Greg Gaines, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last year, is happy he stayed at UW for one more season.
No Vita Vea. No problem for the UW defensive line.
Vea was one of the most dominant defensive players in the nation last year from his defensive-tackle position and is playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being the 12th pick overall in this year’s NFL draft.
But thanks to three fifth-year seniors, led by tackle Greg Gaines, the defensive line is doing just fine without Vea.
Along with starters Jaylen Johnson and Shane Bowman leading the rotation, the line was particularly dominant in the Huskies’ 21-7 victory over Utah on Saturday, helping Washington hold Utah to 261 yards.
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“I was pretty confident we would be all right,” Gaines said of how the defensive line would fare without Vea. “We did lose a great player, but we had Jaylen and Shane stepping up to fill that role. They are doing a great job. They play a little different than Vita, but it’s still good. They are doing their job and getting it done.”
The Huskies got good pressure on Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley and held the Utes’ strong running attack to 123 yards.
And on one play, which Gaines tweeted about, the Huskies rushed three players — Gaines, Ariel Ngata and Benning Potoa’e — against seven Utah blockers. Amazingly, all three UW players got to the quarterback. Gaines was credited with the sack as he was a split-second ahead of his teammates.
“I posted it for my dad, because he didn’t get to see it,” said Gaines, who said that while the defensive line has done well against the run, it still needs to get more pressure on the quarterback.
Gaines did that often in 2017, which was a huge year for him. He earned second-team All-Pac-12 and second-team All-Academic Pac-12 honors. But he said the highlight was getting married to his longtime girlfriend, Sheyeann.
There was speculation last year Gaines might join Vea in entering the NFL draft. But he is happy he returned, and so are the Huskies.
“I am pretty excited being back; no regrets, and I love it here,” said Gaines, who is from La Habra, Calif. “I am just having fun.”
Gaines, 6 feet 2 and 316 pounds, has 10 tackles and a sack this season, and has won the past two UW coaches’ lineman-of-the-week awards.
“Really well,” said defensive-line coach Ikaika Malloe when asked how Gaines was doing through three games. “He is causing a lot of havoc in the backfield, shedding blocks and had an awesome sack last week. He’s playing like how a senior should play.”
So are Johnson and Bowman.
Bowman, 6 feet 4 and 291 pounds, played on three state-title teams at Bellevue High School. He got his first career start against Auburn and had four tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble.
“Shane is doing good; he’s doing fantastic, actually,” Gaines said. “He’s improved a lot this year, and doing really well.”
Johnson, 6 feet 3 and 286 pounds, started once last season, but saw plenty of action and had 18 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks. The former star from Centennial (Corona, Calif.) High School also started in the 2016 Peach Bowl loss to Alabama, and had 1 1/2 tackles for loss.
Like Gaines, he has taken on a leadership role, but Gaines said Johnson is the more vocal leader.
“I am not much of a talker, but I lead by example, showing the young guys how we practice and keeping the right mindset at practice and staying focused,” Gaines said. ” I am not much of a speech guy. Jaylen has a leadership role, too. And he is more of a vocal guy.”
Not that they need to remind teammates of last year’s loss at Arizona State, which UW will try to avenge Saturday night.
“I remember losing the game, which was really rough,” Gaines said. “I’m getting ready for this game and getting dialed up.”