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Sports >  UW football

Analysis: Reassessing UW Huskies’ defensive depth chart ahead of spring game

UPDATED: Fri., April 29, 2022

Washington defensive back Alex Cook (5) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.   (Associated Press)
Washington defensive back Alex Cook (5) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.  (Associated Press)
Mike Vorel Seattle Times

Fourteen practices later, how much has changed?

Before UW hosts its annual “Spring Preview” at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, let’s reassess the Huskies’ defensive depth chart — including an array of inexperienced defensive linemen, an ongoing competition at cornerback and a consistent set of safety starters.

Defensive line

Tuli Letuligasenoa, jr., 6-1, 313, Concord, Calif.

Voi Tunuufi, soph., 6-1, 275, South Jordan, Utah

Faatui Tuitele, soph., 6-3, 308, Honolulu

Draco Bynum, jr., 6-4, 282, Wilsonville, Ore.

Noa Ngalu, soph., 6-2, 299, East Palo Alto, Calif.

Armon Parker, fr., 6-3, 284, Detroit*

***

Kuao Peihopa, rs. fr., 6-3, 304, Makakilo, Hawaii

Jacob Bandes, soph., 6-2, 295, Pittsburg, Calif.

Ulumoo Ale, jr., 6-6, 344, Tacoma

Siaosi Finau, rs. fr., 6-3, 266, Maui, Hawaii

Jayvon Parker, fr., 6-3, 296, Detroit*

(Asterisks denote players who have yet to arrive on campus.)

Analysis: This position group features a lot of names, and precious little experience.

The mainstay, of course, is fifth-year junior Tuli Letuligasenoa — who has produced 64 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 27 career games. But can the 6-foot-1, 313-pounder elevate his game to an all-conference level?

It’s unclear who else will occupy the interior of UW’s defensive line. Redshirt freshman Kuao Peihopa received starting reps throughout most of the spring, and sophomore Voi Tunuufi tied for the team lead with three sacks last fall. Sophomores Faatui Tuitele — who missed the spring with a foot injury — and Jacob Bandes bring some Pac-12 experience as well.

The wild card is 6-6, 344-pound behemoth Ulumoo Ale — who transitioned from the offensive to the defensive line this offseason. Theoretically, Ale’s presence should boost a UW defense that ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (allowing 194 yards per game) in 2021.

Edge

Zion Tupuola-Fetui, jr., 6-4, 241, Pearl City, Hawaii

Sav’ell Smalls, soph., 6-3, 265, Seattle

Jordan Lolohea, soph., 6-1, 249, Salt Lake City

***

Bralen Trice, soph., 6-4, 256, Phoenix

Jeremiah Martin, sr., 6-4, 261, San Bernardino, Calif. (Texas A&M)

Maurice Heims, rs. fr., 6-5, 251, Hamburg, Germany

Lance Holtzclaw, fr., 6-3, 201, Dorchester, Mass.*

Analysis: Eric Schmidt says you need five capable EDGE rushers to be a championship football team.

And, according to UW’s first-year EDGE coach, junior Zion Tupuola-Fetui, sophomore Bralen Trice and senior Jeremiah Martin have established themselves in that rotation. He added, despite Tupuola-Fetui’s obvious pass-rush acumen, Trice has probably been their hardest player to block this spring.

But who rounds out the five?

“Sav’ell Smalls was coming on,” Schmidt said Tuesday. “He’s been hurt here for a little bit. It was something minor. I think he’ll be out here on Saturday. So that’s hurt a little bit with him. But him and (redshirt freshman Maurice) Heims are the next two guys we have to really, really develop and get those guys ready to play for the fall.”

Linebacker

Carson Bruener, soph., 6-2, 224, Woodinville

Edefuan Ulofoshio, jr., 6-1, 230, Anchorage, Alaska

Drew Fowler, soph., 6-1, 218, Bellevue (walk on)

***

Cam Bright, sr., 6-0, 219, Montgomery, Ala. (Pittsburgh) OR

Alphonzo Tuputala, soph., 6-2, 235, Federal Way

Daniel Heimuli, soph., 6-0, 230, East Palo Alto, Calif.

Demario King, jr., 6-3, 203, Los Alamitos, Calif. (Cerritos CC)

Analysis: You know how the Huskies have all those defensive linemen?

They need more linebackers.

Granted, Pittsburgh transfer Cam Bright and legacy sophomore Carson Bruener should form a formidable tandem, and Edefuan Ulofoshio will bring an immediate boost if/when he returns from a significant injury this fall. UW’s staff has been complimentary of sophomore Alphonzo Tuputala as well.

But there’s no denying the Huskies need more bodies at linebacker, and they’ll likely look to further address that need in the transfer portal.

Still, UW’s X-factor at the second level may be co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach William Inge.

“He’s a guy. He’s awesome — one of the better coaches I’ve been around,” Bruener said. “He definitely has developed us in a way where he’ll give us a play and then all these different scenarios, so we’re not out here (focusing on) one responsibility and then left wondering, ‘What if they do this? What if they do this?’ He really breaks down everything and makes sure we know exactly what we have (to do).”

Husky

Dominique Hampton, jr., 6-3, 216, Glendale, Ariz.

Kamren Fabiculanan, soph., 6-1, 189, Camarillo, Calif.

Tristan Dunn, fr., 6-4, 188, Sumner*

Analysis: Dominique Hampton was built to be a hybrid “husky” nickel/linebacker.

At least, that’s the way it looks.

The position — which was brought to Washington by Kalen DeBoer and co-defensive coordinators Inge and Chuck Morrell — asks for a versatile defender to swallow run gaps and occasionally cover tight ends and wide receivers down the field as well.

If Hampton — a 6-3, 216-pound junior — is going to fulfill his athletic potential at UW, this is the ideal position to do it at.

Cornerback

Mishael Powell, soph., 6-1, 203, Seattle

Elijah Jackson, rs. fr., 6-1, 184, Carson, Calif.

Zakhari Spears, rs. fr., 6-2, 184, Los Angeles

Jaivion Green, fr., 6-2, 196, Houston*

***

Jordan Perryman, sr., 6-0, 198, Hanford, Calif. (UC Davis)

Jacobe Covington, soph., 6-1, 198, Chandler, Ariz.

Davon Banks, rs. fr., 5-11, 182, San Jacinto, Calif.

Dyson McCutcheon, rs. fr., 5-11, 181, Claremont, Calif.

Analysis: At this point, there are four primary contenders to start at cornerback: sophomore Mishael Powell, senior UC Davis transfer Jordan Perryman, sophomore Jacobe Covington and redshirt freshman Elijah Jackson. Powell and Perryman appear to be the heir apparents if healthy, but those four should likely all play in some capacity (provided they avoid the transfer portal). Redshirt freshman Davon Banks also enjoyed a strong spring and could theoretically work his way into the rotation as well.

But can that group mirror the production of departed corners Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon, who helped form one of the top pass defenses in the country last fall? That’s asking a lot of anyone.

Safety

Alex Cook, sr., 6-1, 194, Sacramento, Calif.

Cameron Williams, jr., 6-0, 205, Bakersfield, Calif.

Makell Esteen, rs. fr., 6-1, 180, Hawthorne, Calif.

***

Asa Turner, jr., 6-3, 200, Carlsbad, Calif.

Julius Irvin, jr., 6-1, 181, Anaheim, Calif.

Vincent Nunley, rs. fr., 6-1, 191, Oakland, Calif.

Tristan Dunn, fr., 6-4, 188, Sumner*

Analysis: UW has employed the same starting safeties each practice this spring — senior Alex Cook and junior Asa Turner. Turner, in particular, has earned repeated praise for his work ethic and significant strides this offseason.

If they stay with the program, juniors Cameron Williams and Julius Irvin would provide experienced depth on the back end as well. But considering redshirt freshmen Vince Nunley and Makell Esteen and true freshman Tristan Dunn have yet to see significant snaps on the college level, any attrition would leave Washington somewhat lacking at safety. It’s possible a cornerback like Covington, Elijah Jackson or Zakhari Spears could slide back to safety if needed.

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