DE: Andrew Hudson, RS-Jr.
NT: Danny Shelton, Jr.
DE/DT: Evan Hudson, RS-Jr.
Rush: Hau'oli Kikaha (Jamora), RS-Jr.
DE: JoJo Mathis, Fr.; Jarrett Finau, RS-So.
On a defense that made significant strides last year under new DC Justin Wilcox and all new position coaches, the DL was the weak link. Aside from a remarkable performance against Stanford, they were often pushed around when defending the run and unable to generate adequate pass rush. They weren't terrible, but they were certainly not a strength. With virtually all of that group returning and bolstered by the return of Kikaha and Lagafuaina from injury, the move of Evan Hudson from TE and the addition of three highly rated freshmen, this should be a group that shows improvement this year.
The anchor of the group - both figuratively and literally - is massive NT Danny Shelton. A terrific physical specimen with size, strength and surprising quickness, he has the tools to be a high draft pick, possibly as early as this coming Spring if he can put it all together for the Huskies in 2013. He still needs to work on providing consistent effort and keeping his emotions in check, but he gives the Huskies the building block every DL needs in the middle.
Next to him are the Hudson boys. Andrew is an effort guy that saw a lot of time playing inside the tackles last year; the hope is that he can focus more on playing the edge this year where his size isn't a liability and build on his team co-leading 6.5 sacks from last year. Evan was a revelation in Fall camp after moving over from TE - he gives the team a physical dimension they didn't have before with his length, measuring 6'5" and a robust 277 lbs. His position is likely to be listed as "DE", but he'll generally play between a 3-technique and a 5-technique with the Rush end flanking him. Look for him to cause a few tips and passes batted down with his long arms.
Maybe the most interesting battle has been at the Rush end spot. That was already a heated battle between Shirley, the primary starter at the position last year, and Littleton who impressed coaches enough to burn his redshirt and get the start vs. Oregon. But it's been the vet Kikaha who has quietly impressed, working his way back from two knee injuries and in a position to reclaim a starting job.
Also impressing has been true frosh Mathis at DE, pushing Andrew Hudson for reps and making it impossible to consider redshirting him. He has terrific size and tenacity and had one of the more impressive recruiting films I've seen in a while. The other heralded frosh - Marcus Farria and Elijah Qualls - have had moments in practices, but could be headed for redshirts.
While there is quantity here, the question is the quality - Potoa'e and Banks are in their final years, and while both have flashed at times, neither has shown consistent ability. Lagafuaina is coming off a knee injury, and hadn't done a whole lot when healthy. Getting quality reps out of him would be huge in that it would alleviate concerns about what the defense would do if Shelton had to miss significant time. Finau and Tupou are entering their third year in the program, and need to show something soon or find themselves at risk of getting pushed out. Cree has had his moments the past two years in camp, but has yet to put it together in games. Turpin is coming off a redshirt and will have his first real opportunity to show what he can do, but is still undersized.
One thing to keep in mind with this unit is Wilcox has shown a willingness to use multiple fronts and alignments. You could see jumbo lines with Kikaha and A. Hudson flanking Shelton and Lagafuaina, and you could see quick lines with Littleton & Shirley flanking A. Hudson and Potoa'e. Aside from Shirley and Littleton, you could see any of the ends playing inside at times, and you could see alignments where Potoa'e is lined up in 0 technique with Shelton at the 3 technique.
There are big question marks here, but also a lot of upside and a potentially really bright future.