SEATTLE — With only occasional variation, evaluations of Washington’s roster are accompanied by a great deal of hedging from the Huskies’ new coaching staff.
There is still too much to be installed, parsed and perfected before head coach Chris Petersen or his assistants will speculate about what next season’s team might look like.
Regardless of their reluctance to speculate, this much is almost certain: the Huskies should have more depth and experience along the defensive line than at any other position, and more than they’ve had at that particular position in recent memory.
Danny Shelton, who will be a senior defensive tackle in 2014, knows it will be a competitive group. And that’s before considering how many returning contributors the Huskies have up front.
“You tend to get that when new coaches switch in and transition into a new system,” Shelton said. “It’s basically fair game.”
D-line combinations with the “first-team” defense have varied throughout UW’s first nine spring practices. Shelton, an Auburn High grad and the anchor of UW’s defense last season, will almost certainly be expected to hold down the middle again. Evan Hudson, who will also be a senior, has also seen considerable time with the first-team defensive line.
Hau’oli Kikaha — another senior — led the Huskies with 13 sacks last season, but hasn’t always worked with the No. 1 group, though defensive line coach Jeff Choate said Kikaha might be a bit behind due to a trip out of the country during the offseason. Another senior, Josh Shirley, sees some time with the first unit at defensive end, as does Andrew Hudson, who is also a senior.
Sophomores Marcus Farria and Joe Mathis came to UW with strong prep accolades and saw playing time as freshmen. Shelton said Elijah Qualls, a redshirt freshman, provides stiff competition at defensive tackle. And, as Choate notes, the Huskies signed six defensive linemen in their 2014 recruiting class.
“We have to play a lot of bodies because of the style of teams that we play against,” Choate said. “While I would think it’s going to be difficult for a freshman to break into the starting lineup, there’s probably some freshmen that are going to play. … We’re going to have to have some of those guys step up. I would think out of a group that large, you’re going to have one or two that’s ready to contribute in some way, shape or form.”
Miles not ruled out
Petersen didn’t rule out the possibility of suspended quarterback Cyler Miles returning before the end of spring practice.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file charges against Miles in connection with an alleged Feb. 2 assault in the University District. UW receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow was charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault and one count of malicious mischief in connection with the same incident. Both players have been suspended since early February.
Asked after Saturday’s practice if it’s safe to assume Miles won’t return this spring, Petersen said: “No, it’s not. We just haven’t really decided on that whole situation. It’s kind of one day, one week at a time. There’s no reason to rush anything. We’re always going to do the right thing, and I know everyone thinks they have their opinion on what the right thing is, but we’re going to do the right thing by the school, by this program and by the kids as well.
“I’ve said this before: This is such a political job, and I’m never going to make decisions because of political reasons to make me look better, because you think, ‘oh, that’s the right thing.’ That’s not why we’re in this thing. We’re in to do the right thing on all accounts. Sometimes, things just need to play out.”