Chuck Morrell knows it’s a coaching cliché.

He said it anyway.

When asked what he wants his unit’s reputation to be this week, Morell, UW’s co-defensive coordinator, said: “I want everybody in the stands, I want the officials, I want the opponents to know that we play hard. I know every coach in America says that, but then there’s a different level of recognition after the game. If people can recognize how hard we play, then I’ll be pleased.”

Ultimately, that comes down to the players.

So, as the season opener against Kent State on Sept. 3 steadily approaches, let’s dive in to the two-deep depth chart for UW’s defense.

Friday, April 1, 2022.   UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. passing during the second day of spring workouts in the stadium on campus.   219993

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Defensive line

Tuli Letuligasenoa, jr., 6-1, 307, Concord, California

Faatui Tuitele, soph., 6-3, 302, Honolulu, Hawaii

Voi Tunuufi, soph., 6-1, 258, South Jordan, Utah

***

Ulumoo Ale, jr., 6-6, 333, Tacoma

Kuao Peihopa, rs. fr., 6-3, 304, Makakilo, Hawaii

Analysis: UW’s defensive line certainly has something to prove, after finishing near the bottom of the Pac-12 in every relevant rushing defense statistic last fall, then losing starter Sam “Taki” Taimani to an Oregon transfer this offseason. All-Pac-12 honorable mention Tuli Letuligasenoa returns, and massive gap-plugger Ulumoo Ale swapped sides of the line and is expected to make an immediate impact. Redshirt freshman Kuao Peihopa is expected to carve out a role, as should sophomore Faatui Tuitele — though his status is somewhat uncertain after being limited this month with an injury.

The wild card is sophomore Voi Tunuufi, an undersized but uniquely explosive interior pass rusher.

“He’ll be in there no matter the down and distance. He’ll be in there on third down,” UW defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield said. “He might not be as big, but he’s strong and he’s twitchy and he’s got punch. It’s just tweaking his technique and letting him play within himself and not asking him to do what big men do.

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“It’s about allowing him to play … I wouldn’t say [Aaron Donald]-like, but slippery. You can’t ask him to go in there and sit on these combination blocks. It’s about being ahead of it and trying to use what his gifts are.”

Edge

Bralen Trice, soph., 6-4, 269, Phoenix, Arizona

Zion Tupuola-Fetui, jr., 6-4, 249, Pearl City, Hawaii

***

Jeremiah Martin, jr., 6-4, 267, San Bernardino, California (Texas A&M)

Sav’ell Smalls, soph., 6-3, 259, Seattle

Analysis: UW has three legitimate edge rushers — Bralen Trice, Jeremiah Martin and Zion Tupuola-Fetui — and two starting spots.

But according to position coach Eric Schmidt, that shouldn’t be a problem.

“Ultimately we’re trying to win football games,” Schmidt said. “So they know at the end of the game they’re going to be playing a lot. There’s going to be packages where all three of them are on the field together. I think there’s situations where three of those guys are in our top 11. It’s our job as coaches to make sure they’re on the field in those situations.”

The question is how much sophomore Sav’ell Smalls will see the field in his third season in Seattle. The former five-star recruit has had an encouraging preseason, and Morrell said: “I’m really pleased with his progress. He’s very engaged, very on top of his job and his assignments. And he has a phenomenal attitude and loves football.”

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Linebacker

Cam Bright, sr., 6-0, 222, Montgomery, Alabama (Pittsburgh)

Kristopher Moll, grad student, 6-0, 217, Miami (UAB)

***

Alphonzo Tuputala, soph., 6-2, 238, Federal Way

Carson Bruener, soph., 6-2, 225, Woodinville

Analysis: UW co-defensive coordinator William Inge said he likes to “healthily rotate” his linebackers.

Which means, while Pittsburgh transfer Cam Bright and sophomore Alphonzo Tuputala are expected to start, UAB transfer Kristopher Moll and sophomore legacy Carson Bruener should carve out contributing roles. (Sophomore Daniel Heimuli is likely fifth in line.)

Bruener, for one, is an intriguing option — a local product who emerged in the second half of last season, before needing to prove himself again to a new coaching staff.

“We love how Carson is coming along,” Inge said. “The beauty of Carson, as a smart player, he can drive the defense, he can make the plays that he needs to make, and he can get everything called at the line and adjusted. That’s what we love, and he’s very dependable. So he’s thick in the mix as far as what’s going to happen on game day for me.”

Cornerback

Jordan Perryman, sr., 6-0, 202, Hanford, California (UC Davis)

Elijah Jackson, rs. fr., 6-1, 184, Carson, California

***

Mishael Powell, soph., 6-1, 204, Seattle

Davon Banks, rs. fr., 5-11, 185, San Jacinto, California

Husky

Dominique Hampton, jr., 6-3, 221, Glendale, Arizona

Kamren Fabiculanan, soph., 6-1, 191, Camarillo, California

Analysis: These positions seemed to be all but settled after the spring, with sophomore Mishael Powell and UC Davis graduate transfer Jordan Perryman claiming the cornerback vacancies and Dominique Hampton an obvious fit at the “husky” hybrid linebacker/nickel role. But Banks, for one, could conceivably push Powell after an impressive preseason. Redshirt freshman Elijah Jackson is also in the mix, though he has missed the past several practices with an undisclosed injury.

Through the course of preseason camp, the 6-0, 202-pound Perryman has established himself as a standout performer.

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“You ask anybody to go from playing Big Sky football up to Pac-12 football, and that’s a significant jump,” Morrell said. “He hasn’t batted an eye from the second he stepped on campus. He plays with a lot of confidence. He’s got phenomenal football intelligence, and he’s got some elite physical traits. He’s going to do some great things for us this year.”

Safety

Alex Cook, sr., 6-1, 196, Sacramento, California

Julius Irvin, jr., 6-1, 179, Anaheim, California

Vince Nunley, rs. fr., 6-1, 188, Oakland, California

***

Asa Turner, jr., 6-3, 201, Carlsbad, California

Cameron Williams, jr., 6-0, 207, Bakersfield, California

Analysis: Though veterans Alex Cook and Asa Turner have long been expected safety starters, the staff has experimented with numerous combinations in the back end and it’s possible veterans Julius Irvin and Cameron Williams could also crack the lineup.

A dark horse is Oakland’s own Vince Nunley, an intriguing athlete who did not appear in any games as a true freshman last fall.

“I love his range, smart player, has some really good all-around tools and length,” Morrell said. “I think we’re just pressing him every day to be a factor back there.”

Placekicker

Peyton Henry, sr., 5-11, 197, Danville, California

Addison Shrock, rs. fr., 6-1, 183, Bellingham

Punter

Kevin Ryan, sr., 6-0, 167, Mesa, Arizona (Idaho State)

Jack McCallister, rs. fr., 6-0, 215, Edmonds

Punt returner

Giles Jackson, jr., 5-9, 185, Antioch, California (Michigan)

Jalen McMillan, soph., 6-1, 186, Fresno, California

Kick returner

Giles Jackson, jr., 5-9, 185, Antioch, California (Michigan)

Jalen McMillan, soph., 6-1, 186, Fresno, California

Will Nixon, rs. fr., 5-11, 192, Waco, Texas (Nebraska)

Analysis: UW should mostly maintain the status quo on special teams, with sixth-year senior Peyton Henry handling kicking duties and junior Giles Jackson a consistent return threat. The one newcomer is Idaho State transfer punter Kevin Ryan, who finished fifth in the FCS with an average of 45.6 yards per punt in 2021. He has just one season of remaining eligibility.