If there's a position group over the last 15 years of Husky Football that has taken as much criticism and heat as the offensive line, I would like to know. Between injuries, poor recruiting, even worse development, and just some bad luck, the OL has been a scapegoat for a lot of Washington's football woes. Many point to the "correlation" that the last UW team in a Rose Bowl just so happens to be the last one with an All-Conference offensive lineman in the trenches.
After yet another up and down season for the OL, they really needed spring practice. After starting two freshmen at LT and RT, they needed 15 practices to take what they learned during their first season and continue to hone and refine their craft. Injuries struck again as starting LT Trey Adams missed the start of practice but was able to play at the end of spring. Elsewhere, Coleman Shelton got acclimated to his new center position, Shane Brostek locked down the RG spot, and Kaleb McGary kept showing his toughness at RT coming back from and playing through a leg injury this spring.
Let's take a closer look.
The Twin Tackles
There's obviously more to the tackle group than just Trey Adams on the left and Kaleb McGary on the right, but there's no denying they are the future of the line and have some of the highest ceilings among anyone else in the unit. They endured their hard games last year but for the most part held their own. Most importantly, they improved as the season went on, both individually and as a unit. Likely not this year, but they have the potential to be the best tackle partnership in the conference (I'm looking at you, 2017 season).
Backing up both those spots is junior Andrew Kirkland. Last season was his chance to assert himself or risk being passed up in the depth, and he did just that. He played in 12 games last year and started 7 of them at both RT and LT, highlighting his versatility. His experience and consistency is a welcome addition to the tackle group.
The young guys, redshirt freshmen Devin Burleson and Jared Hilbers, are in pretty much the same spot. If all holds, they won't see the field much with Andrew Kirkland being the main backup. The good news is that depth is being built with quality players.
My only concern with these players is health. If they avoid injuries for the most part, there's no earthly reason we won't see real improvement from these players. They didn't get as much time together during spring as the coaches would have liked, but there's no denying their steady improvement.
The interior of the line is where things start to get a bit more interesting, starting with new center Coleman Shelton. He's arguably the team's best OL in that he can play all 5 positions on the line quite well. He doesn't have the potential of a Trey Adams, but he's just an offensive lineman in its purest form. He also has 20 starts, and after a few games to get used to the change, I expect him to play better than Siosifa Tufunga at center last year. OL Coach Chris Strausser absolutely put Shelton at center to use his experience and versatility to help a young line gel. Backing him up are John Turner and Matt James. James has some experience at RT and is more of a "technician" than a mauler as a OL. Ideally Shelton plays every game, while Turner and James provide depth.
Could Shane Brostek have a patented Chris Petersen Senior Year Husky Breakout? He'll be the starting RG and after moving between offense and defense, and sustaining some injuries, he seems to have finally found a home at his natural position. I think in his final year he'll show why there was a lot of excitement about his potential when he came in from Hawaii. When he's playing well, he frankly manhandles the oposition. Backing him up is Jessee Sosebee, who the coaches love. He might need another year but he's another road grader type who can drive defensive linemen backward. "Boomer" is entering his 3rd year and should look better on the field when he gets his snaps.
Here's a fun piece of trivia: the LG spot goes 3 deep with former Bellevue players. Currently the depth goes: Jake Eldrenkamp, Michael Kneip, and Henry Roberts. Eldrenkamp might not have the most pro potential, but he was certainly one of the consistent players on the OL. In fact, he was the only OL to get a positive overall grade through the course of the season from Pro Football Focus.
Better, with a big caveat being players remain healthy. There are some positive signs and reason for hope: the projected starting five have 50 starts between them. The other side of that coin is that 20 belong to one player: Coleman Shelton. Either way, in college football, experience is huge for offensive linemen and returning starts are usually a nice indicator of a line's future growth. There's no guarantee they will be better, but the fact that they got better as the season wore on is a good sign. They don't need to be a top-tier Pac-12 unit for the offense to see substantial improvement next year. Taking another reasonable step forward could really unlock Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, and the offense. I expect that to happen, with the offensive line as a unit going from a liability to solid.
What say you, Husky Nation? How much better will the OL be next year, if at all? Are injuries a concern?