UW spring football preview: How will UW replace Vita Vea? It starts with Greg Gaines


With Greg Gaines back for his senior season to anchor the unit, the line appears to be in at worst good shape going into the spring, even with Vea’s departure for the NFL.

The Huskies’ Sept. 1 season opener against Auburn is a mere 162 days away, and another season of great anticipation inches closer with the start of spring practices on Wednesday. We continue a daily series of spring position previews here with a look at the defensive line.

Who’s back
Defensive end

Jaylen Johnson, sr., 6-3, 294
Benning Potoa’e, jr., 6-3, 275
Jason Scrempos, jr., 6-6, 292
Jarryn Bush, so., 6-1, 257*

Nose tackle
Greg Gaines, sr., 6-2, 313
Shane Bowman, sr., 6-4, 288
Josiah Bronson, jr., 6-3, 292*

Defensive tackle
Levi Onwuzurike, so., 6-3, 283
Jared Pulu, jr., 6-4, 283*
John Clark, jr., 6-4, 275*

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Who’s out
Vita Vea, graduated
Ricky McCoy, transferring

Summer arrivals
Draco Bynum, fr., 6-4, 258
Tuli Letuligasenoa, fr., 6-1, 338
Mosiah Nasili-Liu, fr., 6-2, 281
Sam Taimani, fr., 6-2, 320

SPRING OUTLOOK: Vita Vea is just weeks away from a major payday as a potential top-10 pick in the NFL draft. The Pac-12 defensive player of the year will be the single-most difficult player to replace on the UW roster because … well, because you just don’t replace dudes like that. (Sidenote, as we get closer to the draft, could be fun to Vea’s place among UW’s all-time great defensive linemen. Is he among your top four? There’s a lot of worthy candidates.) And yet, even with Vea’s departure, the line appears to be in at worst good shape going into the spring. Greg Gaines, after himself considering a jump to the NFL in December, is back for his senior season to anchor a line that last season helped the Huskies rank second nationally against the run (2.86 yards per carry). Gaines, a second-team all-Pac-12 selection, was limited late last season while trying to play through a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his knee, which kept him out of all but a few snaps in the Fiesta Bowl. Also back in the rotation are senior Jaylen Johnson, junior Benning Potoa’e, senior Shane Bowman, sophomore Levi Onwuzurike and junior Jared Pulu.

BIGGEST QUESTION: Where does the pass rush come from?

This was the No. 1 question about the defense last year … and the year before that … and the year before that … and, well, maybe at this point we should just stop questioning Pete Kwiatkowski. Because whoever the Huskies have, or don’t have, to pressure the quarterback, Kwiatkowski almost always seems to come up with an answer to manufacture a good-to-great pass rush. Case in point: Ryan Bowman, a walk-on redshirt freshman outside linebacker who started three games, was the Huskies’ sack leader last fall with 5.5 of them. That is in no way intended to slight Bowman — who had a tremendous breakthrough season that should earn him a scholarship this year — but also shows that caliber of the athlete isn’t necessarily the most vital aspect of what Kwiatkowski has been doing up front. Even without one true elite pass-rusher, the Huskies ranked second in the Pac-12 last fall with 3.0 sacks per game — up from 2.86 sacks during UW’s 2016 Pac-12 championship season. For fans, defense is fun and exciting to watch when there’s one dominant edge rusher, a la Hau’oli Kikaha, who you know is capable of getting to the quarterback on every passing down. But at this point, the Huskies’ scheme calls for more of a team pass rush, with limited blitzes, and you can on that showing up again this year.

KEY STAT: 3.5

Onwuzurike had 3.5 tackles for loss, including 2.0 sacks, in 12 games as a redshirt freshman last season. His ceiling might be the highest of anyone on the UW defensive line.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Onwuzurike is an obvious candidate here. Johnson is less obvious but his presence might be even more important this year. A senior, Johnson is one of the most respected leaders on the defense. He has battled injuries throughout his career and it’s fair to say he hasn’t reached his potential yet. He should be able to hold down one side of the line this fall, and it’s not unreasonable to think he could double his 3.5 sacks from last season.





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