USA Today Sports

Spring Position Preview - Defensive Line 

Washington lost an important cog along their defensive line, but they do return several players including one that many think could wind up being a early first round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. Here's a look at things along the defensive front as we head into spring football...

Sure, this group took a hit when Elijah Qualls decided to enter the NFL Draft after what was a very productive junior season, but they return three of their top four linemen from the 2016 season. The Huskies will also have some youngsters with promise -- Ricky McCoyJason Scrempos and Levi Onwuzurike who have a chance to make an impact this fall, but it will be experienced players like Vita VeaGreg Gaines and Jaylen Johnson  who set the tone for the Huskies up front.

Defensive Line (by year)

Jaylen Johnson (6-3, 280, Jr.)

Shane Bowman (6-4, 308, Jr.)

Greg Gaines (6-2, 318, Jr.)

Vita Vea (6-5, 332, Jr.)

Ricky McCoy (6-2, 292, So.)

Jason Scrempos (6-6, 284, So.)

Jared Pulu (6-4, 270, So.)*

John Clark (6-4, 281, So.)*

Levi Onwuzurike (6-3, 266, RFr.)

* = walk-on

——————————————————————

Projected Spring Depth Chart 

Defensive End

Jaylen Johnson (6-3, 287, Jr.)

Levi Onwuzurike (6-3, 274, RFr.)

Jared Pulu (6-4, 270, So.)*

Nose Tackle

Greg Gaines (6-2, 321, Jr.)

Ricky McCoy (6-2, 292, So.)

Defensive Tackle

Vita Vea (6-5, 344, Jr.)

Shane Bowman (6-4, 287, Jr.)

Jason Scrempos (6-6, 275, So.)

John Clark (6-4, 279, So.)*

* = walk-on

——————————————————————

Vita Vea (6-5, 344, Jr.)

Washington received a huge boost when Vea a 6'5", 330-pound junior opted to return. He's a run-stopper who has the ability to collapse the pocket on almost every passing down. Vea runs really well and has been the main backup to both Greg Gaines and the now departed Elijah Qualls. This will be his season to take over the reigns at defensive tackle and to exert his will on each game. Vea could wind up being even better than Danny Shelton was during his senior campaign and, if things go right, the junior could wind up being the highest Husky defensive lineman selected in the NFL Draft since Steve Emtman was taken number one by the Indianapolis Colts in 1992.

Greg Gaines (6-2, 321, Jr.)

Gaines won't wow you with his athleticism or size. Honestly, he looks like a guy who you would see at the local bar waxing poetic about the deer or elk he just took down on a hunting trip. However, when he straps it up and steps between the lines, Gaines is all business. He's almost impossible to move off the line of scrimmage, he uses his hands really, really well and he has a great first step and a non-stop motor that allows him to track down plays that are run away from him. Gaines is your prototypical nose tackle and he is one of the best in the nation at what he does.

Jaylen Johnson (6-3, 287, Jr.)

Like Vea, this is Johnson's year to shine. After redshirting in 2014 and the spending the 2015 and 2016 seasons in a backup role and battling some nagging injuries, Johnson has the chance to show that his performances down the stretch last season are no fluke. Johnson (6'3", 280) has put on some good weight after showing up at 250 pounds and it's allowed him to be one of the most versatile players along the line. We expect him to line up at defensive end alongside Vea and Gaines, but he could easily move inside and play the three-tech spot and you could even see him line up as a stand-up pass-rusher like Qualls did this past season. Johnson is a budding star. It's high time he realizes his vast potential.

Shane Bowman (6-4, 308, Jr.)

Bowman hasn't been the factor many of us thought he'd be once he signed in 2014, but that could be because he hasn't had the chance to shine with the players he's had in front of him. While he isn't the athlete that Johnson or Vea is, he's long and very strong. He could be a great sub for the Huskies this fall and may move inside on passing downs when the opportunity arises.

Jason Scrempos (6-6, 275, So.)

The sophomore from Milpitas is one of the more intriguing players on the defensive line depth chart. He's long, measuring in at just over 6'6", and he's added some good size and strength to his frame. The early part of his career was marked by two shoulder surgeries, but the feeling is he's built up his size and strength enough to challenge for a spot in the rotation. This spring will be huge for him.

Ricky McCoy (6-2, 292, So.)

McCoy, a 6'2", 305-pound third-year sophomore, appears to be the heir apparent to Gaines at the nose tackle spot. McCoy has the necessary talent, but up until the bowl practices, he really has struggled to find the consistency the coaches are looking for from a player with his talent level. Once things really click in for him, hopefully that winds up being very soon, he could be a devastating force for the Dawgs up front. He's strong, quick and athletic and, like Qualls, he could wind up playing all three defensive line spots before he finishes up his career on Montlake.

Levi Onwuzurike (6-3, 274, RFr.)

From all reports, the Texas-native blew the coaches away with his athleticism and intensity. The redshirt freshman has added size and strength over the past year and many think he could be a special. Onwuzurike showed up appearing as if he would wind up as a defensive end, but the expectation now is that he could rotate inside to the three-tech spot at times as he continues to get used to the college game. This spring will be big for him and it will be our first chance to see if he's ready to make a move up the depth chart.

John Clark (6-4, 279, So.)*

The superlatives we've heard when describing Clark, a walk-on, are "hard worker", "non-stop motor" and "high Football I.Q.". It's never easy being a walk-on at a Power 5 program, but Clark has thrived and many think he'll wind up with a scholarship before he leaves.

Jared Pulu (6-4, 270, So.)*

The coaches have raved about Pulu's talent and work ethic. He could be a player who sees spot duty in the defensive line rotation once the season gets going. He's very good agaisnt the run and the coaches think he could turn into a very good pass-rusher before it's all said and done.

——————————————————————

Where does the defensive line group stand heading into spring?

Like pretty much every season, how this group comes together in the coming weeks and months will determine how good the Husky defense can become. 

Last season, the Huskies lost their top pass-rusher (Joe Mathis) midway through the season and that threw a lot of pressure on the guys along the defensive line to get more pressure on the quarterback, something that wasn't counted on before that happened.

With the loss of Qualls, the defensive line will need to find the vocal leader up front. 

Neither Gaines nor Vea are vocal guys, they typically just go about their business, but Johnson appears to have that trait in him. However, you don't just become a leader. You have to earn the respect of your teammates and coaches. That will happen over time if Johnson can stay healthy and become the player we all think he can be.

With a starting group of Gaines at nose tackle, Vea at defensive tackle and Johnson at defensive end, the Huskies could again sport one of the best defensive lines in the country.

What will be key will be the development of the depth behind them.

Bowman, Onwuzurike, Scrempos and McCoy form a big and talented group, but none have really established themselves at this point and Onwuzurike is coming off of his redshirt season.

There will continue to be an infusion of talent at the position once the 2017 class shows up in June when two local prospects -- Ali Gaye and Joe Tryon -- make their way to Montlake although the expectation is that both will likely wind up redshirting this fall.

This group has a chance to continue what has been a nice run of talented and effective defensive lines, but there's still a lot of work to do as we head into the spring.


Dawgman.com Top Stories