Pre-Spring Outlook - Defensive Line

Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (Dawgman.com)

SEATTLE - Washington Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell was less than two days into his new job when he was asked a seemingly basic question; would he be using the 4-3 or 3-4 as his base defense? Well, given the fact that he only has eight scholarshipped players returning along the defensive line, it should be an easy question to answer. Or is it?

Clearly Donatell's first responsibility as the Huskies' new DC is to evaluate the talent he has on hand and create the package that best utilizes that talent. He'll have 15 practices this spring to get an even better idea of what he has and how he can use it.

Defensive Tackle

Jovon O'Connor* 6-5 290 Sr. Los Angeles, Calif. (Los Angeles)
Cameron Elisara* 6-2 275 So. Spokane, Wash. (Ferris)
Nick Wood* 6-2 275 Fr. Poway, Calif. (Poway)
Tyrone Duncan* 6-2 285 Fr. Westlake Village, Calif. (Westlake)

+ Walk-on
* Has utilized redshirt season

At first glance, the graduation of Jordan Reffett, Wilson Afoa and Erick Lobos appear to be crushing blows to a group sorely lacking in experience. You look at the returners: only one has played ever (Cameron Elisara), one has been on the team four years without sniffing the field (Jovon O'Connor), and the other two were both injured for either part or all of 2007 (Nick Wood and Tyrone Duncan). That's about as rough as it gets.

Regardless of whether 3-4 or 4-3 makes the most sense to Donatell, this much seems abundantly clear heading into spring - at least on paper; the Washington Huskies don't have a run-stopper. They don't have that center-clogging, two-gap behemoth needed to really make a true 3-4 tick. Yet they will be getting exactly that this fall in Alameda Ta'amu. Add to the mix three big athletes in Senio Kelemete, Craig Noble and Everrette Thompson, and you'd think a switch to a 3-4 base would make sense now. A 3-4 could also make a lot of sense because you have 10 linebackers that are either on scholarship or have game experience - so there are definitely arguments to be made in that direction.

The best the Huskies can hope for here this spring is that Elisara continues to progress, O'Connor comes out of nowhere to provide helpful minutes ala Lobos, and both Wood and Duncan are at 100 percent health and can contribute to the mix. Otherwise, the UW coaches are going to be counting on first-year players at tackle - never a good sign.

Defensive End

Daniel Te'o-Nesheim* 6-4 260 Jr. Waikoloa, Hawai'i (HPA)
Darrion Jones* 6-3 255 Jr. Lynwood, Calif. (Lynwood)
De'Shon Matthews* 6-4 255 So. Sacramento, Calif. (Laguna Creek)
Kalani Aldrich* 6-7 244 Fr. Hilo, Hawai'i (Kamehameha-Hawai'i)
Pete Galbraith+* 6-2 230 Fr. Deming, Wash. (Mount Baker)
Conrad Remington+* 6-0 235 Fr. Omaha, Neb. (Omaha North)

+ Walk-on
* Has utilized redshirt season

So while the 3-4 certainly could fit the personnel the Huskies will have in the fall, the question is; what do you do right now? What do Donatell and UW DL Coach Randy Hart hope to accomplish with the group they have going into April?

Well, the good news is that Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is back. He's the fourth-leading tackler of those returning, and he led the team in tackles for loss with 15 and sacks with 8.5. He is the heart and soul of this front, and they will go as he goes. Don't be surprised if Te'o-Nesheim earns some All-Pac-10 mention by the end of 2008, he's that talented.

The bad news is that the players that were second and third in sacks - Greyson Gunheim and Caesar Rayford, respectively - have graduated. And the worse news? The backups behind Te'o-Nesheim - Darrion Jones and De'Shon Matthews - have played a total of seven games in their careers to this point.

But the upside here is that there's athletes at this position, and Jones, Matthews and Kalani Aldrich all have a chance to prove to Donatell, Hart and UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham that they can pull their weight no matter what front the Huskies' coaching staff ends up using as their base. All three have the capability of playing as pure rush ends in a 4-3 and also have the requisite size to be a disrupting factor when the Huskies jump into their nickel, dime and penny packages. This was Te'o-Nesheim's calling card last year, and could be for one of the younger Dawgs if they take their opportunity and run with it.

So back to the question... 4-3 or 3-4? What was Donatell's answer? He said that they'd use both, and frankly any other front needed to get the most out of the talent available. So for those taking the time to visit practices this spring, watch the line.

Will they try to use the size and athleticism they have at end to dominate their thinking, or will they have to wait out to see if one or more of the younger tackles emerges from the depth to play a major role inside?

Another question to ponder this spring is the leadership of Te'o-Nesheim. Because of Reffett and Gunheim, the junior end didn't need to use his voice in 2007; he led solely, and effectively, by example.

But the 2008 Washington defensive line is a totally different animal, and this group is going to need Te'o-Nesheim to take more of central leadership role. How he steps up to that challenge - vocally and otherwise - will be an interesting development. The best thing that could happen for the Huskies is if those underneath Te'o-Nesheim pick up his intense work habit and irrepressible demeanor as he explodes off the line.

Needless to say, Donatell's job figuring out the Huskies' front won't be solved by Spring Game. In fact, I'd wager he'll have more questions leaving April than he did going into camp.

But given the overall lack of numbers across the line this spring, every player there should be afforded an ample opportunity to shine, and then some. And if you're looking to make an impression on a new defensive coordintor, that's all you can ask for.

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