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Arizona football preview: Defensive line

A shoulder injury kept Justin Washington on the sidelines for much of spring. Photo by David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic

Here is the seventh part of our Arizona Wildcats football preview in collaboration with our Gannett partner, The Arizona Republic.

We write the words, and they have taken the cool photographs and put it all together in a slick presentation at azcentral.com.

Check back here and at azcentral.com every Friday as we roll out more of our preview every week, all the way into August.

This week: The defensive line.


Arizona’s inexperience on the defensive line, combined with an even-greener group of offensive linemen, gives the Wildcats potential trouble in the trenches on both sides.

At least UA has a mostly proven centerpiece on defense with sophomore defensive tackle Justin Washington. Beyond that, the Cats mostly are looking for multiple breakout seasons from young tackles and older defensive ends who are trying to replace a trio of ends — Brooks Reed, Ricky Elmore and D’Aundre Reed — who were selected in the NFL Draft.

Former Wildcat standout and NFL defensive lineman Joe Salave’a is in his first season coaching the tackles.

“Joe is so fun because of his energy,” said defensive ends coach Jeff Hammerschmidt. “The guys really respect him and he knows exactly what he’s talking about.”

Justin Washington

Washington was a lightly regarded prospect from Cypress, Texas — he received two stars out of five from Rivals.com — who redshirted in the 2009 season. Not much was expected in 2010, but he forced his way into the rotation during fall camp and was so impressive that coach Mike Stoops made him a starter by the second game.

Using his quickness inside, Washington started nine games, finishing with 46 tackles, including 11.5 for loss and six sacks. One of his biggest plays was blocking an extra-point attempt in the Iowa game that kept the game tied.

With more than double the career starts from the rest of the defensive line combined, Washington will have to deal this season with being the focal point of opposing blocking schemes.

Sione Tuihalamaka should move into a full-time starting role this season. Photo by David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic

Sione Tuihalamaka

Tuihalamaka was part of last season’s playing rotation, which loses starting tackle Lolomana Mikaele, who also was one of the team’s captains.

Tuihalamaka is in line to take over that starting spot after a season in which he played in every game, starting four, making 23 tackles. He had three tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks. Arizona doesn’t have that classic 300-pound run stuffer, but it has good athleticism from its interior positions on the defensive line.

Tuihalamaka, who had an offer out of high school from Nebraska, is the cousin of former Arizona linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka and the brother of former UA defensive end Apai Tuihalamaka, who had to give up football after last season because of concussions.

C.J. Parish

One of the nice spring surprises for Arizona, Parish is trying to take advantage of an extra year of eligibility. He was granted a medical redshirt after suffering a season-ending concussion in the third game of 2010.

Parish has been tried at linebacker, defensive end and fullback, but he considers end his natural position.

“I played it in high school; I played it in junior college,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of positions, but d-end is something I really favor.”

Parish’s biggest impact is expected to come against the pass, as he uses his speed to harass quarterbacks. But coach Mike Stoops says that Parish, perhaps a bit undersized, will hold up well against the run.

“He plays strong,” Stoops said. “He’s a very powerful kid.”

Mohammed Usman

Usman, a senior, will be trying to pack his Arizona career into his final season after he missed all but the final three games of last season. He had to serve an academic suspension following his transfer from junior college.

Usman played at the University of Houston as a true freshman in 2008, when he made 10 tackles. He looks good in a uniform, and a strong spring practice indicated that he will produce in the regular season.

Arizona needs that because the backups at defensive end have no playing experience at this level. The inexperience at end means the Wildcats will have to get more creative with their pass rush.

“We probably won’t be able to create as much pressure with four-man rushes,” coach Mike Stoops said in the spring.

Dan Pettinato will need to contribute as a redshirt freshman. Photo by David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic

Dan Pettinato

The redshirt freshman might not be ready for a starting role, but he’s expected to come up big as a rotation player this season behind a pair of senior ends.

He already has put on 45 pounds or so from his senior year of high school.

“I think the adjustment for him is just getting his foot speed quicker,” said defensive ends coach Jeff Hammerschmidt.

“But he’s going to be a good player because he works so hard. He could be one of the better guys for us. This year, we’re hoping he can get 10, 15 snaps per game or so — and play a bunch of special teams — and then next year hopefully he has a chance to be a three-year player for us.”

Lamar De Rego

Arizona tried defensive tackle Dominque Austin at end in the spring to give the front a bigger look against physical running teams. But with Austin battling academic issues this summer, there is even more pressure on De Rego, a junior college transfer, to perform right away.

De Rego made 8.5 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks last season, at San Jose Community College. He played high school ball at Kamehameha Secondary School in Honolulu.

He originally committed to Oregon State last December before switching to Arizona in January.

Other possibilities at defensive end are incoming freshmen Reggie Gilbert from Fairfax High in Laveen, and Dame Ndiaye, a raw, athletic prospect from San Diego’s Hoover High.

Aiulua Fanene

Fanene, the brother of Jonathan Fanene — who has played for the Cincinnati Bengals for the past six seasons — had an impressive spring to move into a probable role as a redshirt freshman defensive tackle.

Fanene was part of a 2009 “60 Minutes” profile about football in American Samoa. The CBS show showed the typical family values and work ethic of Samoan players, stating that Fanene did “a day’s work before school under the direction of his father, David.”

Arizona added Fanene after Signing Day 2010, and he went on to become the team’s defensive scout team MVP last season.

Kirifi Taula

Junior Willie Mobley, who began his career at Ohio State, was in line to be a backup at defensive tackle before suffering a post-spring torn ACL in a basketball game.

That opens the door for a number of prospects, including Taula, who picked the Wildcats over Washington and Oregon State near Signing Day in 2010. Scout.com rated Taula a four-star recruit and the 30th-best defensive tackle nationally.

While Taula is considered to have a bright future, Arizona has other possibilities among its inexperienced defensive tackles, including junior Chris Merrill, junior Jowyn Ward and freshman Saneilia Fuimaono.

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