- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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The rise of 3-4 defenses in the Pac-12 has made it more challenging to rank defensive tackles-- or interior defensive linemen -- in the conference. How do you compare a team that, officially, uses just one guy inside versus a team that uses two? Comparing defensive ends also becomes a bit of an apples-and-oranges deal.
Still, we don't live in a perfect world. Despite this arduous challenge, the Pac-12 blog will persevere and rank the conference's defensive tackle.
No, please, no applause.
Utah: Star Lotulelei might be the best defensive tackle in the nation. He's a likely first-round NFL draft pick. Dave Kruger is no slouch. And touted junior college transfer Junior Salt and his 340 pounds is inspiring Cheshire cat grins among Utes insiders.
Oregon: The Ducks' top four are back from last season, though the underrated Taylor Hart is as much a defensive end in a 3-4 look as a defensive tackle. Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Heimuli give the Ducks two 300-plus pounders inside.
California: The Bears run a 3-4, but the combination of Kendrick Payne and Aaron Tipoti is outstanding. And then there's 347-pound sophomore Viliami Moala, who gives Cal the option of playing Tipoi at end at times.
USC: The Trojans have a bit of "We'll see," here after losing both starting defensive tackles from 2011. But here's a guess that at least half the teams in the Pac-12, perhaps more, would trade their defensive tackles for George Uko, who has big upside, and J.R. Tavai. And what happens if redshirt freshman Antwaun Woods breaks through? Depth is an issue, but the Trojans will be fine here if they stay healthy.
Washington: The Huskies are difficult to rank. They lose Alameda Ta'amu, but five of the top six defensive tackles are back. But they are, mostly, adopting a 3-4 base defense. 334-pound sophomore Danny Shelton looks like a future star. But it's hard to ignore how bad the defense was last year. Still, there's plenty of ability here. It's up to the new defensive coaches to get it to play better.
Arizona: Just about the entire depth chart is back, and it also will help if Willie Mobley is good to go after missing last season with a knee injury. Still, it's mostly a case of lots of bodies, serviceable players, but no one who will keep an opposing offensive coordinator up at night.
UCLA: The Bruins are much like the Huskies. Bad last year. Switching to 3-4. Plenty of potential to be above average. Of course, we know next to nothing about North Carolina transfer Brandon Willis, who was No. 1 on the post-spring depth chart.
Washington State: Anthony Laurenzi is solid at nose tackle in the Cougars new 3-4, and hopes are high for incoming freshman Robert Barber. The Cougs, by the way, were fairly solid against the run last year, ranking seventh in the conference.
Oregon State: Andrew Seumalo is back as is Castro Masaniai. There were nine players listed on the post-spring depth chart. But the Beavers had the worst run defense in the conference last year, yielding 197 yards per game. Not good.
Colorado: Will Pericak is presently listed as a defensive end, meaning this position is wide open heading into the preseason, though he could still end up playing more at defensive tackle. Sophomore Kirk Poston and junior Nate Bonsu? We'll see. At least a couple of the incoming freshmen -- the Buffs signed nine -- are expected to join the rotation immediately.