A New Breed on the Inside

One started out as a defensive end, one thought for sure his future was on offense. It's funny how, in team games, sacrifices are often made in an attempt to make the best out of difficult circumstances. Such is the case with two Washington defensive tackles, and new players at that - Wilson Afoa and Casey Tyler. But there's no bellyaching or second-guessing with these two. It's all about full effort for a full spring, and the rest will sort itself out.

"They've gotten reps and that's the most positive thing," Washington defensive line coach Randy Hart told Dawgman.com after the Huskies' second scrimmage Saturday when asked about his young DT's. "Whenever somebody goes down there's the opportunity for somebody else to get some improvement and both have improved. Now they've got to improve the rest of the practices. They are going in the right direction and they are getting the reps. It's been beneficial for both of them to get on the field and improve."

For Wilson Afoa, a 6-3, 265-pound converted defensive end, it's been a bit of a transition, but he sees it as a switch that can be mastered through hard work. "I'm just trying to get my plays down, do what I can do," Wilson said. "It was more free playing on the outside, but in the trenches it's a battle and I just have to adjust to taking on double teams and stuff like that.

"I'm just trying to compete every day. I really didn't know where I was going to be this early in the depth chart, but I just try to do my best. If our d-linemen go down, we just have to step it up. I just want to go hard every play, every practice."

Hart loves Wilson's competitiveness and thirst for action out on the gridiron. "He likes football and he likes to play the game," he said of the redshirt frosh from Honolulu. "You can't have enough of those guys. He's a tough guy. He's learning too, as he's doing something we haven't asked of him before. He likes to mix it up and we can use as many of those guys as we can get."

A hallmark of Afoa's play is his nose for the football. He had 4 tackles, including two sacks in Saturday's second scrimmage of the spring. He also had a sack in the Huskies first scrimmage. His upfield pressure may not be against some of the starters on the offensive line, but Hart sees the steady improvement as a gauge for bigger and better things.

"Are we where we have to be on this side of the ball? No," Hart said, matter-of-factly. "We've got a lot of improvement to go. But I think our defensive linemen got in their heads that they made some success and having success won't hurt anybody."

For Casey Tyler, another young defensive tackle, he had success to the tune of one sack in each of Washington's last two scrimmages. The 6-6, 290-pound redshirt frosh from Edmonds thought he'd be using his hands to catch passes instead of using them to shed offensive linemen.

"I saw myself as a tight end, definitely, but I've made the adjustment and I like it," he told Dawgman.com Saturday. "Bu right before camp he (Keith Gilbertson) brought me in his office. He told me that they were moving me and if I had any problems to talk to him about it."

No conversations have been necessary, as Casey has taken to the position like he was supposed to be inside from the get-go. But like any player learning the nuances of a new position, bumps are to be expected along the way.

"He's got to increase his tempo and that will increase as his learning curve gets better," Hart said of Tyler's play. "Any time you do something new you're going to be hesitant about doing it. He is getting better. He's got a lot of bad habits to break, but he's going to get the opportunity to play.

"He has no idea how good he can be, so it's fun to watch. I hope he's as excited as we are to see him get better every day."

"I need to step it up and my initial goal is to make the starting line," Casey said. "I'll do what I can to make it there. As long as I go hard every play like Coach Hart says, I'll do it. "You just need to go balls-out every play. Even if you make a mistake, if you go hard you'll still make a play. I'm just as big as the other guys there.

"Once I learn how to use my hands I'll become a much better player."

Progress has been slow and steady for both Afoa and Tyler, and their hard work is paying off in the form of starts and sacks. When Manase Hopoi and Dan Milsten return, chances are good that Wilson and Casey will once again find themselves on the depth chart looking up at the incumbents. But Hart has both hope and an expectation that a battle royale will ensue at both defensive tackle positions when camp reforms this fall.

"Manase has got to play better than he did last year," Hart said of the senior-to-be DT from Sacramento. "It wasn't a great year for any of us. Danny (Milsten) hasn't been on the field as much as he wants to. They should be a little nervous that these guys are getting these turns. And I'd add Mike Mapu into the mix. Mapu is getting better. When you have injuries and other guys are getting turns, you're creating depth. They are all getting better and that's all we can ask."

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