Season Grades 2012 - Defensive Line

Rush End Josh Shirley - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As part of our continuing series looking back at the 2012 Husky football season, we examine the performance of the defensive line.

The 2012 season saw a marked transformation in the Washington defense. With basically an all-new defensive staff came different schemes, a more aggressive approach and, most importantly, greatly improved results. The secondary and linebacker groups both experienced significant improvements. What about the final component, the defensive line? Well...

Kirk: While the defense as a whole experienced a significant uptick in 2012, the defensive line did not - if anything, they regressed. I'm not putting much blame on the defensive staff, as graduation took away a gifted run-plugger in Alameda Ta'amu and a steady and versatile DE/3-tech in Everrette Thompson, and injury claimed Ha'oli Jamora in fall camp (another ACL tear to the same knee he hurt in 2011) and Lawrence Lagafuaina in practice prior to the Stanford game. As more guys went down along the way, including true Fr. DE Pio Vatuvei and JC transfer DT Josh Banks, the staff resorted to trying stud TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins at DE on passing downs, moving over true frosh OL Shane Brostek to DT and even started walk-on DT Drew Schultz vs. Utah.

While they had their moments - most notably against Stanford - they were few and far between. Too often opposing offenses were able to easily push aside our DL to spring running backs into the second level with little to no resistance, and pass rush from the line was poor. On a good defense the line makes the secondary look good by giving the opposing QB little time to throw; in the case of the Huskies, most of their sacks came because the secondary gave the DL several seconds to find their way to the QB.

Danny Shelton was the best of the bunch, but the true Sophomore struggled with inconsistency and immaturity. Without Ta'amu next to him to occupy two blockers, it was Shelton getting double-teamed, and he simply wasn't ready to counteract that effectively, nor were the guys lined up next to Shelton able to take advantage of the attention given to Shelton. Danny also had too many lapses where he lost his cool or committed penalties that made you slap your forehead in frustration. Andrew Hudson was solid, but he's still an undersized guy with average speed. He still has two more years to improve his technique, but he's probably not All-Conference material. Talia Crichton was OK at the point of attack vs. the run, but provided almost no rush skills. Josh Shirley was perhaps the biggest disappointment - he was unable to build off of strong momentum to close the 2011 season, and the new staff struggled to find opportunities for him to succeed. He's still too small to hold up vs. the run, and while he's quick around the edge, he's still basically a one-trick pony. Pio Vatuvei was good enough to force his way into the 2-deeps, but didn't distinguish himself on the field and then got hurt - if only the staff had felt they could afford to redshirt him.

With a very talented crop of true freshmen signed for the 2013 class, there's hope that the DL will turn from liability into strength soon. But for the 2012 season, they were more bad than good.

Grade: C-

Ryan Priest: It’s tough to argue that the Husky defensive line didn't take a step back in 2012, which can likely be attributed to injuries that sidelined players like ends Hau'oli Jamora and Pio Vatuvei and tackle Lawrence Lagafuaina for most (if not all) of the year. After a breakout redshirt freshman season in which he totaled a conference-high 8.5 sacks, Josh Shirley found himself stymied by opposing linemen who successfully negated his speed-rush move and effectively neutered him for much of the season, as he registered his only multi-sack game against conference doormat Colorado. Fellow redshirt sophomore Andrew Hudson lived up to his billing as a promising young player, tallying 6.5 sacks and 9.0 tackles for loss; his continued improvement will be a big factor in allowing Justin Wilcox some flexibility in deciding how much playing time 2013 signees Jojo Mathis, Marcus Farria and/or Elijah Qualls see as true freshman in the upcoming season. On the interior, monster sophomore tackle Danny Shelton put his 317-pound frame to good use, demanding double-teams from opposing linemen and generally acting as UW's most reliable wrecking ball. For all those superlatives, though, this is still the front line of a defense that allowed its opponents to score on 86 percent of their trips into the red zone (10th in the conference), which is a number that is going to have to improve markedly if the Huskies are to legitimately compete for a conference championship in 2013.

Grade: B-

Jack Follman: Good against the run but atrocious against the pass. Their inability to generate any kind of pass rush ended up being the Huskies biggest weakness on defense.

Grade: C-

Jeffrey Gorman: Outside of the hiring of Steve Sarkisian, poaching DL Coach Tosh Lupoi from Cal was the biggest coaching hire made at the UW in a long while. While at Cal, Lupoi made a name for himself as one of the nation's finest recruiters and used his incredible ability to connect with young people to bring in some of the best playmakers around the country to Cal. Beyond that, he has a great record of sending quality defensive linemen into the NFL. Tosh's story is very interesting, and he has always been cited for his unyielding work ethic, from his days as a walk-on at Cal, to currently on the recruiting trail. So, why all the Lupoi love? It is because the defensive line performed below expectations this season, because it didn't have top talent. And plus, it's always nice to remind yourself what you do have.

The defensive line was easily the weakest unit on the defense. They improved from last season, especially against the run coming in at 60th in run defense this season. The development of NT Danny Shelton had a lot to do with that, as he is the only true big-bodied defensive tackle left on the team. He came in 7th on the team in tackles, and DE/DT Andrew Hudson was in 6th. They were the only 2 DL in top 10 on the team in tackles, and ideally you would like a few more than that. Both Hudson, and DE Josh Shirley were tops on the team in tackles for loss at 9 and sacks at 6.5. Both those numbers need to increase if the defensive line is to improve. Shirley also was not on the field as much this season as in the past, because DC Justin Wilcox prefers bigger bodies at DE, and his 3-4 system works better with bigger ends. Shirley is a pure speed edge rusher, with a very limited arsenal of counter moves to get past offensive linemen. Granted, he is very good at his one speed rush, but I wouldn't expect to see much more of him of in anything but obvious passing downs while the staff works to develop the new breed of defensive ends.

The line made some gains against the run, mostly due to the development of Danny Shelton, who looks like he could be one of the best defensive tackles in the Pac-12 by next season. The pass rush was nothing short of terrible last season, and having DE Hau'oli Jamora come back healthy would provide a pass rushing boost. Though, after two ACL tears, you can never be too sure. Don't be surprised to see players like DE Joe Mathis, DE Marcus Farria, and DT Elijah Qualls play some as freshman, as they fit the big and physical mold of defensive lineman Lupoi and the staff love. Definitely lots of work needs to be done on the defensive line, especially addressing the pass rush. But, as Tosh Lupoi has shown throughout his career, and even this past season, his defensive lines play hard and physical, and can dominant when he's got his own recruits playing for him.

Grade: C-

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