UW may have sustained its first significant injury of the 2022 season Wednesday, when junior defensive lineman Ulumoo Ale crumpled to the turf during a run play in a scrimmage session. The 6-foot-6, 333-pound converted offensive lineman — who worked primarily with the starters during the first six practices of preseason camp — was carted out of the Dempsey Indoor Center after having an air cast placed around his left leg.
Husky head coach Kalen DeBoer was not available to comment on Ale’s injury following Wednesday’s practice.
A fifth-year junior from Tacoma, Ale swapped sides of the line this winter after previously starting 10 games across the last two seasons at left guard. He dropped 22 pounds this offseason and was expected to make an immediate impact on UW’s underperforming run defense, which ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in opponent yards per carry (4.76) and 11th in rushing yards allowed per game (194) last fall.
“You want that guy as your teammate, I’ll tell you that much,” redshirt freshman defensive lineman Kuao Peihopa said Tuesday, one day prior to Ale’s injury. “The dude’s a massive frickin’ two-time Golden Gloves boxer (as a child in Australia). You want him next to you. The way he prepares and the way he attacks every day … I’ll say for myself, it’s a blessing to have that guy as a teammate. Because he teaches me so much.
“And shoot, if we didn’t have (Ale), I feel like our whole D-line wouldn’t be the same. He added a real spark to our D-line for sure.”
Fifth-year junior defensive lineman Sam “Taki” Taimani, who started 14 total games in 2020 and 2021, transferred to rival Oregon this offseason — leaving the Huskies with an apparent hole up front.
Should Ale be lost for significant time, UW will lean heavily on junior (and returning starter) Tuli Letuligasenoa, Peihopa (who started in Ale’s place on Wednesday) and sophomores Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes and Voi Tunuufi to solidify its interior defensive line. That defensive line depth is a growing concern, considering Tuitele has been limited in camp with an undisclosed injury after missing the majority of the spring as well.
The Huskies’ only other scholarship defensive linemen are redshirt freshman Siaosi Finau and true freshmen twins Jayvon and Armon Parker (though the latter is expected to miss preseason camp with an injury).
On paper, Washington’s remaining linemen don’t lack talent or potential — considering Letuligasenoa, Tuitele and Bandes were each ranked as four-star, top-120 recruits in their respective cycles. Letuligasenoa earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention status in 2021, after compiling 36 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack and an interception across 12 games. Tuitele and Tunuufi also shared the team lead with three sacks apiece.
But for UW’s run defense to crawl out of the Pac-12 pits, Letuligasenoa, Peihopa (two tackles and a tackle for loss in four games last fall), Tuitele (11 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in nine games), Bandes (14 tackles and 0.5 TFL in 12 games) and Tunuufi (13 tackles and three sacks in 11 games) must all stay healthy — then collectively improve.
The Huskies’ first preseason practice in full pads yielded an unfortunate injury.
To rebound from a frustrating 4-8 season, Washington must maintain better luck the rest of the way.
A Kirkland update
Sixth-year senior left tackle Jaxson Kirkland has been in and out of the lineup in preseason camp, leaving practice early on Saturday and sitting out most scrimmage sessions on Sunday and Tuesday. The 6-7, 340-pounder and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer did not participate on Wednesday but watched the second half of practice from the sideline, without nursing any obvious injury.
Following Wednesday’s practice, offensive line coach Scott Huff didn’t sound overly concerned.
“He’s been doing good,” Huff said. “He’s doing good. We’re being smart with him, bringing him back slowly but steady. But yeah, he’s doing good. I’m happy with where he’s at. We’re just being smart.
“We’ve got a couple of those guys we’ve got to be smart with, like (sixth-year right guard Henry) Bainivalu. He’s played a lot of football for us. Jaxson’s in that same boat. So we’ve just got to be smart. We’ve got to get him to the game, get your racehorses to the race. So we’re being smart. I’m really happy with where he’s at right now.”
In Kirkland’s absence, sophomore Troy Fautanu (6-4, 312) slid from left guard to left tackle and sophomore Nate Kalepo (6-6, 316) was inserted as the starting left guard — alongside center Corey Luciano, right guard Henry Bainivalu and right tackle Roger Rosengarten.
“He’s an awesome body type, because he’s in that 6-4, almost 6-5 range. He’s got long arms. He’s athletic. He could play a lot of spots for us,” Huff said of Fautanu. “Right now we’ve had him at left guard primarily, some left tackle. He hasn’t snapped before, but he’s a guy you could move inside just with his body type. Really, he could play anywhere.
“Really, to say what his best position is … is probably a little tough. Again, he’s really athletic and he understands the game well. So I think we’ve got a lot of flexibility with him.”