Returning Players: Connor Cree (So), Jarrett Finau (So), Andrew Hudson (Jr), Evan Hudson (Jr), Hau'oli Kikaha (Jr), Josh Shirley (Jr)
Losses: Pio Vatuvei, Corey Waller
Additions: Marcus Farria, Joe Mathis
The production at defensive end, by the numbers, has been pretty decent over the past couple of years. Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson combined for 13 sacks last season, while Shirley alone has accumulated 14.5 in his first two years and has a shot at becoming UW's all time sack leader.
The problem has been that the position has been something of an all or nothing proposition. The defensive ends either get their occasional sack, or they get stonewalled on the line and provide almost no pressure at all. In Shirley's case, this can be largely attributed to his size; once the tackle he's going up against gets his hands on Josh and locks in, Shirley lacks the size and strength to rip through the pass protector. In Hudson's case, it can also largely be attributed to his size, but it's because he played much of last season on the interior and unable to take advantage of his speed and quickness to its full extent.
Heading into 2013, the depth at DE looks to be as good as it has been at UW in a long while. Even with the sudden loss of Pio Vatuvei to dismissal, the position goes deep on both sides. The rush end spot again comes down to a competition between Josh Shirley and Cory Littleton, though both may be eclipsed by Kikaha. Andrew Hudson is embroiled in competition with spring standout Connor Cree and former tight end Evan Hudson. Depending on the health of the interior linemen, Hudson and Cree will again be rotated in there, though ideally only on passing downs. Evan Hudson may win a starting spot on the defensive line, and I don't think anyone knows what to think of this.
The big question will be how much guys like Kikaha, Mathis and Farria contribute. Kikaha had All Conference potential in his first year and change of playing, but that was almost two entire seasons ago. Mathis has been doing great in preseason practices and Farria has a ton of potential. But would the production created by these true freshmen be better than the team could get from older guys, and if it's only for a few plays a game, is it worth it to burn the redshirt to give them those limited snaps? These questions will likely be answered from the get-go in the matchup with Boise State on August 31st.
The Verdict: Better. Everyone of consequence is back, a past key contributor is back and appears healthy, and two potential stud freshmen have been added to the mix. This group should be improved, and if there are some guys who haven't gotten better, there seems to be enough depth to get those guys out of there and plug in someone who has improved over the offseason.