Just two short years ago, everyone held their breath as Coach Pete started a true freshman from Wenatchee at the most important position on the offensive line, left tackle (he had never played a true freshman on the o-line before). Now, entering the 2017 season, the offensive line is looked at as a position of strength for the Dawgs.
Starting at the top, Scott Huff replaced Chris Strausser as the offensive line coach during the off season when Strausser moved on to a gig with the Denver Broncos. Huff comes from the same coaching tree as Strausser and they coached together for several years at Boise State under Petersen. Thanks to this shared history, the transition to this point has been smooth for all involved. Huff brings a more youthful and energetic approach to the coaching position (he’s boisterous) and is well known for developing tight bonds with his players. More importantly, he also has a strong history of developing good offensive linemen.
Left guard Jake Eldrenkamp is the sole loss from last years Pac-12 championship line. Eldrenkamp was a First Team All-Pac-12 guard who went undrafted, but signed with the LA Rams where he’ll reportedly compete for the backup center job. While the loss of an NFL caliber member of the O-line is a big hit, the good news is that the Dawgs return four starters this fall, including more budding NFL talent.
The strength of the O-line this season lies in its experience. In addition to the four returning starters, the newcomer to the line, senior Andrew Kirkland, is himself a former starter. In the first two years of the Petersen era, the O-line was plagued by a serious lack of depth and Strausser was forced to play several younger players at key positions and rotate them more than he would like. Now, thanks to that early playing experience and improved recruiting, the Huskies find themselves with five veteran starters and quality depth.
The First Team unit is pretty much locked down as of now, but the Second Team has seen some significant change over the first few days of fall camp, with Huff mixing and matching several players at multiple positions. Ideally, Huff will probably play between eight to nine guys this coming season, meaning that a few Second Teamers will play some quality minutes.
Let’s get into it.
- LT- Trey Adams (Junior/6’8”/327 lbs)
Trey Adams is a physical freak. With his mix of size and athleticism, he is commonly ranked as one of the best offensive linemen in the country. In 2016 alone, he received First Team All-Pac-12, Second Team All-America (Football Writers), ESPN Mid-Season All-America First Team and USA Today Mid-Season All-America First Team honors. Needless to say, the kid is good and people have noticed. Heading into his Junior season, Adams has already amassed 23 starts (played in 24) and will anchor the left side of the line. Enjoy watching this guy destroy defensive ends this year folks, because there’s a very good chance Adams is a first round pick in next year’s NFL draft.
- LG- Andrew Kirkland (Senior/6’4”/321 lbs)
Kirkland returns with 12 starts on his resume over the past two seasons. He has played in 28 total games in his career as a Husky, making him one of the most experienced players not only on the line, but on the team. Kirkland’s versatility as a quality backup tackle and guard in years past made him an invaluable piece of the O-line puzzle, but as of now he’s firmly entrenched next to Trey Adams on the left side of the line. While replacing a first-team all Pac-12 guard like Eldrenkamp is no small task, Kirkland should be able to step in and produce at a high level right away. This is not a bold prediction, but my guess is that we’ll be running the ball to the left a lot this season.
- C- Coleman Shelton (Senior/6’4”/299 lbs)
Shelton is the leader of this unit and returns for his senior season having started at every single position on the offensive line over the past three seasons. This is the type of versatility that NFL scouts (and especially the Seahawks) drool over. By all accounts, Shelton is the type of player that improves those around him through his excellent play and knowledge of the position. The line is in good hands this year with Shelton under center.
- RG- Nick Harris (Sophomore/6’1”/293 lbs)
An unheralded recruit, Harris was thrown into the fire last year as a true freshman, culminating in a start in the Peach Bowl against Alabama. Despite being undersized for a D-1 lineman, Harris’s athleticism, aggressiveness and ability to learn quickly earned him that playing time over older, more experienced interior linemen. Heading into his sophomore season, he’s packed on some more weight (about 20 more lbs.), which will continue to help him against Pac-12 caliber defensive linemen.
- RT- Kaleb McGary (RS Junior/6’7”/318 lbs)
All reports are that going into fall camp, McGary is even larger than he was before. McGary, a former high school defensive lineman and tight end, started six games at right tackle his redshirt freshmen year (2015) and every game there last season. After battling through some injuries early on, he took huge strides over the course of last season, especially in his ability to pass block (and stay healthy). While not as heralded as his counterpart on the left side of the line, McGary is still a top-end talent who is a bulldozer in the run game and (I hate to say it) could be playing his final season as a Husky. Whether it’s after this season, or hopefully after next season, the NFL looms for this young man.
This is a projection based off of what we saw during spring camp and the first few days of fall camp, but things could easily change here in the next couple of weeks.
- LT- Jared Hilbers (RS Sophomore/6’7”/313 lbs)
The Huskies' left tackle of the future. Hilbers redshirted his true freshman year and earned playing time in eight games last season, including the Peach Bowl. Long, large and athletic, this kid fits the mold of a good left tackle.
- LG- Jesse Sosebee (Junior/6’5”/312 lbs)
One of the most experienced members of the O-line, Sosebee has seen action in 26 games over the past two seasons. It appears he’s been beaten out for both of the starting guard jobs this season, but it wouldn’t shock me if he’s a starter next year, especially if Harris moves over to center.
- C- Matt James (Junior/6’5”/276 lbs)
James has reportedly lost some weight over the off season. He brings quality experience to the line having played in 17 games during his Husky career, including two starts at right tackle in 2015.
- RG- Henry Roberts (RS Sophomore/6’6”/300 lbs)
Roberts is now up to a good weight for the position and will likely receive playing time behind one or both starting guards this season. Fast off the ball and aggressive with his hands, this former highly touted recruit could be a force on the interior of the line.
- RT- Devin Burleson (RS Sophomore/6’8”/327 lbs)
After redshirting his true freshman year, Burleson received limited playing time in two early-season games last year. While we haven’t seen much of him on the field, I’m excited for him to take the next step and push for more playing time. A guy this massive should be able to move some bodies.
Other Potential Contributors:
- C- John Turner (Junior/6’4”/301 lbs)
Turner is a hard worker who can always be seen going full speed in practice. He has limited on-field experience, but in his third year he should be able to be counted on if he gets his number called.
- G/T- Luke Wattenberg (RS Freshman/6’4”/295 lbs)
Nasty nature and super athletic. Wattenberg apparently has already received some time at left tackle with the second team this fall and could vie for playing time this season. People in the know are really high on this guy. Expect big things moving forward.
Of the four incoming freshman (three scholarship and one walk-on), my guess is all four redshirt their first year. The one exception could be Henry Bainivalu if he can push for a backup guard role during fall camp, but a year in the weight room is likely what is in store for the big freshman out of Skyline.
So as you can see, Husky fans should feel pretty good about the status of their offensive line, both this season and into the future. With all this experience returning up front, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that running backs Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman could both have 1,000+ yard seasons (again). Perhaps just as importantly, a line this good should also be able to keep Browning relatively clean. Cheers to the big uglies up front who make all the other guys look good.
As always, go Dawgs.