If the need arises to assign a label, call the University of Washington’s Danny Shelton a nose guard. At six-foot-one, 327 pounds, it’s logical. The junior is the team’s greatest threat to develop into the run-stopper Justin Wilcox needs to improve a run defense that in 2012 yielded 160 yards a game on the ground.
Perhaps that’s why the defensive coordinator, along with line coach Tosh Lupoi, have spent training camp moving Shelton across the line. A week in, and he’s seen time at nose guard, defensive tackle and defensive end.
“He has the versatility to do it,” coach Steve Sarkisian said.
The staff is preparing him adjust to the offenses orchestrated by each team in the Pac-12, a conference with schemes as diverse as the audience at UW’s freshman orientation.
They need Shelton to be mobile.
“Lupoi throwing me at end is him trying to see if I know what I’m doing, to see if I’m that guy who falls under pressure, or knows what he needs to do,” Shelton said after Tuesday’s two-and-a-half-hour scrimmage inside Husky Stadium.
“Working with this training staff has got my body to a point where I can be versatile — from nose tackle to end,” he added.
Shelton is in his second year working within the confines of a 3-4 scheme that Wilcox brought west with him in 2012, when he jumped from coach Derek Dooley’s staff at the University of Tennessee and replaced Nick Holt at Montlake. In Wilcox’s first season, the Huskies’ total defense ranked 31st nationally, a year removed from finishing 106th.
After Tuesday’s scrimmage, Wilcox was visibly — not to mention audibly — upset. The defense struggled to slow down the offense’s quick tempo. When defensive linemen blew a few assignments, Wilcox tried, to no avail, to keep his cursing under his breath.
Still, he managed some kind words for a player that will be pivotal to the improving on that seven-win plateau three years running.
“I expect Danny to play really well,” Wilcox said. “He has the ability to do that. He just needs to do it on a consistent basis. I’ve been here two years. This camp is better for him than it was last year.”
That assessment should be encouraging given Shelton’s productivity in 2012. He made the Pac-12′s All-Academic first team and was named honorable mention All Pac-12. He played every game and had 45 stops, including tackles for loss. An Auburn native, Shelton said high school prepared him for the switch from Holt’s 4-3 defense to Wilcox’s 3-4.
“I’m getting more comfortable with it,” Shelton said. “In high school I was always the nose guard and always plugging up the middle.”
Sarkisian said that’s where expects Shelton to be Aug. 31 when the Huskies start the regular season against Boise State and give fans a first look at a renovated Husky Stadium. Paramount to stopping, or at least slowing down, the Broncos will be Shelton’s ability to fill space, handling multiple offensive linemen so the rest of the defense can shoot to the gaps.
“As long as he does his job, then the ball gets spilled over to our other athletes, and they can run to the football,” Sarkisian said.
Shelton is confident. If Wilcox needs him to slide over and play end, he thinks he can do that, too. Lupoi preached the virtues of versatility since the beginning of training camp. The coaching staff is starting to see results.
It’s allowing Shelton, free of over-thinking where he needs to go on every snap, to become one of the leaders.
“I’m a junior now — I need to be more mature,” he said. “I need to set an example for these young guys.”
He can continue that by utilizing his massive frame — either in the middle or on the edge.