Washington football: Previewing the defensive line

Moving forward with position previews, it is time to look at the Washington football defensive line.washington huskies Identical to the offensive line, the D-line returns plenty of  quality, veteran starters with proven success in the PAC-12. Not to mention an abundance of highly recruited prospects waiting for their chance to make an impact. Here is the Washington football defensive line preview:

[Washington football: Previewing the offensive line]

Hau’oli Kikaha (6-foot-3, 250-pounds) Senior DE

Despite suffering two knee injuries after a successful freshman campaign, Kikaha returned to the field looking healthy as ever. Compared to his freshman year, Kikaha looked like a completely different person in 2013. The new last name (previously Jamora) and number change were the most obvious to notice. More importantly, he came back looking much bigger and every bit as fast as he did prior to injuries.

The hard work during rehabilitation paid off. Last season Kikaha recorded 13 sacks, just 1.5 shy of tying the Washington football record. Kikaha will look to have even more this year. Having a good defense around him last season helped in his commitment to the pass rush, a trait that the defense hasn’t had in years.

This year’s defense should be even better and Kikaha figures to be a catalyst for the ever improving unit. Kikaha has already been selected as a nominee for the Lott IMPACT trophy award, given to the player that has the biggest IMPACT (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community, Tenacity) both on and off the field.

If Kikaha can improve on his production from last year, the Lott trophy won’t be the only accolade he is contending for.

Danny Shelton (6-foot-2, 332-pounds) Senior DT/NG

Not many players can claim that they played in every game scheduled for their team during their collegiate career. If Shelton can make it through this season, he can make that claim. Played in all thirteen games as a freshman and has started every game since his sophomore year, Shelton is poised to make another step in the right direction.

At 332 pounds, Shelton has the size to play as a true nose guard and occupy multiple blockers and clog up the hole. What makes Shelton unique is his surprisingly quick feet for a +330 pounder. That skill allows for Shelton to be versatile on the line.

As with Kikaha, the constant improvement at all position groups on defense should allow for Shelton to continue to have a big impact. In recent years, former husky Alameda Ta’amu (and Shelton) have experienced the troubles of commanding double teams, but not having the talent around them to make the most of the advantage. That should no longer be the case. If Shelton commands a double team, the defense has the talent to make the most of the advantage gained.

And if teams choose not to put two blockers on him, they will quickly learn that that is an even bigger mistake.

[Washington football: Previewing the RB position]

Evan Hudson (6-foot-5, 281-pounds) Senior DT/DE

If there is any player on this Washington football roster that doesn’t get the credit they deserve, it is unquestioningly Hudson. A former tight end before making a position change at the beginning of fall camp in 2013, Hudson went on to start every game on the  D-line.

In about a months time, Hudson had to learn a completely new position, as well as a completely new playbook, and then be ready to start the season. There aren’t many players out there with the willingness to change positions so late in a career. There are even fewer that have the determination to be excellent at the new position and the intelligence to grasp the new concepts so quickly.

Hudson made all of that look easy last season. Having loads of talent behind him on the roster will most likely reduce his snaps this season. But given the strides Hudson made in the month before the season, along with the improvements as the season progressed, he should be an even more polished force on the defensive front in 2014.

Cory Littleton (6-foot-3, 227-pounds) Junior DE

The ‘young pup’ out of the starters, Littleton has been  making great plays ever since he arrived on campus. Hence why he started games as a freshman and started every game last season as a sophomore.

Playing at 227 pounds, Littleton brings the sideline to sideline speed necessary for exterior lineman in the PAC-12. Teams like Oregon, Arizona State, and UCLA have quarterbacks with the ability to extend plays with their feet. Littleton gives the huskies the speed to string out these runs and allow for the linbackers to step up and make a play.

What impresses me most about Littleton is his open field tackling ability. Arguably the best on the team. That tackling ability in the open field will be key in stopping the speed rushing attacks deeply prevalent in the stacked PAC-12 conference.

Other Notables:

Andrew Hudson (6-foot-3, 251-pounds SR), Jarett Finau (6-foot-3, 268-pounds JR), Marcus Farria (6-foot-4, 235-pounds SO), Joe Mathis (6-foot-2, 248-pounds SO), and Elijah Qualls (6-foot-2, 298-pounds RSFr) will all figure in to the D-line mix this season and will likely see a lot of work. Having a group of D-lineman as talented as this group will most likely result in high substitution frequency. Mathis pops off the page out of the reserves. A highly recruited high school all-american, Mathis came in fifth in the team bench press competition at the husky combine with 26 reps. Mathis has clearly embraced the workout routines implemented by the Washington football coaching staff and should translate to an exciting season.

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  • Jae

    Not even a mention of Josh Shirley? Ouch.

    • Lucas Clarke

      Given Shirley’s limited skill set (speed being his only asset) and his history of lacking work ethic, I think he will get phased out this season with a new staff. Too many young guys with speed and talent to waste snaps on a guy who hasn’t been all that impressive during his time at UW.