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Spring Preview-except-not-a-preview: Offensive Line

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This should’ve been a “preview” but then, ya know... half of spring practices happened.

Washington v Utah

This was originally gonna be a preview of the offensive line this spring. Then most of spring practices happened, so instead we’re gonna just talk “offensive line stuff that vaguely pertains to what we’ve learned this spring and what to expect this next season because that makes more sense now.”

To jog your memory, these are the linemen currently on Washington’s roster:

2018 Fall Camp Offensive Line Roster

Name Height Weight Class
Name Height Weight Class
Nick Harris 6'1" 297 Jr
Kaleb McGary 6'8" 325 Sr
Henry Roberts 6'6" 313 Jr
Matt James 6'5" 300 Sr
Trey Adams 6'8" 330 Sr
Henry Bainivalu 6'5" 300 R Fr
Cole Norgaard 6'4" 295 R Fr
AJ Kneip 6'2" 295 So
Jaxson Kirkland 6'7" 313 R Fr
Chase Skuza 6'6" 311 R Fr
Jared Hilbers 6'7" 307 Jr
Jesse Sosebee 6'5" 306 Sr
Luke Wattenberg 6'5" 306 So
Devin Burleson 6'8" 334 Jr
MJ Ale** 6'6" 360 Fr
Victor Curne** 6'3" 313 Fr
Matteo Mele** 6'5" 277 Fr
**True Freshman

Departures

Luckily for the Dawgs this spring and next season, there’s not too much here. Andrew Kirkland, who filled in on the left of the line after Trey Adams’ knee injury, is gone, but of those who started the whole season, only C Coleman Shelton leaves. That being said, I have a nagging feeling that he might be this year’s version of Jake Eldrenkamp: appreciated-ish during his tenure, but his impact not fully understood until he’s gone (cue Paved Paradise lyrics “blah blah blah don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”).

The void Shelton leaves is primarily his leadership and knowledge as somebody who played every single position on the line over the course of his four on-field years. The consolation here is that with the exception of the guards, the rest of the line has at least two years of starting experience (three years for Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary), so it’s not like Shelton leaves behind a unit of inexperience that particularly needs one leader to look up to.

Returning Starters

While Trey Adams is recovering from knee injury this spring, that leaves Kaleb McGary and Nick Harris as the two returners who have multiple years of starting experience. McGary retains his spot as the RT while Harris shifts one position left from RG to take over Shelton’s aforementioned spot at center.

Although he has to adapt to the position change and the new responsibilities of both leading the offensive line and getting his snapping down, there’s reason to be optimistic that Harris’ position change improves his performance; despite forcing his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2016 and retaining that position last season, Harris’ size (6’1”, 297 lbs — that was 270 lbs while he was playing as a true freshman) and strength limitations became apparent against better opponents. Apologies to any of you who just got flashes of Bama.

This move to center, by all deductive reasoning, plays to his strengths — while Harris couldn’t keep up with the bigger matchups at guard, his leverage from his shorter stature was obvious and I suspect will be very useful when assisting other linemen or pulling on the run. Plus, if he’s smart enough to pick up the scheme within two months of being on the football team so that he was starting at 17 years old, he’s probably smart enough to pick up the center-specifics between spring and fall camp.

Basically, although Harris’ limitations at guard were frustrating, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a better center than Coleman Shelton, when all is said and done. And Shelton was a pretty alright center.

Those two are the only this spring who have two or more seasons’ worth of starting experience, but the current two deep and this spring’s starting roster consists mostly otherwise of players with not insignificant starting and in-game experience. Luke Wattenberg started five games last year at tackle after Adams’ injury and this spring has been playing with the 1s at LG, while Matt James, who played in all games last season except for Rutgers, has been starting at RG in spring. Meanwhile, Henry Roberts is filling in for Adams at LT this spring after playing in seven games as a redshirt sophomore last year, although he’ll be relegated to second-string once Adams returns, whether that’s in fall or early in the season.

Tl;dr: The starters so far this spring while Trey Adams recovers, from left to right: Henry Roberts, Luke Wattenberg, Nick Harris, Matt James, and Kaleb McGary.

Newcomers, What to Watch, and Other Thoughts

If there’s one thing to pay attention to this spring and in next fall camp, it’s the play of the guards and, to an extent, Henry Roberts (and any LTs who challenge him for Trey Adams’ backup job). Last season, they were the weakness of the offensive line and that only became more complicated after the Adams injury — as a refresher course, the lineup directly after he was lost for the season was Jesse Sosebee at LG with Luke Wattenberg and Andrew Kirkland splitting time at LT, before switching to Wattenberg at LT and Kirkland at LG, which noticeably improved the line play from the Sosebee/Wattenberg/Kirkland lineup.

Personally, I’m cautiously optimistic that the guard situation is improved from last year; Harris’ switch to center suits his body-type much better against elite competition, while Wattenberg has both a higher floor and ceiling than Sosebee. James is a bit of a wild card but, overall, the unit feels pretty strong. We’ll see.

On another front, recruiting under Chris Strausser wasn’t Brent Pease-level awful — I’d argue it wasn’t really awful at all — but he repeatedly struck out on top recruits that it seemed like UW initially had a shot with. While the talent level is still quite high and should be by far one of the best in the Pac this season and moving forward, there lingers a sense of “what if...” about the last three-ish recruiting cycles. (This is especially true of the 2017 class, where the Dawgs missed Foster Sarell, Wyatt Davis, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Austin Jackson, and like 456789876456 other really good players.)

This means two things: 1) There’s not great depth behind the starters and 2) You shouldn’t think about the recruits UW whiffed on the last couple years unless you want to go completely insane. If you do want to ruin your mental health, on the other hand, then thinking about how monstrous the line could be had recruiting been better is a really really good way to do that.

With that in mind...

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.