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UW Fall Camp Preview - Offensive Line

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Our Fall Camp Preview series continues with a look at the most experienced position group on the team (and perhaps the nation) - the offensive line. Can this seasoned, veteran group lead the way for another highly productive year by the Husky offense in 2014?

Sr RT Ben Riva
Sr RT Ben Riva
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

You'd be hard-pressed to find an offensive coordinator that would be happy to enter a season minus record-setting multi-year starters at QB and RB.  But if they had to, they'd want an experienced, veteran crew up front to lead the way.  That's exactly the situation facing new OC Jonathan Smith, and he couldn't ask for a more experienced OL as the Huskies return 124 starts and all of last-year's full-time starters.  This may in fact be the most experienced Husky OL in several decades, if not ever.

Who's Gone (2):

Player Year Starts
Erik Kohler RS-Sr 22
Taylor Hindy RS-So 0

The 2013 roster featured no Seniors among the OL group, but they did lose two players as Erik Kohler took a medical retirement and Taylor Hindy opted to transfer.  Kohler was the most heralded of the "Cascade Front" crew of OL signed in the 2010 class, a 4-star prospect from the vaunted Oaks Christian program out of Camarillo, CA and rated as one of the top-5 OG recruits in the 2010 class by both major services.  He was good enough to appear in 11 of 13 games as a true freshman (starting 5 of them) and was a season-long starter the following season, but he struggled with injuries and illness during his time as a Husky and never fully lived up to his recruiting hype, though he had settled in as a valuable 6th man along the line, versatile enough to fill-in at both G positions, RT and even C.

Hindy was a late addition to the 2012 class, committing on January 22nd but keeping it quiet until submitting his LOI in Signing Day per request of the Husky coaching staff.  They viewed him as a project with good upside, but he never really distinguished himself with the Huskies and when the new staff arrived, it didn't take him long to decide to seek a new start elsewhere.

Key Returners (15):

Player Year Starts
Micah Hatchie RS-Sr 26
Ben Riva RS-Sr 21
Colin Tanigawa RS-Sr 26
Mike Criste RS-Sr 20
James Atoe RS-Sr 7
Dexter Charles RS-Jr 21
Shane Brostek Jr 3
Siosifa Tufunga RS-Jr 0
Ross Dolbec RS-Jr 0
Jake Eldrenkamp RS-So 0
Cory Fuavai RS-So 0
Michael Kneip RS-So 0
Coleman Shelton RS-Fr 0
Andrew Kirkland RS-Fr 0
Dane Crane RS-Fr 0

In 2010 Steve Sarkisian excited the Husky faithful by signing a large and touted group of OL - seven to be exact, with three of them rated as 4-star prospects.  This group was dubbed the "Cascade Front" and great things were expected of them.  Fast-forward four-plus years and this group is entering their final season as Huskies.  Two of the three most touted of the group have had to end their careers early due to injury (Kohler, Colin Porter), but the rest have cemented themselves as key cogs on the OL, including four of the five returning starters and one of the top reserves.

Micah Hatchie enters his 3rd season as the starting LT.  Hatchie was the 3rd of three 4-star recruits in that 2010 OL recruiting class, and while he's had his struggles in pass-protection, he showed signs of improvement last year and earned All Pac-12 Honorable Mention at the end of the season.  He has the requisite attributes to be a good one, possessing the size and quick feet combination necessary for the position.

Ben Riva also enters his 3rd season as a starter at RT.  He has transformed his body in his time at the UW, filling out and trading baby fat for muscle.  He's regarded as a strong run-blocker, and the previous staff toyed last Fall with the idea of moving him over to LT before returning him to his more familiar role on the right side.

Mike Criste enters his 2nd straight season as the starter at C.  Criste was a relatively unheralded recruit, but his combination of football smarts, determination and size paid off as he worked his way up the depth chart.  Facing off every day against NT Danny Shelton was excellent practice for him, and he did well enough last year to merit Honorable Mention All Pac-12 honors.

Colin Tanigawa earned a starting role at LG as a RS-Fr before blowing out his knee 11 games into the season.  He returned the following season as a starter only to suffer another knee injury 2 games in.  Despite the double set-back, he once again fought his way into a starting role last year and started all 13 games (12 at RG, 1 at LG).  "Panda" (as he's known by his teammates) is known as one of the fiercest competitors on the team, and his nasty on the field has enabled him to play bigger than his size (6'3", 279 lbs).

Dexter Charles is entering his 3rd straight season as a starter having earned a starting job 2 games into his RS-Fr season.  Charles has the ideal combination of size, feet and nasty on-field demeanor as an OL and is probably the team's top NFL prospect along with Hatchie.  Off-season shoulder surgery forced him to sit out Spring practices as he was limited to conditioning drills.

James Atoe was a classic Sark "sleeper" OL recruit and was famously described as having 1st round NFL potential on Signing Day.  He hasn't come close to living up to that lofty praise, but he's been a key reserve on the OL, often the 1st one off the bench filling in at both G spots and at RT, and has accrued 7 starts thus far in his career and saw extensive action with the ones this past Spring.

Shane Brostek was the most hyped OL in the 2011 class, partially due to his legacy status as the son of Husky Legend Bern Brostek, a four-year starter at C and veteran of 8 NFL seasons.  He was pressed into duty as a true frosh, starting 3 games at RG before getting knicked-up and then moving over to DL to finish the season.  He also battled illness and lost a lot of weight, but recovered enough to see action in 5 games last year.

With Hatchie sitting out the Spring recovering from off-season surgery, RS-So Jake Eldrenkamp got most of the first-team reps at LT.  He was pushed hard by RS-Fr Coleman Shelton who earned praise from new OL Coach Chris Strausser.  In the absence of Charles, RS-Jr. Siosifa Tufunga made the most of his opportunities and ended the Spring as the #1 LG.  He figures to provide key depth on the interior.  RS-Fr Dane Crane was the most highly regarded of the three OL signed in the 2013 class and figures to spend this season learning the ropes under Criste before taking over at C in 2015.  Ross Dolbec is a walk-on from the 2011 class that has worked his way into the depth and saw action in every game last year, and was working frequently with the 2nd unit in Spring.  Andrew Kirkland is another kid from the 2013 class and has the raw tools to be a good one down the road with good size and quick feet.

Newcomers (3):

Player Stars
Matt James 3
Jesse Sosebee 2
John Turner 2

While lacking star power, this is a group that resembles most of the OL classes signed by Chris Petersen at Boise State - kids with good size that flew under the radar of bigger programs.  The good news is the depth appears solid enough to afford all of these kids the opportunity to redshirt.

Matt James was an early commit to Sark and the UW out of Idaho, and his commitment was rock-solid as he was sold on the academics at Washington as he re-committed right away once Petersen was hired.  A  heady player, he may be ticketed for C but could also get looks on the edge as a T.

Jesse Sosebee was a long-time commit to Petersen at Boise State, and it didn't take him long to flip that commitment when Petersen again offered him at the UW.  A big mauler at 6'5", 317 lbs he figures to start his career at G.

John Turner was a classic late-bloomer recruit, playing in the shadow of Chris Brown at Loyola H.S. in Los Angeles (himself a late-bloomer who exploded up the recruiting lists last season).  He chose Washington over Colorado.  He's a touch short for T at 6'3", but he has the quick feet you like on the edge; it will be interesting to see where he ends up.

Analysis:

While most Husky fans were excited about the quality of recruits at the skill position and their subsequent production under Sark, the area of the offense that seemed to lag behind was the OL.  The 2010 class raised hopes, but subsequent classes fell short of fan expectations, and the results on the field have been a mixed-bag.  While the run-blocking has been good enough to pave the way for terrific seasons by Chris Polk and Bishop Sankey and saw the Huskies rank 23rd in the country in yards/rush last year (all the more impressive considering the 30 sacks allowed and 200 yards surrendered as a result), the pass-blocking has been...well...not good.  Over the last 3 years, the Huskies have allowed one sack for every 13.8 (2013), 11.5 (2012) & 11.9 (2011) pass attempts ranking them 9th, 7th and 10th in the conference.  Over that same span, the numbers for Boise State were 17.9, 43.8 & 59.6.  Clearly Chris Strausser was doing something right with his group.  And it's not like their pass-protection was coming at the expense of run-blocking - they were solid in that area, ranking in the top-40 in yards/rush.

There is probably no position group on this team that has undergone a more dramatic change in coaching approach than this one.  Dan Cozzetto was an old-school hard ass, a guy that rode his players relentlessly and enjoyed mustering out those that he thought couldn't cut it.  His is a common approach for OL, as this is a position that demands toughness and a nasty attitude between the lines.  Strausser is by all accounts very different in his approach.  Rather than yell, he teaches and corrects.  Perhaps it's because he wasn't an OL himself as a player, but whatever the reason, you have to admire his results.  If he can impart his pass-blocking magic with this group, we could be looking at one of the best OL units in the country.

Player To Watch:

Micah Hatchie

Hatchie had to sit out this past Spring as he recovered from off-season surgery, so it will be very interesting to see how he adapts to Strausser's coaching.  Perhaps no player on the line stands to gain more from his instruction - Hatchie has the attributes to be a top-flight LT with a shot at the NFL, and if he can continue to tighten-up his pass-protection skills, he could be looking at a banner year.  Whoever ends up winning the job at QB stands to greatly benefit if Hatchie can reach his full potential.

Closing Thoughts:

One downside to the wealth of veteran experience in this group for 2014 is that nearly all of that experience will be lost to graduation for 2015 and beyond.  One of the big challenges for Strausser will be to not only get the most out of his returning starters, but to develop the depth behind them and find them in-game reps.

Early indications suggest Petersen will continue using the HUNH he ran last year at Boise State, something the Huskies also have experience with.  That should afford Strausser the opportunity - and need - to rotate his players in-game above and beyond garbage-time opportunities.  With as many as four starting jobs up for grabs in 2015, finding reps for the backups this year will be critical.

Based off of how the reps were allocated in Spring, here's my best guess as to how the depth chart will look for Fall Camp:

LT:  Hatchie, Eldrenkamp, Shelton

LG:  Charles, Tufunga

C:  Criste, Crane, Tanigawa

RG:  Tanigawa, Atoe

RT:  Riva, Dolbec, Kirkland

Fall Camp Preview Schedule:

7/26:  Quarterbacks (Kirk DeGrasse)

7/27:  Defensive Backs (Brad Johnson)

7/28:  Running Backs (Ryan Priest)

7/29:  Defensive Line (Jesse Kennemer)

7/30:  Linebackers (Ryan Priest)

7/31:  Receivers (Chris Landon)

8/1:  Offensive Line (Kirk DeGrasse)

8/2:  Special Teams (Brad Johnson)

8/3:  Coaches (Chris Landon)