New look on Huskies' defensive line
The Huskies are having to adjust for the loss of sophomore defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi, who suffered a broken and dislocated ankle in the fourth quarter of the Apple Cup.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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As the Washington Huskies returned to the field this weekend, most of the focus has been on the younger players.
With 15 practices allowed between now and the Dec. 30 rematch with Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, UW can afford to take a few to get some extra work for second- and third-teamers — a side benefit of a postseason game.
But when the starters are on the field, the one new look is on the defensive line, where the Huskies are having to adjust for the loss of sophomore defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi, who suffered a broken and dislocated ankle in the fourth quarter of the Apple Cup. He had surgery last week and should be ready for next season, UW coaches say.
Tokolahi started the last three games, and the presence of the 297-pounder alongside the 330-pound Alameda Ta'amu was cited as a key reason for UW's defensive improvement during the three-game winning streak that clinched the bowl bid.
Without Tokolahi, UW is likely to again use Everrette Thompson some at tackle — he has started at both end and tackle this year, though primarily end — and give true freshman Sione Potoa'e some more time at tackle.
After Tokolahi got hurt against the Cougars, Thompson moved inside and senior De'Shon Matthews stepped in at end, a potential starting configuration against Nebraska.
Thompson is listed at 244 pounds, and UW defensive line coach Johnny Nansen acknowledged that "we know he is a little light in there. But he is physical enough to hold up in there and we can always bring in Sione."
No matter the alignment, the Huskies will be facing a stiff challenge going against a rugged Nebraska offensive line that dominated the first game, with the Cornhuskers rushing for 383 yards.
Thompson, though, said he likes the thought of moving back inside. He started the USC, Arizona State, Oregon State and Arizona games at tackle, and every other game at end.
"I'm just more comfortable inside," said the junior from Kennedy High. "I know the scheme of things. I've probably said this plenty of times before, but inside I'm pretty natural in there."
Nansen noted that the team has also used some other fronts in recent weeks, such as bringing in linebacker Mason Foster as essentially a defensive end in passing situations.
"(Defensive coordinator) Nick (Holt) is doing a good job trying to create situations where we can help out the defensive line," Nansen said. "So we'll be OK. We'll be all right."
Who is that masked player?
When UW's Jesse Callier fumbled a punt early in the second quarter against WSU and No. 57 for the Huskies recovered, not only were fans and media confused, but so was Nansen, who is also the team's special-teams coach.
"I was like 'who is 57?' " he said with a laugh.
The mystery man was true freshman safety Taz Stevenson, whose regular number is 9, which he shares with receiver Devin Aguilar. Since Stevenson and Aguilar are sometimes on the same special teams, Stevenson has often this season worn a number other than his own on return and coverage units. For the Apple Cup, he was supposed to wear 36, a number no other member of the travel roster has and that is reserved for a double number situation.
But that jersey couldn't be found. Stevenson initially wore No. 11 (and played some at safety wearing that number), a jersey that normally belongs to Talia Crichton, who was injured. But when Cody Bruns was injured on a punt return, that helped set in motion a domino effect that had receiver D'Andre Goodwin forced onto some teams — Goodwin also wears 11.
So Stevenson had to hurriedly change again, and found a spare No. 57.
"I don't know where 57 came from," Nansen said with a laugh.
Stevenson, at least, hasn't gotten confused by it all. "Almost," he said. "Not yet."
• UW will practice again this morning, then take Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off before returning to practice in earnest on Thursday.
• Nansen said that Crichton could be back for the Holiday Bowl. When he does, he will return at the other defensive end spot — the strong side — instead of the weakside spot he had been playing before being injured. Hau'oli Jamora stepped in at the weakside and coaches want to leave him there.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org