Defensive line a focus for spring

Washington defensive line coach Randy Hart has his work cut out for him this year. Heading into spring practice, he has only two players with any sort of playing experience. One is an All-Conference candidate and the other a redshirt sophomore with limited snaps and while the Dawgs lost three players with a combined 88 starts, they aren't lacking talent...only experience.

Losing players like Greyson Gunheim, Jordan Reffett and Wilson Afoa, all starters, and reserves Ceasar Rayford and Erik Lobos, the Huskies have to try to build depth while also gaining experience for some younger players.

While that will be the focus of spring ball, Hart has one player he can turn to in Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who has a chance to be an All-Conference performer as he continues to build off of a great sophomore campaign.

"Daniel's my rock over there," Hart said recently. "The kid is solid at everything and he's a leader for us. He isn't the most outspoken guy, but he plays with emotion and I think our other guys feed off of that.

"With losing the seniors and guys like that, having someone like Daniel back for us really helps out because he can teach the other players and help bring them along."

Te'o-Nesheim isn't the most verbose person on Washington's roster, but he lets his play do most of his talking.

He was named the team's Defensive MVP after amassing 57 tackles, 15 tackles-for-loss and 8.5 sacks and he had a highlight-reel hit on California RB Justin Forsett that brought Husky Stadium and his entire sidelines to their feet.

"Daniel always keeps going and keeps fighting," Hart said. "He's strong and he's really worked on using his leverage well to hold strong and then use his hands to fight off blockers.

"He needs to keep progressing for us, but I like what he's done so far."

Backing up the talented junior will be De'Shon Matthews, a player who many want to see in some game action.

"De'Shon has done everything we've asked of him and he's really coming along nicely," Hart said. "I like what he brings with his length and his athleticism. He'll get some reps out there, but it's tough when a guy like Daniel is in front of him."

On the other side, the Huskies have a nice little battle going on between Darrion Jones and Kalani Aldrich for the starting left end spot.

"Darrion flies around and we like that," Hart acknowledged. "He needs to be in control and know his assignments a little better, but that will come. He runs really well though and he dips well.

"Kalani will be a guy we get a long look at this spring. He runs well and he's an athlete. Where he'll struggle is keeping on weight.

"Unlike most of us who struggle to keep weight off, he could lose 10 pounds over a weekend and go from 260, which is what he is right now, to 250. I mean, I think we'd all like to have that problem, but when you're trying to gain muscle and weight, it's not the best problem to have."

On the interior, the other player with game-experience for the Huskies is DT Cameron Elisara.

While seeing spot duty in 2007 the sophomore from Spokane had only two tackles, but Hart said he's been impressed with the winter work he's put in.

"Like everyone, he's got work to do, but I think he's had a great offseason," Hart said. "With the experience we had coming back, he didn't get as many reps as he could have, but he's a guy we're counting on to be solid for us up there and to get some penetration.

"He's at 285 or 290 right now and that's a good weight for him. He's quick and he's really strong, so he's got what he needs to be successful physically, now it's all about technique and knowing his assigments."

The other tackle spot, will be a competition between two redshirt freshman as well as two redshirt seniors, one of whom just made the switch to defense shortly before the start of spring camp.

"I actually didn't find out about him moving over until (the week before the start of spring practice)," Hart said about the move of Johnie Kirton from tight end to defensive tackle. "We recruited him as a defensive lineman out of high school, so we obviously thought he would be a good fit there.

"He's got a big body and he's strong and he's got quickness. It all just depends on what he can learn in the next six to nine months.

"He's got the talent, it just depends on how much he wants it."

Nick Wood and Tyrone Duncan are two players with huge upsides that Hart said he's real interested to see practice.

"We didn't get to see them enough last year because they were healing up from injuries," Hart said. "Wood is a player and that's based on how strong he is and the mentality he brings. He's a workhorse, there's no doubt about that.

"Tyrone is a player with a lot of talent and quickness, but he didn't get much time last year so we need to get him reps and see where he is. He's got a great base though and he'll be tough to handle if he works at it."

The other player in the mix at tackle this spring is Jovon O'Connor, a player who finally found a home along the defensive line two years ago.

"Jovon has a lot of experience in our system and now it's time for him to show us what he's got," Hart said. "He'll provide depth and a big body, but we're trying to see what else he has."

And coming this fall, the Huskies will have four linemen -- Craig Noble, Alameda Ta'amu, Everrette Thompson and Senio Kelemete -- to plug into the depth as well.

"All of those guys are players were liked a lot and they will get every chance to come in and play," Hart said. "A couple of those guys could play end or tackle, it just depends on where they fit the best and how ready they are to contribute, but I'm excited to see what they add to the line."

Whatever happens this fall, a lot of young players will be playing this fall so fans will be able to see the future of the Husky defensive line on display every week of the season. Top Stories