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Spring Position Preview: The D-Line

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Tuli and Taki is now Tuli and friends

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

For the Washington Husky defensive staff, recruiting defensive lineman was not a big issue during the Jimmy Lake era. Studs like Danny Shelton, Vita Vea, Greg Gaines and Levi Onwuzurike came to UW with solid accolades, and each exceeded those stars next to their name on the 247 sports site during their Husky careers.

Highly rated talent has continued to enter the program, but the results have not been as good for the three and four star defensive linemen joining the Huskies in the past few classes.

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2021: Not Great

The defensive line play in 2021 was all over the place. The Huskies were among the worst in the Pac-12 at stopping the run, and while it was often the LBs getting lost (or sucked inside), or DBs whiffing (or taking lousy angles), it all starts with plugging the gaps inside, shedding blockers, and getting some damn PUSH.

When I look back at games from 2021 (ouch) the only defensive lineman you see standing up linemen and pushing his way into the backfield was Tuli Letuligasanoa (#91). That’s a far cry from Vea and Gaines pushing back two guys at a time.

Letuligasanoa is certainly the budding star on this D-Line unit, but the cupboard is far from bare for new Defensive Line Coach Inoke Breckterfield to work from. Some guys splashed a bit last season, while some guys we have been waiting to see have not shown they’re ready for extended game action

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Key Departures and Additions

Departures: Sam (Taki) Taimani - Transferred to Oregon

How much will UW miss Taimani? That remains to be seen. His PFF grades are not bad, nor are they great. He was among the highest in defensive snap count, yet one of the lowest in pressures. His run stopping grades were fine, but one thing Taimani rarely did was make an impact play. Taki falls under the classification of “He was the best we had healthy at his position.” It’s always an overly-optimistic reach to say there were better players than the guy who played regularly; because if there were, they would have played more, regardless of how bad Lake and his staff were.

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Additions: Freshman twins Jayvon and Armon Parker were plucked by Kalen Deboer and his staff from Fordson HS in Dearborn, MI. The two under-the-radar 3-star linemen are both in the 6’3” 290ish range. We just don’t know anything about these guys, other than the fact that UW was their best offer (Armon had an offer from Illinois, Jayvon had zero other P5 offers).

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Defensive Line Roster

Ulumoo Ale, 6’6” 355 Rs JR

Jacob Bandes, 6’2” 295 Rs SO

Draco Bynum, 6’4” 280 Rs JR

Siaosi Finau, 6’3” 315 Rs FR

Tuli Letuligasenoa, 6’2” 300 Rs JR

Bradley McGannon, 6’4” 280 Rs FR (Walkon)

Noa Ngalu, 6’1” 275 Rs SO

Armon Parker, 6’3” 284 FR

Jayvon Parker, 6’3” 296 FR

Kuao Peihopa, 6’3” 300 Rs FR

Brody Reese, 6’1” 310 Rs FR (Walkon)

Faatui Tuitele, 6’3” 305 Rs SO

Voi Tunuufi, NT 6’1” 275 SO


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The Rotation

Well, with spring ball opening next week, we can preface all this talk of the “rotation” by saying that someone will probably freak us out on day one of camp by not being healthy. Maybe we get lucky and everyone is ready to go, but don’t count on it.

The defensive line is anchored by Tuli Letuligasenoa (#91), who enters his FIFTH season with the Huskies (that’s crazy). After earning All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention in 2021, Tuli looks to continue to improve. He needs to focus a bit more on his responsibilities to become a better run defender, but his power and burst make him a disruptive force that can put an opponent in long yardage and kill drives. Letuligasenoa stayed healthy last season after not getting much action during the 2020 shortened season due to injury. Tuli got his feet wet as true frosh, then in 2019 became part of the regular defensive tackle rotation, playing in 12 of 13 games. It’s a long list of names that look to work beside Letuligasenoa on the UW defensive front, and there is no shortage of highly recruited players vying for that playing time.

Faatui Tuitele (#99) a 6-foot-3, 305-pound redshirt Sophomore from Honolulu was the top player in Hawaii in 2019, and was a huge get for UW after offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Texas, and pretty much everyone else. His upside is terrific, and Tuitele was playing increasingly well until getting injured and missing the final three games. Getting closer to 100% healthy is the key for this big fella, as he has battled some injury bugs throughout his career.

Voi Tunuufi (#90) picked up the Husky defensive scheme and was executing it well enough to find himself on the field a lot as a true freshman. So, if you are looking for someone who will be able to learn William Inge’s defense and be ready to contribute, Tunuufi is that kind of quick-study player. He had some great moments last season, and the former 3-star from Salt Lake City is an explosive man at 280 lbs.

Jacob Bandes (#96) —who was rated (10) one spot behind Tuitele (9) in the 2019 national recruiting rankings at DT— has played in every game the past two seasons. Bandes was fourth in total defensive snaps a season ago among the returning DTs, logging just 21 less plays than Tunuufi. While he didn’t make a ton of noise, his PFF rankings (67) were better than Tunuufi (45) or Tuitele (54).

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The Rest

The four players above return with by far the most experience, and boast strong enough credentials to be the assumed rotation at the defensive line position. But with a new staff, and a ton of improvement needed, things are wide open for competition.

Ulumoo Ale (#68) has everyone intrigued, mostly because of his monstrous size. When I heard he was moving to defense, my first thought was not “Oh good, the next Vita Vea,” it was, “Oh shit, who’s hurt?”

There’s not much to analyze about Ale as a NT, other than it would be thrilling to hear he is cracking the two deeps.

Draco Bynum (#59), like Tuli Letuligasenoa, is entering his fifth year with the Huskies. Unlike Tuli, Bynum has not seen the field much at all. He is in danger of getting completely buried in depth, as freshman Kuao Peihopa (#98) & sophomore Noa Ngalu (#92) both received more playing time than the RS junior Bynum did a year ago. Siaosi Finau (#93), a Hawaii native and Renton HS star, redshirted a season ago and did not play at all.

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