SEATTLE - The Washington Huskies didn't merely lose tackles and sacks when defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim departed for the NFL.
The Huskies also lost a team leader with an ever-revving motor and off-the-charts work ethic.
Those are qualities UW defensive line coach Johnny Nansen admits are missed.
“You can’t replace a guy like that who gives you everything he’s got,” Nansen said Wednesday. “Daniel, I think, helped (everyone) with their work ethic. But no doubt – no doubt – it was nice having him.”
It will also be hard to replace Te’o-Nesheim’s 11 sacks on a team where no one else had three. His 37 tackles led the defensive line and were seventh on the team.
But rosters turn over every season, and UW coaches expect new leaders to emerge.
“I think you look at guys like Cameron (Elisara), and Talia (Crichton) has got the ability to do it,” Nansen said. “De’Shon Matthews is coming along real well – I think he’s a guy who can help us put some pressure on the quarterback. And also Everrette Thompson has a lot of playing experience. We’ve got more guys we can count on.”
Elisara and Matthews are heading into their senior seasons. And as in every previous season of their UW careers, defensive line is listed among the team’s potential problem areas.
That’s not the way Elisara envisioned it when he crossed the Cascades and first suited up for the Huskies in 2006 after being an all-state selection at Ferris High School of Spokane.
Now starting his final UW season, he is determined to take advantage of one final chance of making his signing-day dreams come true.
“There’s a lot of unfinished business,” Elisara said. “I don’t think I’ve accomplished enough or really much at all in my time here. And this is my last year and the year that I really have to.”
He said he will miss playing alongside Te’o-Nesheim, a third-round selection of the Philadelphia Eagles. But Elisara said he likes the way the defensive line is developing.
“I’ve heard a lot of skeptics about the defensive line and that it’s the weak point,” he said. “And I’m in the position where I need to be the one that proves everybody wrong. I need to help lead these younger guys because there’s only two seniors along the line – just me and De’Shon Matthews – and I’m feeling good. Everybody’s gotten a lot better, and I think it’s going to take a lot of people by surprise.”
Elisara, who has 40 tackles and one sack over his first three seasons, is being used at tackle and end.
He was among the linemen who drew praise from defensive coordinator Nick Holt on Tuesday after UW’s first fall scrimmage. Holt also named Kalani Aldrich, Matthews and Thompson, who is coming on after Achilles surgery.
The returning players are combining with promising younger additions to give Nansen hope for improvement despite the loss of last season’s best lineman.
“The system is in place,” Nansen said. “It’s nice to have guys from last year coming back, guys like Cameron and Semisi Tokolahi and obviously (Alameda) Ta’amu inside. It’s nice to have experience. Last year, they were learning the system as they go. Now, they’re just playing. ... We’re way ahead of where we were last year.”
One day after scrimmaging with temperatures in the 80s, the Huskies reported to Wednesday morning practice with the temperature around 60 degrees. “We’re just trying to prepare for late-October, early November,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. ... For the second consecutive day, Sarkisian praised the play and leadership of senior offensive lineman Gregory Christine, who is not currently running with the No. 1 offense. ... Sarkisian also praised the special teams work of Tim Tucker, a redshirt freshman linebacker. ... Free safety Taz Stevenson (shoulder), a true freshman, was the only injury of night practice.
Staff writer Todd Milles contributed to this report.