Welcome to the halfway part of The You Dub Dee Pee Big Fat Fall Camp Previews™. So far this week we’ve gone over linebackers, running backs, and quarterbacks. You can catch up on those here, here, and here, respectively.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Ugh, quarterbacks? RBs? What boring things to talk about! Why on Earth would I care about such lame, inconsequential players? When are we gonna get to the glamorous positions who are gonna win Heismans—ya know, like right guard?”
Well you’re in luck because today we’re previewing the glorious, sexiest, most glamorous, in-the-limelight unit of them all, save punters: offensive line.
As I’m sure most of you are aware—and luckily for Washington’s offense—the line only loses one of 2017’s starters and one member of the two-deep who started and/or filled in after Trey Adams’s injury.
In the latter’s case, Andrew Kirkland is lost to graduation, a departure which wouldn’t have affected the starting lineup anyway. He was primarily a backup last year before Adams came out for the season, after which he filled in both at left tackle and guard. Fortunately for the Huskies, with Trey Adams projecting to be healthy sooner rather than later (although whether that includes the Auburn opener is still unknown), plus with a few younger talents notably progressing, Kirkland’s departure isn’t very consequential.
A bigger deal is Coleman Shelton, who the 49ers picked up as an undrafted free agent. As I spoke about in the spring camp look at the offensive line, Shelton feels to me like somebody who wasn’t a star necessarily in the same way that Adams and Kaleb McGary are, but who was an important binding glue of the line. He was a multi-year starter at center and played everywhere on the line at one point or another; you don’t lose that without feeling any effects.
Other than those two, there’s not really anything to report regarding departures from the line. While next year will stink where that’s concerned, 2018’s OL finds itself in a good position as far as talent and experience go.
2018 Fall Camp Offensive Line Roster
|Henry Bainivalu||6'5"||300||R Fr|
|Cole Norgaard||6'4"||295||R Fr|
|Jaxson Kirkland||6'7"||313||R Fr|
|Chase Skuza||6'6"||311||R Fr|
Like I noted above, the Dawgs’ OL returns four of last year’s five, although there’s some expected shuffling that’ll happen. Among those is Nick Harris’s transition to center to take over Shelton’s old role.
In my spring article on the OL, I discussed how Harris is, in all likelihood, better suited for center than guard anyway and that’s something my gut still feels; at 6’1” and 297 lbs, he’s naturally a super small lineman who, as a freshman, forced his way onto the roster at RG through a combination of A) his own skill and leveraging ability and B) horrific depth at that position at the time, due to a stretch of mediocre recruiting on the line that preceded him.
Now a junior, his move to center looks like it meshes with his body type and skills, while a handful of players have the potential to take over and improve his old position.
Speaking of his old position, it looks as though the most likely candidates to take over are either Matt James, who has had stints as a backup guard and center, or Henry Roberts, the redshirt junior out of Bellevue.
Although Roberts has said he prefers the left side and he played at left tackle this spring while the team went without Trey Adams, his improvement last year likely means he’ll either be starting in some capacity or be the first up should a lineman succumb to injury.
Then there’s James who, while not an overwhelming talent in the past, has filled in dependably and spent the spring with the first team at right guard. If he retains that role through fall (a big “if,” given Roberts’s improvement and some of the younger talent), he’ll be a decent pick to be one of the older players that comes out of nowhere every year on a Petersen-coached team and turns into a solid contributor.
Another possibility for RG—although it’s a stretch, given how he was seemingly overtaken near the end of last year—is Jesse Sosebee, although James and Roberts appear to be more likely to end up there.
As far as the players coming off their redshirt year, both Henry Bainivalu and Jaxson Kirkland were coveted recruits in the class of 2017. Bainivalu impressed last fall camp and is, barring something dramatic, one of the future stars of the offensive line. That being said, an injury meant he didn’t participate fully in spring camp, and rumors of a back problem — while it’s probably nothing to worry about long-term — would stink if true. Meanwhile, Kirkland was getting praise during spring and is another exciting prospect to keep your eyes out for in the two-deep.
Unlike years past, the 2018 recruiting class actually had quite a bit of hype surrounding its offensive line signees. What’s fun about this group too is that, of the three, they’re all quite different prospects.
First there’s M.J. Ale out of Fife, the bajillion-foot tall, trillion-pound former Australian boxing champion and rugby eight-man—which, if you know anything about rugby, you know the thought of someone with the athleticism and power of an eight-man with the size of a huge offensive lineman is ridiculous. Ale is pretty much the definition of raw but talented; he only started playing football three years ago but is gigantic, athletic, and stupid powerful.
Another exciting prospect is class of 2018 Top 300 player Matteo Mele. Like Ale, his background isn’t as a lineman—although it’s at least within football. Until recently, he played as a tight end, and his athleticism and feet reflect that. He’s not someone who will push for playing time immediately (although, given Petersen’s philosophy on the lines, almost nobody not named Nick Harris or Trey Adams gets playing time as a true freshman, so...), but if he can keep his quickness as he gains weight to compete in college, Mele could be a monster.
Lastly is Victor Curne out of Texas, who projects as a guard. Despite a Greg Gaines-ian build, he’s got deceptively good mobility to accompany his brute strength; there’s a reason SEC and Big 12 schools came knocking on his door.
Although these guys aren’t the present, they could all three end up together a few years down the road on an offensive line with massive potential.
We’ll begin with this good news:
Petersen said all other players with long-term injuries (Trey Adams, Chico McClatcher, Jordan Miller, etc.) are progressing the way trainers/doctors expected. Said they will have a specific plan for how each player will participate in fall camp.— Christian Caple (@ChristianCaple) July 25, 2018
Unfortunately, we don’t really know if “the way trainers/doctors expected” was that Adams would be available for Auburn. We’ll probably have that figured out through fall camp and, in the meanwhile, we can just cross our fingers that he’ll be playing then.
With that in mind, I did a little bit of head-scratching and figure these are the most-likely possibilities for the line if Trey Adams is healthy and available by September 1st, from left to right tackle:
Adams | Wattenberg | Harris | Roberts | McGary
Adams | Roberts | Harris | Wattenberg | McGary
Adams | Wattenberg | Harris | James | McGary
Adams | Wattenberg | James | Harris | McGary (but, like, probably not this one)
Assuming full health, there’s pretty much no way that Adams, Wattenberg, Harris, and McGary aren’t four of the five starters, with Adams and McGary obviously at the tackles, Harris almost certainly at center, and Wattenberg probably at left guard. That leaves either Henry Roberts or Matt James as the most likely fifth and sixth men, although a bunch of developments could shake that up in fall. We’ll see.
Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.