Matthew wrote a post a couple of hours ago that is previewing the Husky team as a whole. I’m posting over it a little bit too soon, so here’s the link because you should go read it.
We’re to the defensive side of the ball in this series and I’ll probably only keep the defensive side to three posts. Like the offensive line post (which is a few scrolls down from this one), the player information will be less than a skill position. Linemen don’t often have much to say and I am not able to analyze them as well. Plus, there’s a lot of them. I’ll try to cover everyone who will play and I’ll start with the guys who are listed as the starters. The guys who are going to red-shirt or are buried on the depth chart probably won’t be listed. If you have any questions about them, leave it in the comments. Also, Hau’oli Jamora is injured and looks like he could be out all season so I’m going to leave him off on this post. And here we go!
DE – Talia Crichton (Sr.)
Every time I’ve heard it mentioned this camp that Crichton was a senior I did a double-take. It seems weird to me. Talia was a guy who probably should have red-shirted his first year but the depth wasn’t so good and he was needed. He was over-matched that year and never has been a huge factor on the defense. Now, he gets his chance as a senior, with Jamora out, to make a real contribution. The coaches all say that he’s had a good camp (although, what else would they say?) and has gotten better and better. He has definitely beefed up since his younger years, playing at 265. With that being said, he is probably the biggest question mark on the line and doesn’t have proven depth behind him.
NT – Danny Shelton (So.)
I think there are a few guys on the defense that we can expect to take a big step forward this year and Danny leads that charge. A lot has been thrown at the big fella but he looks to be ready to handle it. With the Dawgs switching to a quicker, smaller defensive line this year, Shelton has to be the guy that stops the run. He needs to demand double teams so he can let the athletes at safety and linebacker to make the play. The coaches wouldn’t have tried this defense if they didn’t think Shelton was capable so I think we have to trust their judgment. I think by the end of the season, Shelton will be one of the three best players on the defense and he showed flashes of that last year. This is all as a true sophomore, by the way.
DE – Andrew Hudson (RS So.)
This position could also be called defensive tackle. If you look at the defense as a 3-4 (3 defensive linemen, 4 linebackers), then Hudson is the defensive end. I think of it more as a 4-3, which I’ll get into more in a minute. Hudson had to add some weight to play this position and will also be counted on to help against the run. Just to reiterate the point, this is not a tradition defensive end position. Hudson started 2 games last year at end and played in all of them. He was another guy who got better as the season wore on and I think we’ll see a big improvement from him this season. When the Huskies play against teams that want to pound the ball down our throat (think Stanford, LSU, and Utah) I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hudson move over and share time with Crichton, leaving this space for Tokolahi and Potoa’e Before I move on, keep an eye on how young these guys are. It’s the same theme as the offensive line, there are a whole lot of sophomores. I think that’s when a good share of guys show the most progress (especially if they’ve red-shirted).
Rush End – Josh Shirley (RS So.)
This is a new position to the defense that many aren’t familiar with. This position, in my mind, is still a part of the defensive line but the player may be standing up more (like a linebacker). The focus of this position is to rush the quarterback so a guy who stands up and rushes off the edge will be playing here. Josh Shirley is that guy. He came to U-Dub after being kicked off the UCLA team a couple of weeks after he went to school there. It turned out that the incident wasn’t a big deal and after a red-shirt year and a solid freshman campaign, people are expecting big things from Shirley. This position was essentially made for him and he should be solid in it. He’s a little undersized to be considered a conventional defensive end but his quickness is what will scare teams. He had a great game against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl and looks to continue that going forward. Don’t be surprised if once in a while he isn’t rushing, but will stand up and drop into coverage. That probably won’t happen much but it will enough times to make the quarterback think of it.
5 Others To Watch: DE – Pio Vatuvei (Fr.), N/DT – Semisi Tokolahi (RS Sr.), NT – Lawrence Lagafuaina (RS So.), DE/T – Sione Potoa’e (Jr.), RE – Connor Cree (RS Fr.)
Pio Vatuvei will probably be slowly mixed into the rotation. He is a freshman that flipped from USC to U-Dub late last year in the recruiting game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had an impact like Hau’oli Jamora did his freshman year. If he does, that would be a huge boost to this Husky defensive line. Semisi Tokolahi was great in 2010. He was one of the best lineman on the team and then he broke his leg in the Apple Cup and never made it all the way back last year. I expect him to start (or play a lot) against running teams. I’ve read from many places that he looks fully recovered from the injury. Lawrence Lagafuaina is another big guy who could fill the middle. He’s got a few guys in front of him on the depth chart but he’ll be used in goal line packages to stop the run. Sione Potoa’e is a little bit of a forgotten man. He came to U-Dub as a heralded recruit, and rightfully so. He had to play his true freshman year and that may have hurt his development or confidence. He still has the makings of a very good player. He’s another guy I’d expect to see in against running teams quite a bit. This is the most quality depth the Huskies have had at defensive tackle in quite some time. I expect to see Connor Cree in on special teams more than anything else. He is built like Josh Shirley and could be valuable rushing off the edge.
Thanks for reading!