Washington Huskies

Huskies plan to rotate defensive line more frequently this season

Huskies’ third-year sophomore Elijah Qualls has stepped into the starting nose tackle position vacated by Danny Shelton.
Huskies’ third-year sophomore Elijah Qualls has stepped into the starting nose tackle position vacated by Danny Shelton. Staff photographer

Washington’s second-string defensive linemen did see the field some last season, but with an all-senior starting lineup anchored by first-round NFL draft pick Danny Shelton, defensive line coach Jeff Choate didn’t need to make as many substitutions.

He plans to rotate personnel a little more liberally this year.

“We’re going to be a little bit more ‘hockey shift’ style,” Choate said. “We’re going to try and get those guys to play at an elite level for three to seven snaps and roll guys in. We’re probably not going to ask our nose (tackle) to play 80 snaps like Danny did against Hawaii a year ago.”

Elijah Qualls, a third-year sophomore, has stepped into the starting nose tackle position that Shelton occupied last season. Qualls is joined in the starting lineup by junior Joe Mathis and fifth-year senior Taniela Tupou, though Choate said he plans to rotate about eight players along the defensive line.

Qualls, for one, said he’s fine with “knowing that I can go full out for four, five, six plays, and I (don’t) have to worry about tapping out because I know that whoever is coming in for me is going to be able to make something happen and, if not just full out make plays, then at least hold their own.”

Redshirt freshmen Greg Gaines and Vita Vea will also try to help compensate for the loss of Shelton in the middle, while sophomore Will Dissly, redshirt freshmen Jaylen Johnson and Shane Bowman, fifth-year senior Jarett Finau and fourth-year junior Damion Turpin could be a part of the rotation, too.

“We were so young in the back end a year ago and had all this experience up front,” Choate said, referring to UW’s inexperienced secondary and seasoned front seven. “Now it’s kind of filtered throughout the defense, so I think there could be more steady play.”


Darren Gardenhire, a sophomore cornerback, spent most of preseason camp practicing with the No. 1 defense. But when the Huskies released their first depth chart of the season on Sunday, junior Kevin King was listed alongside Gardenhire with an “or” between the two players’ names, apparently meaning either one could start Friday against Boise State.

Did King close the gap?

“Both guys have played awesome,” defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. “There’s really no closing the gap. It’s real similar to last year’s situation. We opened up in Hawaii, we had a lot of guys that played pretty well and now we have to see who’s going to play as a starter when it’s a real football game, not when it’s spring football, not when it’s fall practice.

“I think as we move forward into the season, it’s going to sort itself out. Who’s playing better? Who’s not playing as good? Or, which I believe is going to happen, is we have a lot of guys that can play really good football. We’re going to see more guys rotating in this season just because our depth is a lot better than it was a season ago.”