Defensive Line (By Year)
Getting Vea back for the 2017 season was the best recruiting job by Petersen and Defensive Line Coach Ikaika Malloe, and even though the big man has played in 27 games the last two seasons he's only started five. So in that regard he's still got a lot of miles left on his tires. It was great to see him have a great spring, one where he used the 12 pounds gained during the offseason to his advantage. He still looked plenty quick and disruptive when the team tried to run inside, and also during goal-line periods. The junior-to-be may be at 344 pounds right now, but he carries it really well.
Gaines was out for spring with what appeared to be a shoulder injury, as his arm was in a sling all of camp. It doesn't sound like it's going to be an injury that will linger, so expect Gaines to be back at it in no time. Unlike Vea, Gaines has started 20 of the 27 games he's played the last two seasons, so getting him back up to speed won't be an issue. Ultimately it'll be health that will determine how quickly Gaines gets back on the field.
Johnson, based on how he played in the spring and how coach Malloe used him, appears to be the first in line to take over for the departed Elijah Qualls. At 287 pounds, he's not quite as big as Qualls, but he's gained seven pounds and is arguably just as quick off the snap as Qualls was. Jaylen had three tackles, including 1.5 for loss, against Alabama, so he's just starting to come into his own. He has two more years left at UW, but if he erupts this fall, who knows. Could he be the next underclassman to bolt?
Bowman had one tackle in the Spring Preview, a sack for minus-12 yards. He has gotten bigger from last year, much bigger - 19 pounds bigger, in fact. Now at 308, the junior-to-be from Bellevue is looking to become that next big defensive tackle to make an impact on the Washington defensive front. He's played in 21 games so far the last two years, so there's no doubt he's got the experience to take the next step up in his development.
McCoy had one tackle in the Spring Preview, as well as a forced fumble and recovery. The 292-pound nose tackle lost nine pounds during the offseason. Was he too big? Not sure, but it's clear listening to coach Malloe talk during spring that they are doing everything they can to ramp up McCoy's learning curve. They need the former tight end back to doing the big athlete things he was doing in high school, the things that drew comparisons to Elijah Qualls. He's definitely athletic enough, but has he found that spark?
Scrempos led the defensive linemen with four tackles, including one tackle for loss and one sack for minus-4 yards, during the Spring Preview. It was a great sign, considering he missed all of last spring with an injury. But physically he appears to be back on track, and he lost nine pounds from the fall, so he's trimmed up some. But can he make that move to defensive tackle and challenge players like Jaylen Johnson for playing time? Scrempos only played in two games last season, so the time is now for the redshirt sophomore-to-be to start making his mark on the program.
Pulu had one tackle in the Spring Preview, as well as a forced fumble. The walk-on redshirt sophomore-to-be from Federal Way sure looks the part of an athlete that can play inside during pass downs and at end the rest of the time. And like Jason Scrempos, it was good to see Pulu have a full spring, considering he missed all of last spring to injury. Coach Malloe had some positive things to say about Pulu during preparations for the Peach Bowl, so don't be surprised if you see more of 56 this fall.
Clark started out the spring fine, but was then sidelined fairly early with a leg injury and never returned to practice. It's too bad too, because the redshirt sophomore-to-be from Marysville was just starting to make moves. He played in six games last year as a walk-on defensive tackle, and was on pace to possibly contribute more this fall before he was sidelined.
Onwuzurike racked up an impressive four tackles during the Spring Preview. Fewer players along the defensive front came to this spring with more intrigue surrounding them then Levi Onwuzurike. Arguably the top pass rusher in Texas high school football two seasons ago, Malloe had the luxury of redshirting him this past season. But what about 2017? Will he be a major contributor? Who knows, but if spring is any indication, Onwuzurike will find his spots. He's so quick off the ball and his first step is lethal.
Where does the Defensive Line group stand heading into the summer?
The injury to Gaines is the only real dark cloud here, although losing Clark hurts a bit with the service teams too. Depending on how severe the shoulder issue is with Gaines - and we have no reason to believe it's a major issue - Malloe should have his full arsenal available to him to start fall camp - as well as freshman addition Ali Gaye.
That means the race to replace Qualls is still on, but with players like Jaylen Johnson, Shane Bowman, Ricky McCoy, Jason Scrempos and Levi Onwuzurike in the hunt for an uptick in playing time, that competition should bear fruit.
All told, the UW defensive line has three players with starts return, while there are five more players that should be able to impact the roster. That means at least eight linemen that can go (assuming Gaines is cleared) against the offensive line all summer line in one-on-one drills to hone their techniques.
Onwuzurike is the high riser of the group, and Jaylen Johnson is primed to have a big season. If those two can join Vea and Gaines up front, and a couple more from the group can add some impact moments for the Huskies, UW will be in good shape as they continue to reload on defense.
Defensive Line Depth Chart
92 Jaylen Johnson (6-3, 287, Jr.)
95 Levi Onwuzurike (6-3, 274, RFr.)
56 Jared Pulu (6-4, 270, So.)*
99 Greg Gaines (6-2, 321, Jr.) (INJ)
96 Shane Bowman (6-4, 308, Jr.)
91 Ricky McCoy (6-2, 292, So.)
50 Vita Vea (6-5, 344, Jr.)
97 Jason Scrempos (6-6, 275, So.)
57 John Clark (6-4, 279, So.)* (INJ)
* = walk-on