University of Washington

Huskies testing out size on the defensive line

DL coach Ikaika Malloe wants Huskies to show multiple looks

"We're trying to get better, focus on technique and upstairs."
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"We're trying to get better, focus on technique and upstairs."

If there’s one thing UW is not concerned about, it’s size on the defensive line.

Among the rotation on the line throughout fall camp are three nose tackles.

Elijah Qualls (321 pounds), Greg Gaines (318) and Vita Vea (332), each of whom played exclusively at nose tackle last season, played sets on the line together Friday.

How would that look for opposing offensive lines?

“It’s a hell of a look for their running game, that’s for sure,” Qualls said. “Instead of having to move a nose and two ends, you’re basically having to move three noses that are almost as athletic, if not more athletic than some defensive ends. So I can see it working well.”

Qualls started at nose tackle last year, but missed four games late in the season with an ankle injury. Gaines started in place of Qualls,and played in all 13 games, as did Vea. The Huskies lost only Taniela Tupou — who signed with the Seahawks in May — from last year’s defensive line.

“Coach (Pete Kwiatkowski, UW defensive coordinator) has done a great job trying to be multiple in terms of fronts,” defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe said, “and that’s part of it — trying to get three bigger guys in. So we’re doing as much different rotation as we possibly can, seeing where they’re comfortable. Can we execute the right way with those guys, and then hopefully be successful with all three, or maybe none?”

With those three nose tackles in at the same time, the Huskies lineup is in uncharted waters. Qualls, a two-year starter, plays defensive end when Gaines is at defensive tackle and Vea is at nose tackle. Qualls, the most experienced of the bunch, is tasked with the transition to defensive end.

The shift for Qualls, a redshirt junior, forces him into even more of a leadership role

“It helps because he knows the package really well,” Malloe said. “He’s a veteran in terms of that, being his fourth year, doing it again. That always helps, because he can answer questions for us. He’s become a teacher for me. That always helps when somebody knows it.”

Qualls admits it’s been an adjustment playing reps at defensive end. Learning the different intricacies has been confusing, he said. Pass rush is different. Attacking outside, then having to rush back in — it’s a challenge.

But Malloe said he has the quickness and inherent physicality to play on the end.

“What (coach Malloe) wants to emphasize is, ‘We play in the Pac 12, people are going to rotate,’ ” Qualls said. “Instead of (being uncomfortable) it’s like I’m going to feel comfortable with everybody because I’ve gotten at least a few periods in the series of team reps with these guys, so I know what they know or what they don’t know.”

Andy Buhler: @a_buhla

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