Spring Preview: Defensive Line

We move over the defense in the sixth installment of our spring preview. Today we look at the defensive line, a unit that lost its most valuable player when DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim exhausted his eligibility. Who will replace the four-year starter and who could be the difference-maker inside this year? Read on to find out…

The Players: Sr. Cameron Elisara (DT); Jr. Everrette Thompson (DT/DE); So. Talia Crichton (DE); Jr. Kalani Aldrich (DE); Jr. Alameda Ta'amu (DT); Jr. Tyrone Duncan (DT/DE); Sr. DeShon Matthews (DE/DT); So. Andru Pulu (DE); So. Semisi Tokolahi (DT); RS Fr. Chris Robinson (DT)

The Questions: Who takes over for Te'o-Nesheim? Who can provide pressure on the quarterback consistently? Will Elisara stay healthy for an entire season? Can Ta'amu build on a solid sophomore season?

The answer to the first question will probably be the hardest of any question at any position this spring.

Te'o-Nesheim finished his career with a program-record 30 sacks and the loss of his quiet intensity and leadership will be a gaping hole along the defensive front.

The coaches will tell you while they don't have someone ready to just "step in", they do have quite a few players they think can get the job done as a group, however, plans for working on a rotation of players will have to wait as news broke last week that both Thompson and Aldrich will both miss spring ball while recovering from injuries.

Thompson's is the most concerning as he recently tore his Achilles and will not be able to do much for four to six months. That puts him deep into the summer before he can start running hard at the earliest. Is a redshirt season in the offing? We'll know more in August.

Early on, the two players listed at the top of the depth chart heading into spring appear to be Crichton who started a handful of games as a freshman last fall, and Matthews, a little-used senior who actually has been more effective on the inside.

Crichton has got a quick first step and the coaches love his motor, but last year he was completely overmatched physically and struggled to hold the point while looking confused about his assignments. According to those who run the offseason weight programs, the Southern California native has put in the time and added strength and bulk so that he should be able to hold up as a sophomore.

It's unknown what will become of Pulu due to his indefinite suspension from the team due to an off-field incident. Should he be allowed back, the physically-gifted sophomore could be a force off the edge as a sophomore.

At tackle, the Huskies could be very strong with Ta'amu and Elisara holding things down.

When healthy, Elisara was the difference-maker up front. He helped stuff the run and caused problems for the offense's blocking schemes. However, he missed five games with neck stingers that he told Dawgman.com he thinks he's gotten past. He doesn't get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, but he's at least adequate in this phase.

Ta'amu was a beast the final three games of the season and showed a little more pass-rush than anyone expected. He's a huge man, measuring in at 6'3" and playing at 340 pounds last fall. From the looks of him at Washington's Pro Day on March 10th he's been living in the weight room with Ivan Lewis and has flattened out his stomach and added even more muscle to his frame. The talented junior only had 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but his role in the Husky defense is to occupy blockers and allow the linebackers and ends to run free.

Backing up on the inside will be a host of bodies, but the main contributors will likely be Tokolahi, Duncan and Robinson.

Tokohlahi looks to have slimmed down a bit when last we saw him and Duncan hasn't seemed to be able to find a home, but he's a good athlete and someone with some size, strength and versatility.

It will be interesting to see Robinson finally take the field.

He had surgery on his knee shortly after arriving at Washington last summer and redshirted while he was rehabbing. When healthy, Robinson is a physical presence inside who uses his compact frame to anchor well against the run. He's a good athlete, able to pursue outside the tackles or downfield if necessary, but from watching his high school film, it doesn't appear he will do much when asked to rush the quarterback.

Washington signed a host of defensive line prospects in February, most notably Lakes (Lakewood, Wa.) DT Sione Potoae who could end up in the mix once he arrives in July. Also planning to play inside will be Lawrence Lagafuaina a two-gap player who is at his best stuffing the run.

Outside, Brent Williams, Andrew Hudson and Haouli Jamora will enroll in July and all three will have the opportunity to get reps in fall camp because of the lack of depth at defensive end.

While Williams is probably the better pass-rusher, he's also the smallest (6'3", 215 pounds) of the three and is likely headed for a redshirt season this fall. That leaves Hudson and Jamora as candidates to see playing time with the latter being the most physically ready to hold up against Pac 10 offensive linemen.

Other position previews...

Spring Preview: Quarterbacks
Spring Preview: Offensive Line
Spring Preview: Running Backs
Spring Preview: Wide Receivers
Spring Preview: Tight Ends

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