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As Numbers Add Up, UW's Offensive Line Strategy Shifts to a Zen State

After years of trying to build it back up, the Huskies OL is starting to come into balance. How much room is there to add to the mix with the 2014-2015 class?

Thanks to aggressive restocking, UW's offensive line will have many celebrations in its future.
Thanks to aggressive restocking, UW's offensive line will have many celebrations in its future.
Stephen Brashear


Did you see that?  That was another not-very-good pass rusher making a UW offensive tackle look like roadkill.

Remember those days?  It wasn't all that long ago when UW fans were bemoaning the lack of overall depth along the UW offensive line and the inability of the former staff - HC Steve Sarkisian and OL Coach Dan Cozzetto - to develop the talent that they had.  Husky fans suffered through the losses of critical in-state recruits like Zach Banner and Joshua Garnett to rival programs.  They lamented the chronic injuries that limited the effectiveness and careers of talented players like Erik Kohler and Colin Porter.  They've impatiently watched promising young players like Colin Tanigawa and Shane Brostek get chewed up by Pac 12 defenses before they were ready to fully contribute.

It's been a long, painful journey highlighted by amazing feats of missed blocks and pile-driven quarterbacks.

To the patient observer, the trajectory of the current incarnation of the Huskies offensive line has been an upward sloping one, no matter how ugly the starting point was.  The progress that the unit has made in the rushing game is unquestionable and, last season, we saw a discernible improvement in the overall state of pass protection as UW and QB Keith Price rewrote the Huskies record book.

This year, the Huskies offensive line projects as one of the most experienced units not just in the Pac 12 but across all of college football.  C Mike Criste is a legit Rimington Trophy watch list candidate.  OTs Micha Hatchie and Ben Riva each possess Pac 12 capabilities that range from "above average" to "excellent" depending on what aspect of the game you are evaluating.  OGs Colin Tanigawa, Dexter Charles and James Atoe provide both experience and versatility, all having seen considerable field time over the past few years.  Young players like Jake Eldrenkamp, Dane Crane, Andrew Kirkland and, now, Brostek are getting the developmental time required to contribute as they become upper classmen.

It was a rough ride, but the shelves are effectively restocked thus affording Chris Petersen and his staff the opportunity to think more strategically about how they want to setup their recruiting strategy for the offensive line.  Interestingly enough, 2014 happens to be an "elite" year for offensive linemen coming out of the Pacific Northwest.  Players like Calvin Throckmorton, Trey Adams and Henry Roberts are all high-level recruits who hail from the state of Washington.  With players like this - not to mention a bevy of other high level recruits in UW's recruiting pipelines - available at a time when UW can be more picky about how they recruit the line, the natural question becomes "how many OLs should Petersen take in this class?"

Currently, the UW already has three offensive linemen committed to the 2014 class - all of whom currently project as offensive tackles (I'm excluding LS AJ Carty from this discussion).  Devin Burleson, an athletic project who committed to Petersen late in the 2013 cycle, has already announced that he will be taking a greyshirt and will enroll in the Winter Quarter.  Adams committed several months ago and, recently, Oregon prospect Jared Hilbers committed after considering his Chris Petersen offer for less than half a day.  Outside of those three, the UW presumably has strong interest in Roberts, who is rumored to be a UW lean, and Throckmorton, who appears to be a rock-solid Oregon commit.

Commits can always change, but a betting man would have to say that UW's three commits are about as set-in-stone as a scholarship commitment can get.  One also has to presume that UW will make room for Roberts when and if he decides to commit no matter how many other spots are filled.  With all of that said, what else is there left to do for Petersen and staff as it relates to the offensive line?

If current numbers hold, and Roberts does commit, then UW will effectively replace all of four of their departing seniors and have a total roster of 15 offensive linemen (this counts Brostek but excludes LS Ryan Masel and Carty).  Thus, UW could basically stop their recruiting for OLs right now and focus on other areas.  If they happen to get a big guy ATH who could flex between OL and DL (a guy like Kaleb McGary), so be it.  17 is a pretty healthy number overall, it reflects a balance of interior and exterior guys and recognizes that you may have some flexibility to still move a DL guy over in a pinch.

A traditionalist, I think, would argue that every OL class should have five guys in it.  This argument focuses on the notion that OLs are the hardest position group to forecast given all of the physical development that has to happen for a young player to become a competent P12 linemen. It also acknowledges that situations like Porter and Kohler (and Tanigawa, etc) are not unusual and that player turnover in this position is high.  In this line of thinking, OL is a numbers game that requires annual attention.

A realist would take a different tack and focus on 85-man scholarship limit.  He would argue that no position group can afford to be intentionally short-changed and that navigating injuries is just a risk that every coach has to take when trying to optimize an 85 man roster.  In this line of thinking, taking three may be more than enough, even if Roberts wants in.

Others might take the NFL Draft approach and argue that we need to get the best 85 players we can possibly get with our limited scholarship offers as long as we don't get too imbalanced on the roster.  That means if you have a chance to get two elite QBs in the same class (e.g. Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist), you do it.  If UW is lucky enough to land Roberts and somehow see a change in Throckmorton's situation lead him back home, so be it.  If not, maybe we take three and call it a day.

I'm not enough of a recruiting expert to have a firm opinion on this subject.  My sense is that Petersen is more "realist" than anything else and that he's ready to take just one more commitment in this OL class and only in the case that such a commitment is coming from a high-level talent.  This isn't to say that he will or should stop recruiting a variety of players - you always have to cover your bases while maintaining relationships - but I think Petersen is a very intentional recruiter and one to stick to his plan.  He has to like that Burleson has agreed to a greyshirt and that McGary looms as a possible position switch candidate if it comes to it.  He has valuable options with this class as a result.  I'm sure he intends to capture that value somewhere else in the recruiting class.

Regardless, the dark ages of offensive line play at the UW appear to be ending.  The roster is coming into balance and the prospects of recruiting for talent as opposed to numbers is now the focus of the Husky coaching staff.