It’s almost like going into another offseason, and Jaylen Johnson knows he has given the University of Washington coaching staff full proof that he is ready to seize the final starting spot along the defensive line.
What will coaches get to see time and time again as they review tape from Saturday’s spring preview?
The Purple squad won the final scrimmage of UW’s spring practice season, 17-13, over the White team at Husky Stadium.
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Spring ball is over. Players get more than three months off until preseason camp starts in August.
But when coach Chris Petersen and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski get together to form a concrete depth chart heading into summer ball, one face will have to keep showing up — Johnson.
“He has definitely risen to the occasion, that’s for sure,” UW defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe said. “He put his best foot forward to winning that (starting) job, and trying to control that spot.”
Greg Gaines and Elijah Qualls have locked up two starting spots along the defensive line — and likely would pair together when the Huskies go to their nickel base using two down linemen.
But when UW plays three linemen, Johnson — a soft-spoken 6-foot-3, 285-pound sophomore from Corona, California — would be as good a bet as any from a young but talented group to occupy the spot vacated by Taniela Tupou, who was a senior.
Thing is, Johnson came to UW as a defensive end; Tupou’s position was at defensive tackle.
At the outset of spring camp, Johnson — who saw action in all 13 games as a reserve last season — started finding playing time on the interior.
“In that second or third week, you saw the change in him click in his mind,” Malloe said. “From that, you’ve seen him try and master the craft.”
And the best thing about the Saturday scrimmage for Johnson: Two of his sacks for the White defense came while playing at the defensive tackle spot.
Granted, the UW offensive line’s depth was in shambles for the spring scrimmage. But Johnson took full advantage:
▪ It was on the Purple offense’s second series when Johnson registered his only sack lined up on the outside. He chased down quarterback Tony Rodriguez from the back side for a 2-yard loss on third down, forcing a field-goal attempt.
▪ But on the Purple’s next drive, Johnson created more pressure on third down, ripping up the middle to drop Rodriguez for a 7-yard loss to force a three-and-out.
▪ Late in the scrimmage, Johnson ended another Purple series when he bulldozed walk-on quarterback Anthony Berg by coming up the gut.
“You know, making the move from defensive end to tackle, I was skeptical — just not knowing the line calls and how to play the blocks,” Johnson said. “But after a few practices, it got easier. It is basically the same (pass-rushing) technique, but on different people.
“The size of the linemen in there is different — they are smaller. So I can use my athleticism to get around them. It is a little easier making plays.”
Collectively, the defensive-line group had a good spring camp, Petersen said.
“You could feel those guys each week getting a little bit better,” Petersen said. “And I think Jaylen was one of those guys.”
Johnson knows that coming out of spring ball he likely has a leg up on earning a starting nod.
But this is April, he noted.
“We just finished spring ball — and I was a spring-ball starter,” Johnson said. “I still have to do a lot of things this summer, and in fall camp, to really earn the spot again. Come fall camp, it’s all back to ground zero.”