UW Roster Review, No. 0-99: Taimani Needs to Turn Experience into Disruption

The defensive lineman went through a big learning curve in the pandemic season.

The four-game pandemic season was particularly harsh on the University of Washington defensive line. 

Edge rusher Laiatu Latu missed everything with a neck injury and subsequently retired from football. 

Defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa, expected to be the muscle inside, started only the last game because of injury and he was never in decent playing shape. 

Edge rusher Ryan Bowman sat out the final two contests with COVID-19 issues.

Of the four projected starters upfront, only down lineman Sam "Taki" Taimani survived the assault on everyone's health and opened every game. Yet he wasn't fully developed, not quite ready to be a problem. He was more like a set-up man rather than a closer.

As the biggest body on the UW D-line, the 6-foot-2, 330-pound sophomore from Salt Lake City proved efficient at filling up space, at taking on double-teams. 

He just didn't swallow anybody whole.

Opponents averaged 151.3 yards per game against the UW defense in the short season, an un-Husky-like amount. It was too easy. It wasn't all on Taki, but some of it was.

"The next step for him is making plays," said Ikaika Malloe, once the UW defensive-line coach and now with the edge rushers. "He's a road grader and people know him as that. He can knock off and hold the point, but for him it's about making plays. It's about getting off. For him to take the next step, he needs to get off the block and go tackle the football."

At spring practice, Taimani showed up a little lighter and lot more determined. In the sequence captured on video below, he broke into the backfield, redirected a block from up-back Kamari Pleasant and wrapped up running back Cam Davis and threw him to the ground. For emphasis, he stamped his foot.

In this other video below, he shares a few dance steps with Letuligasenoa, but more importantly, he fires out, runs into defensive-line coach Rip Rowan and gives the new guy a healthy but playful push after Rowan got in his way.

If Taimani can help it, no one will be shoving him around again any time soon. He seemed to make this an offseason focus. In the spring game for the Purple team, he chalked up a pair of tackles, sacking quarterback Patrick O'Brien for a 4-yard loss on the very first scrimmage play.

He had Letuligasenoa and Bowman back teaming with him through most of the spring. And while he lost Latu as a teammate for good, and then the extremely capable replacement Zion Tupuol-Fetui temporarily to a ruptured Achilles, Taimani seemed to grow into his own some.

"We're playing with some young guys," said Malloe, who compared their progress to the UW players who came before them. "Vita [Vea], Greg [Gaines] and those guys had time to develop. These guys have been learning on the run."

Going down the roster in numerical order, this is another of our post-spring assessments of all of the Husky talent at hand, gleaned from a month of observations, as a way to keep everyone engaged during the offseason.

Building strength is one way Taimani will better shed blockers and be more disruptive in making tackles. He took a noticeable stride here, finishing among the top five on the team in the front squat with a lift of 415 pounds. 

A prize 4-star recruit, Taimani chose Washington from nearly two-dozen scholarship offers, which included the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Tennessee, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Recruiters originally pegged him as an offensive lineman. 

The Huskies see him as a potential disruptor on defense with a few tweaks. Taimani tends to have a congenial personality and is always smiling on the field, whereas his coaches might prefer him more downright nasty at times. 

If he can get the job done, nobody will really care how he does it. Let him laugh, dance and level somebody, all at once. 

Taimani's 2021 Outlook: Projected starter at defensive tackle

UW Service Time: Played in 18 games, started 4

Stats: 28 tackles, 1.5 TFL

Individual Honors: Not yet

Pro prospects: 2024 NFL third-day draftee

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven

Find Husky Maven on Facebook by searching: HuskyMaven/Sports IllustratedFollow