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UW Fall Camp 2015 Preview: Offensive Line

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Washington loses 4 starters from last season's offensive line, and it is definitely the position group with the most intrigue on offense heading into fall camp. While a bit short on experience, the depth does return 6 players who have been in the program at least 4 years. Can the offensive line step up and improve upon last season's disappointment?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington offensive line has taken its lumps the past 15 or so seasons.  It seems like injuries, recruiting misses, and pressing freshmen into action too early have left the UW offensive line with its fair share of struggles in recent years.  Washington will be replacing 3 starters along the line, but will be replacing them with players who have been in the program for at least 2 years.  I don't think anyone expects the offensive line to dominate, but can they be an effective unit and help ease in a new starting quarterback?  Their performances this year will determine if the offense will be able to get an above average running game going, and if the new Husky QB will be spending most of the season upright or on his back.

Who's Gone

Name Position Height Weight Years as Contributor
James Atoe RG/RT 6-7 381 3
Mike Criste C 6-6 316 3
Micah Hatchie LT 6-5 306 3
Ben Riva RT 6-7 313 3
Colin Tanigawa C/RG 6-3 292 3

For as much starting experience that is being lost, none of the departed players were first or second team all conference last year.  Micah Hatchie turned out to be a soild Pac-12 left tackle, but nothing more.  Ben Riva may have had a fantastic year in his final season at UW, but he spent most of the season injured.  Colin Tanigawa spent most of his career as a guard before moving to center last year.  He struggled snapping the ball before Mike Criste was moved back to center. All in all, I think this unit loses more leadership than actual talent.

Who's Back + New Additions

Name Position Height Weight
Dexter Charles - Sr LG 6-5 312
Siosifa Tufunga - Sr C 6-3 313
Jake Eldrenkamp - RJr LT 6-5 298
Shane Brostek - RJf RG 6-4 301
Cory Fuavai - RJr LG 6-3 312
Michael Kneip - RJr C 6-5 302
Coleman Shelton - RSo RT 6-4 282
Andrew Kirkland - RSo LT 6-4 300
Dane Crane - RSo LG/C 6-3 287
Matt James - RFr RT 6-4 273
Kaleb McGary - RFr RT 6-7 292
Jessee Sosbee - RFr RG 6-5 313
John Turner - RFr C 6-3 282
Devin Burleson - Fr LT 6-7 302
Trey Adams - Fr LT 6-8 283
Henry Roberts - Fr RG 6-6 280
Jared Hilbers - Fr RT 6-6 279

So the good news here is that Washington returns its best offensive linemen, Dexter Charles, and another contributor last year, Coleman Shelton.  Together they started 16 games combined, and if you include Siosifa Tufunga's 5 starts when Charles was injured, that's 21 total.  The issue is that those 21 starts are only from two positions.  Washington will have a new left tackle, a new center, and a new right guard.  When you consider that LT and C are the two most important positions on the line, this is an issue.  On the other hand, the likely starter at LT this year, Jake Eldrenkamp, has been #1 on the depth chart the last 2 springs while Micah Hatchie was injured.

The concern isn't so much the players assuming starting roles, it's that they have never faced Pac-12 defenses before.  Shane Brostek is an exception here, but hasn't started a game on offense since 2012 when Washington beat #8 Stanford at CenturyLink Field.  He was then moved to defense, injured, redshirted, and is now the likely starter at RG.  How much rust does he have from injury and from playing defense?

Everyone heading into fall camp is assumed healthy at this point, and starting experience seems to be the big concern.  I would also expect all freshmen to redshirt, except for maybe Trey Adams.  More on him below...

Players to Watch

Dexter Charles:  The only returning starter along the offensive line and the unit's best player.  He's a 4 year starter and tough as nails.  Now, he just needs to be a leader for the young guys and show that he's 100% back from injury that kept him out of spring camp.

Jake Eldrenkamp: Your likely starter at LT against UW's first opponent, Boise State.  Everyone here knows that an offense's success is tied to the offensive line play, and protecting the QB's blindside is crucial to that success.  Jake is replacing a 3 year starter in Micah Hatchie, who while never dominant, was a solid Pac-12 left tackle.  As noted above, Jake has been the #1 LT in spring camp the two seasons, which cannot be overstated.  For the offense to have any success this year, Jake cannot allow himself to be a revolving door for Pac-12 pass rushers to run through.  If he can provide some solid play, that will carry the offensive line very far.

Shane Brostek: He played with the #1 offensive line at RG for most of camp, and appeared to handle the position well.  He hasn't played on offense since his freshman year but he's a sure thing to start at RG this season.  His situation is very reflective of the offensive line unit as a whole.  He's been around for about 3 years, is talented, but just hasn't played much either due to injury or depth ahead of him.  Can he stay healthy and provide some stability on the right side of the line?

Trey Adams: If any freshman offensive line recruit does not redshirt, it will likely be Trey Adams.  A life long Husky fan, he committed to Sark during his sophomore year of high school and stayed true to Washington during the coaching change.  No true freshman has ever started for Chris Peterson, but word is that Trey has been reshaping his body to get ready for the college game.  He's big, strong, and athletic.  If he can pick up the schemes, is it so crazy to think he could get time in the 2 deeps?

Projected Depth Chart

LT: Jake Eldrenkamp, Andrew Kirkland, Devin Burleson, Trey Adams

LG: Dexter Charles, Dane Crane, Cory Fuavai

C: Siosifa Tufunga, Michael Kneip/Dane Crane

RG: Shane Brostek, Jessee Sosebee, Henry Roberts

RT: Coleman Shelton, Matt James, Caleb McGary, John Turner, Jared Hilbers

Closing Thoughts

Looking ahead, there's a lot to be excited about in the coming years.  There are freshmen and redshirt freshmen that have size and athleticism not seen at the position in recent seasons (Adams, McGary, Burleson, and Sosebee come to mind) .  For the present, there are a number of players that have been in the program for a few years, but in general the offensive line lacks experience.  Unlike some skill positions where players can contribute right away based on feel and athleticism, offensive line is so much about smarts and technique.  Those things come in time and Washington fans have to hope that players like Jake Eldrenkamp, Dexter Charles, Shane Brostek, and Siosifa Tufunga have seized the opportunities in front of them.  If they can be leaders and play like juniors and seniors (albeit ones without a lot of game experience), maybe Washington's offensive line in 2015 will be better than expected.