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Washington Spring Previews 2016: Offensive Line

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Is this the season the offensive line puts it all together to give Washington its first great offensive line in years?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2015 Year in Review

It always feels difficult to quantify line play, to sum up with a few adjectives a job that involves five rotating bodies trying to coordinate in two distinct phases of blocking.

To complicate matters even further, there are not many statistics that really evaluate the offensive line in isolation. Because, you know, football doesn't happen in isolation.

All that hedging aside, I'm comfortable saying this line did an average-to-good job blocking for the run and a mediocre-to-poor job protecting Jake Browning. In the context of what was a very young and highly unsettled line, it never felt all that reasonable to expect a lot more than that.

The Huskies surrendered 34 sacks over 13 games, good for 7th in the Pac-12. In reality they were a little worse than this, as Browning dropped back at a below-average rate. Sometimes Browning was guilty of holding on to the ball too long, and the receiving corps clearly struggled to get open--enough that changes were made to the coaching staff--but we still saw lackluster pass protection on many occasions.

In terms of run blocking, the line cleared the way for a true freshman to rush for 1300 yards with a 5.7 yards per attempt average. Perhaps even more telling, backups like Washington, Coleman, and even Cooper each averaged over 5.0 yards per carry. From about the midpoint of the season on, I always felt confident that this offense would be able to run the ball, even when the passing game faltered.

Do these linemen deserve all the credit for Gaskin's huge year? No, but they are certainly due a big chunk of it.

It was massively encouraging to see Trey Adams hold his own at left tackle as a true freshman. Kaleb McGary broke through at right tackle in only his second season in the program. Matt James, also a redshirt freshman, also saw significant time and a few starts.

Coleman Shelton flashed impressive athleticism at right guard, Jake Eldrenkamp held down the LG spot, and the lone veteran Siosifa Tufunga played generally well at center, aside from some late-season snapping issues.

Players Lost, Players Returning

Tufunga is lost to graduation. Dane Crane was forced to retire due to injury.

Everyone else is back. Starter Eldrenkamp and rotational contributor Shane Brostek will now be seniors, along with Michael Kneip.

I'm excited to see how big a step forward Adams and McGary can take as second year starting tackles.  Both seem to possess the talent and physical makeup to develop in to NFL-caliber tackles. They will be pushed by Matt James and Andrew Kirkland, though it's hard to see either player wrestling a permanent starting spot away from either player.

I would presume Coleman Shelton reclaims his starting guard spot, but it wouldn't surprise me to see a serious competition between Eldrenkamp and the other returning guards like Jesse Sosebee (who started two games) or Kneip. No matter what, the Huskies will be privileged to rotate quality players in off the bench at guard and tackle.

The center spot is waiting to be filled. It feels like Petersen and his staff are pretty flexible as far as converting guards to centers and vice versa, so I really do not know which returners would be obvious candidates. Maybe Shane Brostek?

Storylines to Watch

How good is Henry Roberts? Looking back at the Class of 2015, lots of folks were just as excited about Henry Roberts as about Trey Adams. Now, after a redshirt year to try and catch up to Adams physically, will Roberts be able to compete with Matt James or Andrew Kirkland for time as a backup tackle?

Who will step up at Center? I've already established that I do not know what the plan is for the middle of this line. Perhaps this will be a big opportunity for the odd-man-out at guard, whether it be Sosebee or Kneip or someone else.

How high should expectations be? This line is packed full of young, talented players, and four out of five starters are returning. Typically that is a recipe for a dominant year. I'm curious to see if we can get any indication in the spring as to what players and coaches expect from this group in 2016. Am I unreasonable for being this excited?

Freshmen Arriving in the Fall

Luke Wattenberg, a four-star guard, is the big offensive line commit from the Class of 2016. I'm excited about the kind of player he could be in two or three years, but I don't think it will be necessary to press any more true freshmen in to duty.

Nick Harris, a three-star guard from Junipero Serra in California, also joins as as part of the 2016 class and should also take a redshirt season to get stronger and learn the position.

It may have been amazing to witness last season, but it's a good thing that we are likely moving beyond first- or even second-year players having to play offensive line.