Key Player to Watch - Offense

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

There's enough talent at the skill positions for the Husky offense to win a lot of games in 2013. The key to making it all happen is major improvement on the offense line.

Every Husky fan has an opinion about why 2012 played out the way it did for the offense. Keith Price didn't have confidence in his receivers. Or he regressed. Or nobody stepped up as a consistent playmaker through the air. Or maybe it's all of the above. But there's no doubt that the UW passing attack wasn't near the threat it was in 2011, and as a result, the offense was anemic virtually all season. The running game was mostly very good led by Bishop Sankey, but in Steve Sarkisian's balanced attack, it wasn't enough to overcome the lack of ability to move the ball down the field in big chunks through the air. The Huskies did just enough to win most of their games, but not enough to take a bona fide step forward in 2012.

So many things have to go right, or mostly right, on a given play for it to succeed. When the Huskies ran the ball, it happened more times than not. When they threw the ball, although they ultimately completed a high percentage of their passes, the effectiveness and the efficiency just weren't there. And too often, that was a result of things not going right at the outset of the play with missed blocks, blown assignments, or simply being defeated by the defensive line right away. For the Husky offense to score at a pace to even rank them in the middle of all FBS teams, which was about 30 points a game in 2012, the offensive line needs to at least make sure that the passing game has a chance in 2013.

The line. Seems like we've been here before.

Injuries ravaged the line in 2012. Only two players started every game - the graduated Drew Schaeffer, and redshirt sophomore Micah Hatchie at left tackle. Schaeffer entered the season with fairly high expectations placed on him by Husky fans, and arguably didn't meet them. Hatchie entered the season with hopes the of Husky fans, and ended up taking a beating on the field from the opposition and off of it from fans and the pseudo media.

The 2010 recruiting class was supposed to be the one that resurrected the Husky offensive line. The 7 linemen the Huskies signed were ranked third in the country by scout.com, largely due to the high number. But nobody but Oklahoma signed more 4-star or higher linemen than the Huskies did, so there was definitely talent as well. Colin Porter has since retired due to injury, Erik Kohler has what may very well be a congenital knee issue, and the underrated (by scout and rivals, but strangely enough not ESPN) Colin Tanigawa has had two consecutive ACL injuries. Hatchie was the third of those 4-star players. He was recruited by most of the Pac 12, eventually picking Washington over Oregon, WSU, Colorado, Cal, and others. He was the 25th-rated offensive tackle by scout.com, and enrolled at the UW with praise for his athleticism and technique, but needing to get substantially stronger. In a strange turn of events, he was actually allowed to redshirt in 2010.

With a short line rotation 2011, Hatchie was the only sub that got significant minutes on offense, sporadically playing for Erik Kohler at right tackle. He didn't dazzle by any means, but he showed enough potential that most fans thought that with a little more time, and some more work in the weight room, he could become a genuinely good offensive tackle at some point.

Hatchie earned the starting nod at left tackle in the spring of 2012, and consistently ran with the number one offense all spring and into the fall. Things started off poorly against San Diego State when he was alternately confused by the myriad looks and blitzes the Aztecs threw at him (and not just him, but the entire line), and abused when SDSU simply came right at him. Things got worse in week two, when LSU's highly-regarded defensive ends simply had their collective way with him in Baton Rouge. Everybody remembers the plays when he either forgot the snap count or froze up and never got out of his stance at the snap. What I won't soon forget from that game was the Husky offense breaking the huddle and running up to the line of scrimmage one play. The LSU defense was already on the line, and the camera zoomed in on Barkevious Mingo, who was in his stance, right hand on the ground, left hand giving Hatchie a malicious, "come and get me" finger wave. You could just tell that Hatchie didn't stand much of a chance.

Things got slightly better for Hatchie as the season went on. He wasn't a world beater by any stretch, and I doubt anybody would even argue that he was "good." But he began to win more of the one-on-one battles that he almost always lost the first half of the season, and he was about as good in blocking for the running game as was anybody else. In very brief glimpses, you could see some of the athleticism that made him a sought-after recruit. And let's face it - the Husky blocking scheme doesn't really do much to help its linemen in pass protection. In the instances it used a fullback, he was often times a receiver in the pattern. There isn't a ton of max protection with a tight end. And when a back would stay in to chip, he'd usually have to worry about the penetration that invariably came up the middle as opposed to helping the left tackle with an end or linebacker coming from the outside.

But even looking - hard - for signs of improvement from Hatchie, there still hasn't been enough to generate anything close to confidence entering 2013. He inherited the left tackle position more by default, since there wasn't really a single other viable candidate on the roster, and he's going to keep it for the same reason even if the performance doesn't really follow. He's still got to get significantly stronger. And I hope that he can either get or keep his confidence in himself after struggling in 2012, and dealing on a daily basis with the, uh, tough love all of the linemen take from Dan Cozzetto.

It'd be easy to just say that the entire offensive line needs to improve and leave it at that. And it was tough to not pick "whoever takes over at center," because that's the guy that has to make the offensive line calls and audibles. But Hatchie is a returning starter, and now an upperclassman, at the premier position on the offensive line. His improvement, and the help that it would immediately give the passing game, makes him the key player to watch on the Husky offense this fall.

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