Fall Camp Assessment: Offensive Line

LT Ben Riva looks to pave the way for another big year by Bishop Sankey - Joe Nicholson USA TODAY Sports

With Fall Camp wrapped and Boise State prep beginning, we take a look at each position group heading into the season - next up, the offensive line.

Projected Starters:

LT - Ben Riva, RS-Jr.

LG - Dexter Charles, RS-So.

C - Mike Criste, RS-Jr.

RG - Colin Tanigawa, RS-Jr.

RT - Micah Hatchie, RS-Jr.

Backups:

C/LG/RG/RT Erik Kohler, RS-Jr.; RG/RT James Atoe, RS-Jr.; LT Jake Eldrenkamp, RS-Fr.; C Siosifa Tufunga, RS-So.; *RT Ross Dolbec, RS-So.; *LG Michael Kneip, RS-Fr.; OT Taylor Hindy, RS-Fr.; OG Cory Fuavai, RS-Fr.

* indicates a non-scholarship player

Analysis:

Long time Husky fans know the importance of a good offensive line - winning the battle in the trenches was the keystone to the success of teams from Jim Owens through Rick Neuheisel. When the OL began to falter in the 2nd half of Neuheisel's tenure, it's no surprise that the team itself began to slide.

Sarkisian seemingly hit a home run when, in his 2010 recruiting class, he signed seven OL - many of them highly ranked - and appeared to have set the table for future success with the so-called "Cascade Front". Fast forward two years to the 2012 season and it appeared that group was ready to start making their mark. But as has been well-documented, a rash of injuries took their toll and performance did not meet expectations.

The good news is this group returns a lot of experience, losing only Drew Schaefer from last year's starters and adding Tanigawa back from the injury list, meaning the Cascade Front now forms 4/5 of the starting group and the top 2 backups.

The most interesting development of the Fall was the official swap of Riva and Hatchie, with Riva now at LT and Hatchie at RT. Hatchie was overwhelmed at times last year, either missing snap counts or assignments and giving his man 2-3 step head starts, or simply getting overpowered. Much of the time that Keith Price was flushed from the pocket was due to Hatchie getting beat. Meanwhile, Riva (when healthy) was usually our best lineman, getting good push in the run game and providing adequate pass protection, albeit against what was typically the lesser of the opponent's defensive ends.

The coaches looked at the film from 2012 and the work that both players had done in the off-season and thought Riva had the physical attributes to succeed at LT. And so far he has paid off that hunch by looking very good in the role. Riva is a great example of the development path of OL - he had the length and footwork you like as building blocks and enough of the nasty you want on the field. And with 3+ years of college-level weight training, he has re-shaped his body into right balance of strength, flexibility and good, lean weight to gain the attention of NFL scouts.

The other big story has been the return of Panda. After two consecutive knee injuries, it would have been easy to assume he would not be able to get back to the level he showed as a very promising RS-Fr in 2011, but he's come back strong and seized the starting job at RG. The nastiest of the OL, his presence helps give the entire group the attitude coach Cozz loves.

Charles begins his 2nd year as a starter, and he flashed nice potential at times last year. Now in his 3rd year in the program, we should see him begin to blossom this year. Criste has taken the reins from the graduated Schaefer at C and has a firm hold on the job. Over at RT, Hatchie hopes to rebuild his confidence and show why he was a highly-sought 4-star recruit.

The Huskies are starting to develop some depth here, though the foot injury to star-crossed RS-Jr. Kohler hurts as he is the top backup at C, both guard spots and RT when healthy. As it stands currently, Atoe is probably the first guy off the bench, able to spell Tanigawa at RG and Hatchie at RT. Eldrenkamp has emerged as a guy to watch and could see some time at LT. Tufunga is starting to come along as he enters his 3rd year, and with Kohler currently out, he provides insurance at C. Keep in mind that Cozzetto likes positional flexibility in his group, and the listed depth chart probably doesn't reflect the actual decisions of where he'd place guys in case of injury - Hatchie can play LT, Criste can slide out to either G spot or RT, Tanigawa has experience at LG and has taken reps at C, and Charles has the footwork to slide out to LT if needed. Getting Kohler back healthy will be big, as he can play pretty much any position on the line and gives Cozz an experienced, talented backup that he can use to give his starters a breather.

Even with Kohler out for a few more weeks, there's a decent chance the coaches will opt to try to redshirt So. OG Shane Brostek. With the parade of injuries last year he was pressed into duty as a true frosh early in the season, and then saw some action later in the year at DT. Unknown to the public at the time, he was dealing with an illness that saw him drop a lot of weight and strength, and he's been using the off-season to build himself back up.

While the Huskies missed out on some preferred OL targets in their 2013 class, they still landed some good ones. Dane Crane was one of the top C prospects in the country, and there had been some thought he might be in the mix to win the C job this year, but Criste has held him off and won the job, so Crane seems likely to redshirt. Andrew Kirkland has impressed observers with his physique, and both he and fellow frosh Coleman Shelton have shown a lot of promise in practices. They are both nearly certain to redshirt, but look for them to be factors in the 2-deeps as soon as next year.

This is a group under a lot of scrutiny, and the good news is there are reasons to be optimistic that they'll make the jump from below-average to above-average this year, and they could very well be the most experienced OL unit in the country in 2014.

Edit: Sark has released the first official depth chart for 2013 and in a surprise, he has Riva back at RT and Hatchie at LT. I expect the beat writers to ask Sark about this at his presser on Monday given that all public comments and observations had Riva getting his reps at LT and the coaches expressing a great deal of praise for the job Riva had been doing there.

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