As a defensive end, Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha terrorized opposing quarterbacks last season. He had 13 sacks, second most in the Pac-12, and his 45 combined quarterback hurries and knockdowns were tied for the most in the nation, according to STATS, LLC.
Kikaha’s breakthrough season, which followed two lost years to two torn knee ligaments, earned him Washington’s most valuable player award on defense.
This season, the Huskies hope Kikaha can be just as valuable in a new role.
Kikaha made his debut as a “Buck” outside linebacker during Washington’s first fall-camp practice of the Chris Petersen era Monday morning.
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He dropped into coverage, shadowing tight ends and chasing wide receivers on a warm day dominated by the Huskies’ veteran defensive front.
In two practices — one for veterans and one for mostly freshmen — the UW offense combined for six turnovers and no touchdowns Monday. Sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles has been suspended for the season opener at Hawaii, meaning the Huskies are trying to break in two young quarterbacks in Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.
Junior cornerback Marcus Peters scored the lone touchdown Monday when he scooped up a fumble and ran it in after an errant lateral pass from Williams.
The offense will come along slowly, it seems, while introducing the young quarterbacks, a new running back and adapting to an entirely new playbook.
“Defensively, it’s pretty simple: run and hit, get to the ball, take it away,” Kikaha said. “So obviously we’ll have an advantage early on, but they’ll be coming after us pretty soon.”
The defense, under new coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, will look generally the same as it has the past two seasons.
Kikaha’s shift to outside linebacker is the most significant change, giving Washington more of a 3-4 look up front.
A similar shift has been made by junior Cory Littleton, a 13-game starter as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker last season who now is a full-time strongside linebacker.
As with Kikaha, that means Littleton will be doing more “functional movement,” as he described it, and asked to play more in space and in coverage.
“I think we got lucky on the defense,” Littleton said. “We’re not running the same thing, but it’s very similar.”
In Kikaha’s case, Kwiatkowski said the idea is to take advantage of the senior’s versatility as both a pass-rusher and playmaker.
“We’re just trying to play to his strengths,” Kwiatkowski said. “He’s got the prototypical build for that position, and I think he fits that position better. … The offenses aren’t going to know if he’s coming off the edge (to rush the quarterback) or dropping into coverage. He’s going to give us more flexibility and maybe try to dictate protections and things like that.”
Kikaha, whose 13 sacks last season were tied for second most in program history, doesn’t expect the shift away from the line of scrimmage to be a major adjustment for him.
“I feel comfortable with both,” he said. “I stand up a lot more now. … I’m getting used to dropping more and getting comfortable in space, breaking on the ball and things like that.”
Timu back in the middle
In addition to Kikaha and Littleton, Washington’s three other veteran linebackers — John Timu, Shaq Thompson and Travis Feeney — have combined for 68 career starts, and expectations for that group are high.
“It has a chance to be really good if they can stay healthy and show up with that ‘get-better-every-day’ attitude, which is easier said than done,” Kwiatkowski said. “And that’s for everybody. If they can get better every day, every meeting, then they have a chance to be a pretty salty crew.”
Timu spoke to the media Monday for the first time since serving a two-week suspension from spring practices.
That suspension stemmed from a misdemeanor charge of vehicle prowling.
In March, Timu admitted in King County Court that he stole two parking passes from two Washington athletic department employees last season and sold them to two teammates for $250 apiece.
He struck an agreement with the King County prosecutors, agreeing to paying $500 in restitution plus court fees and serving two days on a work crew.
“I fessed up to what I did, talked to Coach (Petersen) and just told him what happened,” Timu said. “After that I just dealt with the consequences he put upon me and whatever the school had. I just got over it then. I’m just here and ready to move forward. It’s a process; it’s a challenge that I’m willing to take on. We’ll see how it goes.”