Returning Players: James Atoe (So), Dexter Charles (RS Fr), Mike Criste (So), Ross Dolbec (RS Fr), Micah Hatchie (So), Erik Kohler (Jr), Ben Riva (So), Drew Schaefer (Sr), Colin Tanigawa (So), Ben Teichman (RS Fr), Siosifa Tufunga (RS Fr)
Additions: Shane Brostek, Nathan Dean, Jake Eldrenkamp, Cory English, Taylor Hindy
The offensive line went from a position that many thought would be a strength to a position of uncertainty. With all of the offseason upheaval of Colin Porter's retirement and injuries and illness to guys who are being counted on to contribute this year like Kohler and Schaefer as well as Tanigawa's major injury from last season, questions arose quite quickly.
The strength was supposed to come from losing only one starter (Kelemete) to graduation and returning the other four to work on the cohesion that they had built up last season. Yes, Kelemete played the pivotal LT position, but there was a lot of good young talent in the program and whoever earned the position (likely Hatchie or Riva) would have experience playing with him help get him spun up. The Tanigawa injury seemed easy to overlook because he'll be back, and it would allow Kohler to slide over to his more natural position, guard, until he was Tanigawa was ready to come back.
But then Kohler missed a good portion of the offseason workouts, and had to spend Spring ball catching up to everybody else, working with the 2's. Porter was nowhere to be seen, and shortly into camp it was announced that he would not be returning, and the team would be without its best returning lineman. Drew Schaefer suffered a knee injury (which shouldn't hinder him going forward) and had to sit out a bit, and suddenly the entire line working as the #1 unit was a bunch of guys who had either never played, or only played in a limited capacity. Panic.
When we step back and look at it, it's not as bad as the Spring made it seem. Kohler and Schaefer should be ready to go by the time the preseason rolls around, Tanigawa will be back at some point as well, though the coaches will definitely not rush him back before his body is ready. Still, going from having to replace just one starter to potentially replacing three is a blow.
The interior will be more than solid once Tanigawa gets back, and even before as guard tends to be an easier position to step into. The key to the offensive line this season will be the young tackles, Hatchie and Riva. If they can pick things up and live up to the billing that they received coming out of high school, the unit will be fine. Early in the season though, with the matchups against LSU's stud defensive ends, it may be something of a trial by fire. The goal is that they get some good experience against San Diego State, do their best to hold their own vs the Bayou Bengals, maybe regain some confidence against Portland State, and are experienced enough to tackle the tough start to the Pac-12 schedule.
The verdict: Worse.
I don't see this unit being better than it was last season, but may end up being on the same level once they get some reps under their belts. The thing that is encouraging, though, is to look at the players ages: 1 senior, 1 junior, 5 sophomores, 4 freshmen, and 5 incoming frosh. The position should improve as the season goes along, and continue to do so for the next couple of years.