Spring Preview: Defensive Line

Even though new head coach Steve Sarkisian has his hands full on offense, the defense will be an area he and his new staff will look heavily at this spring. First and foremost, the defensive line has to improve in order for the rest of unit to crawl out of the dregs of the NCAA as far as yards and points allowed. Here's a look at the top players along the line and how they could fit in...

The Players

RS Sr. DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (6-4, 263)
RS Sr. DE Darrion Jones (6-2, 245)
RS Jr. DE DeShon Matthews (6-4, 260)
RS Jr. DT Cameron Elisara (6-3, 289)
RS So. DE Kalani Aldrich (6-7, 250)
RS So. DT Tyrone Duncan (6-2, 280)
RS So. DT Nick Wood (6-3, 299)
So. DE Everrette Thompson (6-6, 265)
So. DT Alameda Ta'amu (6-2, 340)
RS Fr. Craig Noble (6-4, 275)

Returning starters: Te'o-Nesheim, Jones, Elisara, Thompson and Ta'amu all started games in 2008. Te'o Nesheim has started for three straight years.

Key players lost: none

Projected depth chart heading into spring:

DE: Te'o-Nesheim; Aldrich
DT: Ta'amu; Duncan; Wood
DT: Elisara; Matthews
DE: Thompson; Jones; Noble

The big question heading into camp:

Will the Huskies be able to stop the run this year?

The defense Washington put on the field in 2008 was one of the worst in the nation as well as in the storied history of the program.

Overall, the defense allowed 451 yards per game with 240 coming on the ground, so it's imperative the new staff finds a few players who can stop the run as well as provide enough of a pass-rush to keep opposing quarterbacks from getting comfortable especially with high-powered offenses like USC, Cal and Oregon on the schedule every year.

Te'o-Nesheim has been the top Dawg on defense for the past two years and there's no reason to think he'll drop off as a senior in 2009. He's got a motor that never stops, he's strong at the point-of-attack and he has the ability to get to quarterback. Last year, Te'o-Nesheim led the Huskies with eight sacks, which was half of the team total, and he also contributed 65 tackles good enough to place him fifth on the team.

After him, there are questions galore.

Jones and Thompson both played extensively, but it was Thompson that proved to be the most effective.

The freshman from Kennedy High School in Burien was a solid contributor for the Huskies, totaling 18 tackles and two sacks while Jones started most of the season but only managed to post 17 tackles.

Aldrich is a player who needs to add weight to his lean frame, but the coaches like what he brings to the table. He runs well and saw situational time in the rotation during the season, but he still only managed to post one tackle in five games.

On the inside the Huskies have some size and quickness, but Elisara, Ta'amu and Matthews did very little when asked to control the middle.

Between the three of them, they managed to post 49 tackles with no tackles-for-loss. In order for the Huskies to be stout up front, these three as well as an influx of new players arriving this summer will need to attack more and show more quickness.

Was it a scheme problem or a player/talent issue?

This spring is when fans will start to find out.

Keep an eye on…


As a freshman in 2008, he showed a ton of promise and upside and it will be interesting to watch how he's developed his body over the winter. If he can improve as a pass-rusher and get a little better at diagnosing plays, he has the chance to be the starter opposite Te'o-Nesheim as a true sophomore this fall.

The future…

Aside from Thompson and Ta'amu who will only be sophomores, Noble and incoming Lakewood (Ca.) DE Talia Crichton, Hilo (Hi.) DT Semisi Tokolahi, Tustin (Ca.) DT Chris Robinson and Cerritos Junior College DT Johnny Tivao are all players who could see time soon in the Husky lineup.

Sarkisian and new defensive coordinator Nick Holt both have said that Crichton is a player they expect to see time as a freshman in 2009 while Tokolahi has the size already to be an early contributor.

Tivao especially will be counted on to come in and stuff the run, something he excelled at in his two years at Cerritos, however grade and credit issues are something he has had to overcome. Apparently he's on pace to get his AA degree in June, but until he arrives at Montlake it will be touch-and-go.

The 2010 class got a huge boost when Lakes (Lakewood, Wa.) DT Sione Potoae, Scout.com's sixth-rated defensive tackle, committed to the Huskies in February and the Dawgs are going heavily after players like Bellevue DT Julious Moore and Bethel DT/DE Happy Iona locally as well as Douglas (Portland) DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Redlands East Valley (Redlands, Ca.) DE Andrew Hudson and Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) DE Alex Turner among others.

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