For my story for Sunday’s paper I wrote about the new look offensive line, talking to position coach Dan Cozzetto and backup center Greg Christine, as insightful an interview subject as you could hope for.
Here’s the resulting story.
I asked for Christine in part to get an update on his health following his injury last year against Arizona that knocked him out for the rest of the season — he started the first six games at guard before being hurt. He’s back now as the No. 2 center as he eases his way back into the lineup.
When asked if he’s 100 percent, Christine said “I’m close.”
He said his injury turned out to be a little more complicated than he originally thought.
“It was a broken fibula but it also got all the ankle ligaments,” he said. “That’s what’s taken longer than I thought. They said ‘oh, you got a broken bone, that’s six weeks.’ But then they told me there was ankle ligament damage and everything else. They had to put screws to immoblize my ankle, then they took those out before Christmas break, so it was a lot more than I expected.”
But he’s made it through three practices so far and is eager to see how Tuesday’s fourth practice of the spring, the first in full pads, will go.
“I’m not back any sooner than I thought I would be, but it definitely feels good to be out here again,” he said.
The return of a guy like Christine, however, is one thing that gives some hope for improvement for the UW line this season. Including Christine, UW returns six players who started at least one game last season. Not that experience up front is everything — remember, that was one of the great hopes of the ill-fated 2008 season was all the experience returning up front. But it’s obviously better than the alternative.
Cozzetto says he sees the needed level of commitment to getting better.
“They’ve got to understand things are changing and you can be a part of the change, which they were,” he said after Saturday’s practice. “And they bought in and they are good students of the game. They come early, they stay late, thay make a commitment in the weight room, and that’s what its all about. And I think they are going to get nothing but better.”
As noted in the story, the line has been shuffled a bit. Cozzetto explained the change this way: “Just doing some research on the guys, only been here a year, and just going back to positions that they had played. Ryan Tolar seems a heck of a lot more comfortable at guard and Drew (Schaefer) , we had been messing around during the year if you watched us, just taking snaps. He’s got good snaps, he’s got a mindset that is under control but he can still be a tough guy — he’s played on the edges. So he got a year under his belt so he’s got that veteran status now, so he’s a guy who can take on that role of being a good center. He really improved just the last couple of days. He’s just a youngster too. I like the fact I can play him at center and Greg Christine and that Ryan Tolar has been a center and Mykenna (Ikehara) , so that gives me four which you like if something happens.”
And Cozzetto always cautions that what you see today may not be what you see tomorrow — if you remember, the Huskies used one offensive line for almost all of fall camp last year, then made some major adjustments the week of the first game against LSU.
“We’re trying to create as much competition as they can get, get them as good as they can be,” he said. “They have to be real flexible, they’re going to be moved around in the spring, make them learn other positions. It’s good for them — they learn the system.”
Along with Christine coming back, also returning is junior Skyler Fancher, who right now is running as the No. 1 right tackle with Cody Habben out. Fancher missed all of last season with injuries to his right leg.
Cozzetto said Fancher is making progress while still shaking off the rust of not having played in more than a year.
“Skyler is playing through the mental part of it right now,” he said. “He’s been through so much trauma with that foot — (he’s thinking) is it going to hold up? So I think he is answering a lot of questions. Each practice it’s getting a little better, so it’s just a matter of his confidence level because he hasn’t played football in a while.”
The hope is Fancher can at least provide solid depth at tackle in the fall with Habben back and Senio Kelemete at left tackle.
Cozzetto said that’s the silver lining to Habben’s absence, that it will get more reps for some of the other tackles — Habben had off-season shoulder surgery.
And unlike a year ago, when Cozzetto knew that in the spring was what he was going to have in the fall — UW didn’t sign any OLs in 2009 — he knows some heavy reinforcements will be arriving in the summer as Washington signed seven OLs in the class of 2010. A few may at least get into the rotation immediately, but Cozzetto isn’t ready to name names.
“I kind of have an idea but I don’t really want to comment on it,” he said, adding that his thoughts that a few could play is from “just watching them and learning from their coaches where I anticipate their maturity level right now. I don’t want to put an athlete in a position where he’s not going to have success, so we have to find out where he’s at with that, so it will be a big summer for us and they have (the freshman LEAP program) and we can see where they are at.”