Returning Players: Connor Cree (RS-Fr), Talia Chricton (Sr), Jarrett Finau (RS-Fr), Andrew Hudson (So), Hau'oli Jamora (So), Lawrence Lagafuaina (So), Sione Potoa'e (Jr), Drew Schultz (So), Danny Shelton (So), Josh Shirley (So), Semisi Tokolahi (Sr), Taniela Tupou (RS-Fr), Corey Waller (RS-Fr)
Additions: Kalei Auelua, Josh Banks (JUCO), Corey Littleton, Damion Turpin, Pio Vatuvei
The play of the defensive line has been, at best, uneven for the Huskies over the past however many years. For every dominating performance (Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl) there have been countless embarrassments (Stanford and Baylor last season).
When Coach Sarkisian talks about how the team finally has the depth they need to compete every week, I have to believe that defensive line is one of the main positions he's talking about. I mean, look at all those returning names. Those aren't a bunch of scrubs, you've got players who have already been very productive, flashed potential, or were very highly rated coming out of high school. And there are some guys who could contribute immediately in their first year in the program as well (Banks, Vatuvei).
Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism about this young and talented group is that they have a young and talented coach to bring them along. For all the praise Tosh Lupoi gets as a recruiter, his players on the defensive line have been equally impressive at times. He does a good job of maximizing the potential of his players, which is something not seen at the University of Washington in a long time.
Many pundits are expecting a big season from Danny Shelton, and his play will be key. He's a wide body who will be relied on to occupy blockers and allow the linebackers behind him to run free and make plays, and also keep double teams off of his defensive line mates. He's got the body and potential, and with Ta'amu moving on the opening is there for him to take advantage.
Another guy that everyone is talking about is Josh Shirley, his move to the hybrid end position, and his 8.5 sacks from last year. The position modification should help get him better looks in the pass rush, where he's at his best, but the 8.5 sack number might be a bit misleading. 4.5 of those QB takedowns came against WSU and Baylor, and just 1 was against UW's best opponents. The question that Shirley needs to answer is whether he was simply able to get better pressure when he pinned his ears back without worrying so much about the run, had a favorable matchup, or played an inferior team, or was it that he came on strong at the end of the season and things clicked over the last 4 games, where he had at least 1 sack in each contest and 6.5 in that stretch? Let's hope it's the latter.
The Verdict: Better
If Danny Shelton is the player many hope and think he will be, then the defensive line around him will fall into place. Replacing Alameda Ta'amu is going to be the biggest task for this unit, but even if there's a dropoff there there's enough returning talent that the product should be improved. Jamora's return from injury will instantly elevate the quality of the defensive ends. It might not be a huge improvement (but looking at the players classes, the '14 defensive line should be nasty) but expect the line to be more consistent throughout the upcoming season.