MVP No. 10 - A rock in the middle

It’s countdown time! A new feature at, we’re going to ascend daily toward who we perceive to be the most important player to Washington’s success, revealing a new name every day. Today we dig into the top-10 and feature a player who started six of the final seven games in 2015 and should be a fixture along the UW defensive line this fall.

Greg Gaines is last on Washington's numerical roster, but he could become first in the hearts of UW fans that love nasty defense. 

The 6-foot-2, 318-pound sophomore wasn't expected to do a ton in 2015, but he turned that narrative on its head, playing in all 13 games and starting six of the final seven games. In short, Gaines came on like gangbusters. 

Gaines finished 2015 second among the defensive linemen in tackles with 28, ahead of Elijah Qualls and Vita Vea, helping him earn honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. 

And the best of Gaines is yet to come. 

The way the defensive linemen were set out by Washington Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, Gaines is now the unquestioned man in the middle, while Qualls was moved outside to take advantage of his athleticism. 

So Gaines has, in a span of half a season, moved right into the middle of all the madness, anchoring the defensive line and creating enough havoc to allow the players behind him to go nuts. 

It all starts on the line of scrimmage for the Washington defense, and a defensive line of Gaines inside, flanked by Qualls and either Vita Vea or Jaylen Johnson, is poised to be one of the best in the Pac-12. 

Gaines' true value lies in his replacement, and any front that doesn't include Gaines fundamentally alters things - sometimes in a considerable way. Kwiatkowski could certainly put Vea or Qualls back in the middle if required short-term, but that could take the sting out of the line's potential and push untested backups into more prominent roles. 

Qualls and Vea have been gearing up to take advantage of one-on-one opportunities ever since the end of last season, and while they are not strangers to the inside game it means those behind them would really have to ramp up their play. That means players like Johnson, Shane Bowman, Damion Turpin and Benning Potoa'e. It would have been helpful to have Jason Scrempos available, but since he was out all spring who knows how big a role he will play this fall. 

It's also unclear if Ricky McCoy is able to immediately step in for Gaines, allowing Qualls and Vea to concentrate on their current roles. If McCoy can act as a ready-made replacement when Gaines needs to take a breather, that's your answer. 

But the rise of Gaines within the defensive line group last year showed he is poised to have an even bigger impact as a sophomore. And if he does his job well, it opens up everything else for those around him. Top Stories