2014 Year in Review
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.
The Huskies came into 2014 with one of the nation's most experienced offensive lines with 124 total starts, and after paving the way for Bishop Sankey's record-setting 2013 campaign—1,870 yards, 5.72 YPA and 20 TDs—many thought that the line would become the focal point for an offense seeking to replace its star quarterback, running back and tight end, as well as needing to acclimate to the first year of a new head coach's tenure. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as UW's running game regressed (4.35 yards per attempt in 2014, compared to 5.09 YPA in 2013) while the offense's pass protection improved by only the smallest of margins (one sack every 14.29 attempts in 2014, versus one every 13.77 attempts the year prior).
There is no clear-cut reason why the offensive line, which returned all five starters and was perceived to be an area of strength, failed to live up to expectations. One could argue that Chris Strausser's effort to reshape his players' bodies (Dexter Charles, Mike Criste, Ben Riva and Colin Tanigawa's listed weights in 2014 were 22, 10, 13 and 17 pounds heavier than in 2013, respectively) left them uncoordinated and uncomfortable in their new skins; another could argue—and lord knows that many of us did—that the staff's decision to move Tanigawa to center, James Atoe to guard and Rimington Trophy watch list candidate Criste to the bench unnecessarily disrupted the group's chemistry; and still others might point to Ben Riva's awful luck with injuries that left him sidelined for virtually the entire season, with a redshirt freshman in Coleman Shelton to substitute for him. Ultimately, all of those developments played a factor in the offensive line's disappointing performance. 2014 was a year in which quite a few dominoes needed to fall just the right way for this unit to perform well, and those circumstances simply did not come to pass.
Players Gone/Players Returning
Storylines to Watch
Out with the Old
With 80 percent of last year's starters gone, there now exists something of a leadership vacuum among the offensive linemen. Players who were widely praised for their ability to inspire teammates, most especially Tanigawa, are no longer with the program, and it will be up to the underclassmen to seize the initiative. Expect to hear through the grapevine this spring and summer about which linemen have assumed leadership of the unit's offseason workout drills.
In with the New
Having just one returning starter in the form of left guard Dexter Charles means that Strausser and Chris Petersen will undoubtedly spend a significant amount of time and energy experimenting with the OL's starting lineup. Players like Shelton, Eldrenkamp and Crane will likely get early looks on the first team, but their possession of starting spots is by no means guaranteed. Depending on how much progress he has made since switching positions in the bowl practices, McGary is an intriguing dark horse here: He has all of the physical tools needed to be a top-tier Pac-12 offensive lineman; now, he just needs to show that he can put the pieces together and consistently perform at a high level.
Protecting the Young Guns
Cyler Miles' surprising leave of absences makes him a seemingly non-factor for the football team in 2015, meaning that there is a not-insignificant chance that UW's starting quarterback will be either redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels or true freshman Jake Browning. Even if both quarterbacks look like the second coming of Marques Tuiasosopo during the months between now and fall camp, it is an inarguable fact that neither of them has taken a snap for a squad playing at the level of a Pac-12 football team. That is not an easy transition to make, and a hard task such as that one becomes infinitely more difficult when the QB realizes that every time he drops back, he will face pass-rushing defensive ends and blitzing linebackers and cornerbacks if the offensive line is unable to provide him with adequate protection. Strausser has much to accomplish this spring and summer, and putting together effective pass protections schemes needs to be at or near the top of that list.
Freshmen Arriving in the Fall
*UW lists all linemen as "OL," so these positions are drawn primarily from last year's depth charts, my memory and/or the predictions of fellow writers. If I've gotten any of them woefully wrong (and I'm sure I have), please leave a comment and I'll be sure to update the tables.