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Washington Huskies Spring Football: Defensive Linemen

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This could be fun. Or it could be scary. It’ll probably be a bit of both.

Fresno State v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Welcome to our fourth spring practice primer. If you haven’t already, you can catch up on quarterbacks (by the lovely Jeff Gorman), linebackers both inside and out (by the inimitable John Sayler), and wide receivers and tight ends (by some dude named Ryan).

Two spring practices have been played (one is probably underway as you read this) and one of the more intriguing groups, at least as far as I’m concerned, is on the defensive line.

If you’re like me, this group is both one that about which you’re A) somewhat apprehensive and B) very excited. But it’s okay, champ. No need to feel like you have to pick one or the other. Both of those feelings are totally legitimate. Here’s why:

Linemen

As a refresher, here’s the current spring roster of players on the line:

Defensive Linemen

Name Year Height Weight Games Played 2018 TFLs 2018 Sacks
Name Year Height Weight Games Played 2018 TFLs 2018 Sacks
Jacob Bandes Fr 6'2" 307 0 - -
Sama Paama Fr 6'4" 336 0 - -
Tuli Letuligasenoa RFr 6'2" 318 2 0 0
Sam Taimani RFr 6'2" 322 1 0 0
Benning Potoa'e Sr 6'3" 285 40 (at OLB) 6.5 1
Draco Bynum RFr 6'4" 258 0 - -
John Clark Sr 6'4" 280 15 0 0
Josiah Bronson Sr 6'3" 290 12 1 1
Levi Onwuzurike Jr 6'3" 287 26 6.5 3
Noa Ngalu Fr 6'1" 280 0 - -
Faatui Tuitele Fr 6'3" 304 0 - -

Notice something? Like how young and inexperienced the true interior is?

By not taking a 0- or 1-tech in 2015, missing out in 2016 (Levi notwithstanding, since he’s not the kinda guy you’d line up across/by the center), and then having Marlon Tuipulotu late flip to USC in 2017 means Washington went three cycles without bringing in a prototype gap-stuffer. And, since life is unfair, that means we get to feel the effects two, three, and four years later (now).

Some other points of interest:

Benning on the Move

It’s been official for a couple weeks, and now that spring is on, it’s official official: Benning Potoa’e has moved from OLB to a new position, not that it’s the craziest of transitions.

Solely from an outsider’s perspective, whether this move was “inevitable” or not, it seems intuitive and a win-win both for Potoa’e’s skillset and the defensive line’s needs. As an OLB—even with his primary responsibilities being setting the edge and rushing the passer—he always seemed borderline as far as size, or at least like he had to hold back, weight-wise, where there would be potential for a stronger, bigger Benning as he shifts inside.

Now, while the move between the tackles might be where Potoa’e naturally fits better anyway, the fact that the move was born from necessity is an indictment of recruiting that position during the years past. That’s not quite the same problem as the aforementioned three year-long whiffing on 1-tech, 0-tech types, but it’s adjacent and related and is generally stinky. But I digress.

Holy Inexperience, Batman

Speaking of youth and a position being thinner than we’d like: if you haven’t already, may I direct you to the above players chart. Now, if you look really closely, you may just notice that only two guys in this unit have played more than 20 games (and one was Benning, who of course was at another position). Meanwhile, seven guys have played less than ten games, and six of those have played less than five. Luckily, of the two who have contributed significantly, one is Levi Onwuzurike, who is bonafide kickass.

I’m not going to go over the recruiting reasons for that again since I’ve already beaten a dead horse there, but it’s a good reminder of the significance of every recruiting cycle. If you really want to freak out glass-half-empty types, remind them there’s only one player in this entire group who has reliably contributed at his current position. In fact, no matter how optimistic you tend to be, that’s terrifying.

Luckily, the fact is that Onwuzurike is a one-man wrecking crew, Josiah Bronson wasn’t a total scrub last year, and it’s rational to think Potoa’e’s transition will work out pretty alright, plus this one last thing...

The Big Ol’ Reason to be Optimistic

If you were paying attention, all the optimism in that last paragraph was regarding players who A) are multi-year veterans and B) won’t, under normal circumstances, be lining up any further inside than 2-tech-ish. That leaves a pretty huge gap of unproven commodities; if those three are the only proven ones, and they’re lining up where they do, that means, theoretically, Washington has no one to line up from 2i on the left aaaaalll the way to 2i on the right. (Again, cue Stuart Little-types losing their minds.)

Luckily. There’s a huge “but,” which I’m sure we all know about, and I’m preaching to the choir. Namely, that despite there being absolutely no collegiate-proven person taking on that role, the Dawgs have an absolute crapload of pure talent in those areas from the recruiting classes of 2018 and 2019—even if, for the latter, this is one of arguably the top three positions where you want to redshirt guys their freshman year.

From 2018, Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam Taimani played in two games and one, respectively, while Mosiah Nasili-Liu didn’t get any game time but is alarmingly athletic for his size and won the Iron Pup award for hardest working freshman. Through the first two spring practices, Tuli has frequently been on the first-team line, with Taimani primarily being second.

Of the 2019 class, two defensive linemen are enrolled for spring practice—Sama Pa’ama, who physically is Vita Vea 2.0, and Jacob Bandes, who, by my estimation, might be the best interior defensive lineman coming out of high school that Washington’s signed in the 21st century. His hands are crazy. He’s great. The end.

In other words, since the 0-tech and 1-tech position consists solely of true and redshirt freshmen, yeah, there’s gonna be some growing pains. But also, the 2018 and 2019 defensive line class might collectively have the most pure talent that position’s ever seen at UW. This spring’s for getting a glimpse of how quickly they can take that talent and bring it on the field.

That being said, don’t confuse my words; I’m not saying this situation is super great, or that the 2018 and 2019 cycles of killer DT recruiting should be seen as making up for complete dropping of the ball in prior years. I’m just saying that, considering how hard the ball was dropped for three years in a row, this is about as good a situation as Washington could find themselves in. Still though. Let’s hope Malloe keeps that up in recruiting so we never have to rely on freshmen again—no matter how talented.

That’s the main stuff I’ll be looking out for this spring on the defensive line. As always, do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.