A month ago, the University of Washington football team was as set as its been in some time for edge rushers.
The Huskies had Joe Tryon and Ryan Bowman.
A pair of second-team, All-Pac-12 selections.
Guys who had the strength, speed or knack for getting to the quarterback, for messing up the opposing backfield.
Players who brought a combined 38 tackles for loss for 203 yards and 21 sacks for 153 yards to the table.
Bookends who knew how to stir up trouble.
Well, Tryon has since left the building, bidding farewell to pandemic-delayed college football for some warm-weather gym and the pursuit of an NFL future.
As for Bowman?
He's still on the scholarship payroll, but the Bellevue, Washington, product readily admits he's not nearly the same guy as he enters into his senior season. Not even close. He may not even be an edge rusher.
In a KJR radio interview over the weekend, Bowman told how he's packing a thick 6-foot, 280-pound frame and he will use it to play all over the defensive line when the games begin.
He's five inches shorter and 15 pounds heavier than Tryon, who was considered the ideal edge-rusher size.
Bowman likely will be asked to pick up some of the slack left by defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike leaving early for the pros.
Which means the Huskies are in the market for a pair of new disruptors coming off the edge, players who play with their hair on fire and guys who better fit the Tryon physical mold.
As we continue to pick the UW starting lineup, making adjustments to it as Jimmy Lake holds auditions leading up to the long overdue season opener in November, we need to propose replacements.
Once Tryon left, we settled on Laiatu Latu, the 6-foot-4, 266-pound sophomore from Sacramento, as an able replacement. He played in 12 games as a true freshman, opening with a safety against Eastern Washington and closing with a pair of tackles in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State.
The guy was ready to play once he stepped on campus for the first time, before he ever attended a UW class, one of those rare finds.
OK, so who do we put opposite him?
Lake, previously the Husky defensive coordinator and now the head coach, has a little Jim Lambright in him. He brings an attacking mindset same as the late UW legendary defensive genius.
Simply put: Speed kills.
We're determined to make this team as fast as we can.
With that, we settle on another aggressive first-team selection at outside linebacker. See if you agree.
Leading OLB candidates: Ryan Bowman, 6-0, 280, senior; Laiatu Latu, 6-4, 266, sophomore; Sav'ell Smalls, 6-4, 244, freshman; Zion Tupuola-Fetui, 6-3, 272, sophomore; Bralen Trice, 6-3, 249, redshirt freshman; Jordan Lolohea, 6-2, 271, freshman.
OLB starting experience: Ryan Bowman, 17 starts.
Our selection: Think big, go Smalls. With Latu already spoken for at one edge position, we're going to throw this freshman headliner onto the field and see what he can do. He's arguably the most talked-about player among a lot of overly talented first-year combatants who just arrived. Every school wanted him. Oh yeah, he can run. The upside to using a freshman like Smalls is he's capable of being that playmaker who can come up with an instant turnover and put points on the board. The downside is he too often will be overeager at times, find himself out of position and make mistakes. Bowman, when he's out there, will be less likely to reach the end zone with a fumble or an interception return but he will limit the mental errors. Maybe you spell the young guy with the veteran. Choose the critical spots in which to use both of them. Let one be the starter, the other the closer. Either way, it's a short season and you might as well get your young blue-blood player on the field and see what he can do. As Tryon showed in his two seasons, these guys won't be around forever.
Other options: Tupuola-Fetui, a Hawaiian who grew up in Pearl City which is better known for Pearl Harbor, likewise appeared in a dozen games as a redshirt freshman, has drawn plaudits for his limited work sample and will see significant action. He's a bigger edge rusher than Latu, Smalls and the others, but maybe not as speedy. In the end, it's all about getting to the quarterback. Trice, who sat out as a redshirt, and Lolohea, who's come back from a Mormon mission, are unknowns as far as competing for a lot of minutes. They haven't played for the Huskies on Saturdays yet and likely will slowly work their way into the mix.
Greatest Husky OLB Tandem: The most fearsome UW edge-rushing tandem emerged from the 1991 national championship team: the late Jaime Fields and Donald Jones. Oh so strong and fast. Jones finished with 26 career sacks. Fields was a freak of nature, moving from outside linebacker to inside and into the secondary in his career. By far, he was one of the strongest players on the roster, lifting ungodly amounts of weight with a 5-11, 230-pound frame. And if you don't know what the Compton Quake was, you don't know Husky football. Of course, first-team All-America Hau'oli Kikaha remains the greatest UW edge rusher ever, with a school-record 32 career sacks, and in 2014 he played opposite a guy named Shaq Thompson, who was a first-round draft pick.
Other legendary UW OLBs: Mark Stewart was a first-team AP All-America selection in 1982. Jason Chorak collected a school-record 14.5 sacks and was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year as a junior in 1996, and had 25.5 career sacks. Andy Mason was another 1991 national championship guy who finished with 24 career sacks.
The 2021 UW Starting Lineup:
Left tackle — Jaxson Kirkland
Left guard — Ulumoo Ale
Center — Luke Wattenberg
Right guard — Corey Luciano
Right tackle — Henry Bainivalu
Tight end — Cade Otton
Tight end — Jacob Kizer
Wide receiver — Puka Nacua
Wide receiver — Ty Jones
Running back — Richard Newton
Outside linebacker — Laiatu Latu
Defensive tackle — Tuli Letuligasenoa
Defensive tackle — Josiah Bronson
Outside linebacker — Sav'ell Smalls
Inside linebacker — Edefuan Ulofoshio
Inside linebacker — Miki Ah You
Nickel back —
Strong safety —
Free safety —
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