Zion Tupuola-Fetui is Washington’s most accomplished pass-rusher.

But Bralen Trice may be the hardest Husky to block.

That was certainly the case this spring, according to first-year edge coach Eric Schmidt. He told The Seattle Times last week that “it’s almost like a track meet. (Trice) is warming up before everybody else. He’s going through the mental part of it. He’s the first guy out (at practice) from our position group every day. So his entire approach to how you become great has been really good ever since we got here.”

Metaphors aside, Trice — a 6-foot-4, 256-pound sophomore — is no stranger to multiple sports, which is why he didn’t pick up football until middle school.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t have interest,” he said. “I played a lot of other sports growing up. I did basketball, karate, soccer, baseball. My mom really didn’t want me playing football for the longest time, because she thought I’d get hurt.

“Then I finally got the chance and I thought, ‘This is my time. I finally get to play the sport I really want to play.’ ”

He played it well enough, in fact, that the three-star EDGE rusher earned offers from UW, Notre Dame, Alabama, Oregon, USC and more. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2019, then opted out of the 2020 season.

Which made it easy to focus on the flourishing “ZTF” and forget the redshirt freshman from Phoenix. But in the background, Trice kept working.

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“It was definitely a strange feeling, watching the guys (play in 2020),” Trice said. “But I knew it was best for me, the decision that I made in my personal life to opt out and just train.”

In a fall without football, Trice actually improved — adding 20 pounds of muscle. He took such significant strides, in fact, that former outside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe said last offseason that “Bralen will probably be better than Joe Tryon. He’s very long. He’s athletic. He can drop in space. He can do all of those intangibles, and he’s physical enough. He does want to put his hat and eyes on you. So as he progresses, you will see him take about the same path as Joe Tryon did.”

Tryon — 6-5 and 262 pounds — was selected by the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the No. 32 overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. He produced 61 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 25 career games at UW.

But Trice — 6-4 and 256 — is not Tryon. Nor is he trying to be.

“The way I’m wired and the way I work, I didn’t really pay much mind to (Malloe’s comments), because I just want to be better than myself every day,” he said. “I wanted to be known as Bralen Trice. I didn’t want to be seen as the next Joe Tryon. I’m the next me, you know what I’m saying? You all are going to see my name and you’re going to hear me.”

Husky fans heard Trice’s name at times last season — to the tune of 14 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown in 12 games.

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But for a defense that ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in sacks per game (1.67) and sixth in tackles for loss per game (5.17) last season, more is expected — and needed — from the fourth-year sophomore.

“Gosh, he’s impressive,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said in April. “He’s been the same all through the spring. He’s hard to handle, because he’s strong enough where he really gets into you off the edge, especially if you’re pass-setting. If you get on your heels at all he’s going to work through you with some physicality. But he’s also a high-effort guy that runs well.

“He brings it all. He’s just a well-rounded football player. So I like his energy. I like who he is. He’s been fun to watch, and he’s certainly a guy you can hang your hat on. I know that.”

As for Trice, he knows it’s not just him. Tupuola-Fetui — whose “pass-rush stuff is elite,” according to Schmidt — and senior Jeremiah Martin also earned regular reps with the starters this spring, and sophomore Sav’ell Smalls and redshirt freshman Maurice Heims may work into the rotation as well.

“I think our group’s going to do great things this year,” said Trice, who trained this spring at both edge spots. “You have to be ready for us.”

Assessing UW’s defensive strides

UW co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chuck Morrell said last week that UW’s defense was “further along here towards the end of spring ball than I really thought we would be.”

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But it wasn’t always that way.

Early in April, the Huskies were submerged in defensive installs.

“We were pounding these installs from week one to week three, and it was a little overwhelming. It was a lot to learn. People weren’t playing as fast,” sixth-year safety Alex Cook said after the “Spring Preview” on Saturday. “Once the installs stopped we took a deep breath, started getting these plays down. I think that’s when a lot of people started making plays and building confidence. That’s when we started to build our identity as a defense.

“I’m seeing guys like (transfer linebacker) Cam Bright making plays, getting interceptions, forced fumbles. You wouldn’t have thought he was the same guy from the first three weeks of practice.”

Speaking of Bright, he was asked to describe UW’s defense Saturday.

“B.I.A.,” he said. “Best in America.”

Advice from Marino to Huard

Damon Huard was Dan Marino’s backup quarterback for three seasons with the Miami Dolphins, from 1997-99.

Which means Sam Huard — UW’s redshirt freshman quarterback and Damon’s son — has received advice from one of the greatest to play the position.

“He just tells me to pick a guy, and let it fly,” Sam Huard said of Marino. “He was one of the best at what he did. So whenever I have an opportunity around him I just make sure to soak it all in.”

Cook, meanwhile, succinctly summarized Huard’s natural talent.

“He can make throws nobody else can,” Cook said. “Honestly, he doesn’t even really need to make the right read. He can just make the right throw.”

Extra point

  • Great news! UW’s days of positioning its safeties 20 yards off the line of scrimmage in obvious run situations are likely over. “I felt like we were a little conservative in terms of our safeties the past couple years,” Cook said. “We weren’t really active in the run fits and stuff like that. But now everything is being spilled out to us. We’re flying down and making tackles, making big plays, just being more aggressive. This scheme is a lot more aggressive than in previous years.”