UW Defensive Line | Hard to get a line on this young group
Randy Hart has been through the good and the bad in 21 years as Washington's defensive line coach. From three straight Rose Bowls in the...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Randy Hart has been through the good and the bad in 21 years as Washington's defensive line coach. From three straight Rose Bowls in the early 1990s to the four straight losing seasons of today.
Through it all, however, he's not sure he's seen this — a defensive line with just one player returning who has seen any significant time at that position.
"Off the top of my head I'd say no," he says, when asked if he's ever had this inexperienced of a line. "But I'm sure it's probably happened."
A quick review of UW's depth charts of the past 20 years, however, shows it hasn't. Other than junior defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who has started 24 games the past two years, the Huskies don't have a player who has started a game as a lineman, or made more than two tackles as a lineman.
While some ponder how much it can matter losing three starters off a line from a defense that was one of the worst in school history, Hart doesn't downplay the lack of experience.
"It's always a big deal," he said. "You always like to have experience. It's the one thing you can't manufacture. You can get them strength. But the only way to get experience is to get on the field. You can do a lot of things [in practice], but until you get in a game you don't know what is going to happen. But if you don't have it [experience], you don't have it."
The lack of experience, however, could mean a lot of shuffling on a line that has been fairly static the past few years. Three players started all 13 games last season, and another 12. And three started 10 or more games in each of the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
Hart surveys what he has this year and says "there is nobody cast in concrete."
Te'o-Nesheim, he concedes, is basically a sure thing. But after that, Hart says just about anything could happen, and that even when starters are named, there figures to be a lot of rotating as coaches sort for the right combinations.
"It's about getting the best 11 players on the field and finding the best roles for everyone," he said. "Everyone is a role player."
If UW played a game today, the starters would be Te'o-Nesheim and junior Darrion Jones, a converted linebacker, at ends (with redshirt freshmen Tyrone Duncan and Kalani Aldrich in the mix as reserves), with sophomore Cameron Elisara and either redshirt freshmen Nick Wood or sophomore De'Shon Matthews at tackle. Matthews, moved from end in the spring, is said to have gained 20 pounds or so and is now in the 275 range.
The Huskies were counting on potentially getting contributions from their four incoming freshman defensive linemen — tackles Craig Noble and Alameda Ta'amu and ends Everrette Thompson and Senio Kelemete. Noble and Kelemete, however, are still battling academic issues and it's uncertain when they will be available, and Ta'amu is nursing a foot injury dating to last season at Rainier Beach High.
Hart, though, says that depending on their availability, he could still see all four playing this season.
"I'm not sure if we can afford to redshirt any of them," he said. "I'm not going to rule out any of them. There are three byes [in UW's schedule] this season, so that's a 15-week season. So the way it starts probably won't be the way it finishes."
Due in part to his size, the 348-pound Ta'amu looms as one of the most likely candidates to play immediately. He said Wednesday he suffered a hairline fracture of the fourth metatarsal last fall and is still recovering.
"Right now it's in pretty good shape," he said. "I just have to make sure I don't do anything to mess it up."
Another intriguing tackle candidate is senior Johnie Kirton, moved from tight end in the spring. But asked about Kirton, Hart repeats a familiar refrain. "He's doing good, but he needs experience," Hart said. "We've got to get him on the field."
If there's a silver lining, Hart believes that the defensive line is one of the easiest positions to adjust to mentally, with fewer responsibilities to remember than others, and less exposure when things go wrong — a likely possibility with nine freshmen or sophomores among the 13 scholarship players at the position.
"Most of the time, you've got some help," he said. "If you screw it up, it's not a touchdown. There are still two levels of defense in back of you. People don't know sometimes that the guy who screwed up is up front."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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UPDATE - 10:18 PM
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