at the roster and what to expect over the next month

Confidence is high on the defensive side of the ball at Washington, and why not? After losing four top-45 draft picks in 2015, all the Huskies did on defense last fall was lead the Pac-12 in total defense. They did it as a group, and they were consistently effective, holding teams to a paltry 18.8 points per game. In fact, they were the only team in the Pac-12 to hold teams to less than five yards per offensive play.  

It started up front, and despite losing Danny Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha to graduation, the defensive line still showed up big in 2015. They didn't have the same ridiculous sack totals those guys did; 34 in 2015 compared to 52 the year before - but they were just as good at keeping opponents out of the end zone. 

Washington lost two defensive linemen to graduation - Taniela Tupou and Jarett Finau - but have four new faces joining them this spring, fresh off a redshirt campaign. 

Is UW Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski simply reloading in 2016? We'll see, but there's not doubt a wealth of talent on the defensive line comes back to anchor what is expected to be another strong season for the Dawg D. 

Position Group (By Class)

Damion Turpin (6-4, 276, Sr.)

Joe Mathis (6-2, 252, Sr.)

Elijah Qualls (6-1, 311, Jr.)

Will Dissly (6-4, 277, Jr.)

Greg Gaines (6-1, 310, So.)

Vita Vea (6-5, 340, So.)

Jaylen Johnson (6-2, 260, So.)

Shane Bowman (6-3, 273, So.)

John Clark (6-3, 260, RFr.) *

Ricky McCoy (6-2, 307, RFr.)

Benning Potoae (6-3, 270, RFr.)

Jason Scrempos (6-6, 280, RFr.)

Bryce Sterk (6-4, 234, RFr.)

Jared Pulu (6-4, 225, RFr.) *

Myles Rice (6-4, 238, Fr.)

-----------------------------------

The Returners

Much like the offensive line, the defensive line has a number of players returning with starts under their belts, but not a ton of them. In Kwiatkowski's 3-4 scheme, UW has five starters coming back; Qualls, Mathis, Gaines, Dissly, and Johnson. That number is skewed just a little bit in the sense that in three games last year the Huskies lined up with a nickel back, which meant they only started with three along the line if you include BUCK Travis Feeney. That obviously takes the total number of DL starts down slightly. 

Either way, the total number of career starts for those five returners is just 23 - not a ton. What it means is that, no matter what the defensive line did last year - including coming in second in the league in rush defense to Utah - they still have a lot of room to gain experience and improve. And that should get Washington fans excited. 

Qualls anchors things in the middle, and ever since video footage leaked of him doing a backward flip at 301 pounds everyone could see the physical potential of Washington's nose tackle. He learned from the best in Shelton, and put those lessons to good use in 2015, coming up with 26 tackles and 4.5 sacks. 

Gaines has been the go-to guy inside, not just to spell Qualls, but also to start when necessary. He actually played more games (13) than Qualls (10), and had more tackles - 28. 

The 1-2 punch of Qualls and Gaines is supplemented by Vita Vea, and what a complement he became in 2015. After sitting out two years of not playing football, Vea played in all 13 games for the Huskies and had 17 tackles and three tackles for loss. 

Between the three of them, Washington's nose tackles accounted for 71 tackles. That would have put them number three in 2015 in total tackles, an impressive accomplishment for a position known more for doing the dirty work and letting the others clean up around them. 

Mathis, Dissly, and Johnson at the defensive ends that benefit from that 'dirty work' done by the nose tackles. Between the three of them they played in 37 combined games and had 47 total tackles, including 11 tackles for loss and four sacks. They should get even more run filling in for departed senior Tupou, who had 37 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss last season. 

This is Damion Turpin's last go-around at UW, so he has all the motivation he needs to make it his best season yet. And Shane Bowman only had one tackle in seven games last year, but did come up with a fumble recovery in the Apple Cup. Has he served notice this winter that he's ready to push for more playing time? We will see. 

-----------------------------------

The New Guys

What's exciting for Washington's defensive line is that they were able to keep redshirts on four promising players - Ricky McCoy, Benning Potoa'e, Jason Scrempos, and Bryce Sterk - allowing them to get bigger, faster, and stronger. During UW's recent combine day we saw Scrempos' arm in a sling, but have no other information to report on his injury. It could be a short-term situation or something different. We'll obviously find out more on Monday. 

McCoy slots in right behind the big three at nose tackle, so he will most likely have one more apprentice year before being expected to contribute in 2017. 

But Potoa'e, Scrempos, and Sterk all have a chance to show what they can do this fall. The younger brother of former Washington defensive lineman Sione Potoa'e, Benning has been wiping up offensive linemen since before he ever showed up at Lakes High School. His reputation as a War Daddy in the making is well-documented, and now at nearly 275 pounds he's ready to step up and be counted on. 

When you add in Myles Rice, a true freshman who delayed his enrollment until this past winter in order to gain an extra set of spring practices to jump start his 2016 season, you have five freshmen willing and eager to show Kwiatkowski and first-year Defensive Line Coach Ikaika Malloe - back at his alma mater - that they can compete with the big boys. They've been locked up in the weight room and are anxious to show off what they've been up to. 

-----------------------------------

What Does Spring Mean For This Group?

The biggest talking point for the defensive line heading into spring is the chemistry they build with new DL Coach Malloe. Former DL Coach Jeff Choate was a popular figure on staff and a coach that produced. Malloe has big shoes to fill. 

The body types are well established; Qualls, Gaines, Vea and McCoy are the inside cloggers, while the other defensive linemen will battle for playing time at the outside spots. Who will emerge? Motivation has to be high for a guy like Joe Mathis to finally put together a full, consistent season. He has had plenty of 'splash' plays littered throughout his time at UW, but nothing on a regular basis that would cement a legacy. 2016 is his last chance, and he can get it off to a great start with a strong spring. 

Husky fans will be chomping at the bit to see how dominant Benning Potoa'e is out of the gate, but a little patience is required here. For his all-world potential, Benning hasn't played a live game since late 2014, so give him some time. Since there is typically only a handful of 'live' reps that come during the 15 spring practices, Potoa'e won't really be let off the leash until fall, but that patience should be rewarded in short order. 

Will Myles Rice's early spring prove a springboard toward battling for playing time in 2015? With nine defensive ends for two starting positions, it makes sense to believe Rice will redshirt, but he is another player that comes in with a point to prove - namely that his rehabbed knee is 100 percent fit and ready to go. 

And who will be the surprise of camp? Will it be Turpin? Will it be Bowman? Will it be McCoy? 

Whoever it is, Malloe has a ton of talent at his disposal, as well as a litany of different body types that he can line up in all sorts of down-and-distance combinations.

The potential is there for the defensive line to once again catalyze a strong Washington defensive effort, but it still has to get to work Monday to achieve their objectives. Nothing is guaranteed. 

-----------------------------------

Best Guess Spring Depth Chart 

Defensive End

Joe Mathis (6-2, 252, Sr.)

Jaylen Johnson (6-2, 260, So.)

John Clark (6-3, 260, RFr.) *

Bryce Sterk (6-4, 234, RFr.)

Myles Rice (6-4, 238, Fr.)

Jared Pulu (6-4, 225, RFr.) *

Nose Tackle

Elijah Qualls (6-1, 311, Jr.)

Greg Gaines (6-1, 310, So.) OR

Vita Vea (6-5, 340, So.)

Ricky McCoy (6-2, 307, RFr.)

Defensive Tackle 

Will Dissly (6-4, 277, Jr.)

Damion Turpin (6-4, 276, Sr.)

Shane Bowman (6-3, 273, So.)

Benning Potoae (6-3, 270, RFr.)

Jason Scrempos (6-6, 280, RFr.)

--------------------------------------

Spring Position Preview - Quarterbacks

Spring Position Preview - Running Backs

Spring Position Preview - Receivers

Spring Position Preview - Tight Ends

Spring Position Preview - Offensive Line


Dawgman.com Top Stories