It’s never possible to overstate the importance of an offensive line to a team’s success. But if it’s possible to say it’s a little more important in one year than another, that may be the case for the 2011 Huskies.
As they attempt to break in a new quarterback, the Huskies are hoping they can lessen the load on whoever wins that job with an offense built around a solid and consistent running game.
There is no doubt running back Chris Polk can handle that challenge, but the responsibility will also fall on a line that returns two full-time starters from 2010 (left tackle Senio Kelemete, pictured at right, and center Drew Schaefer) and two others who started at least five games (guard Colin Porter, who started six, and guard/tackle Erik Kohler, who started five).
The line loses two full-time starters in guard Ryan Tolar and tackle Cody Habben, as well as guard Greg Christine, who started seven games. Those were the only players to start on the OL last year, and other than walk-on utilityman Daniel Kanczugowski, the only linemen who ever really played when it mattered in 2010.
Kelemete, Schaefer, Porter and Kohler give UW a nice foundation. And there are some other players in the mix who have seen the field before (seniors Nick Wood and Skyler Fancher, for instance). But establishing roles and developing depth will be a key for the line in 2010.
First, a look at a projected pre-spring depth chart (and again, this is not really a prediction for the fall, just what I think it looks like now heading into the spring with the players available now).
PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Senio Kelemete, 6-4, 289, Sr.
Skyler Fancher, 6-5, 303, Sr.
Micah Hatchie, 6-5, 274, RFr.
Daniel Kanczugwoski, 6-4, 327, Jr.
Colin Tanigawa, 6-3, 310, Fr.
Nick Wood, 6-3, 287, Jr.
Drew Schaefer, 6-4, 281, Jr.
Mykenna Ikehara, 6-2, 265, Jr.
Mike Criste, 6-5, 280, RFr.
Colin Porter, 6-4, 307, So.
James Atoe, 6-6, 355, RFr.
Erik Kohler, 6-5, 306, So.
Ben Riva, 6-6,, 275, RFr.
Kelemete, Schaefer and Porter appear set at their spots as starters. Kohler seems certain to start somewhere, and he was listed as a right tackle at the end of the season, though he also started four games at left guard. So the question will be if they leave Kohler at tackle or move him to guard. Could be he does some of both as they figure out what combination creates the most effective line.
I wouldn’t discount Kanczugowski as a possibility to start at guard if Kohler remains at tackle, but the fifth starter figures to be a hotly competitive battle through the spring and fall. In his recent live chat with the Times, when asked for players to watch in 2011, coach Steve Sarkisian mentioned Tanigawa, who could get into the competition at the open guard spot.
Tanigawa is one of five true freshmen who redshirted last season, each of whom is now obviously eligible to play. I’ve listed them all at the spot they were playing during the practices for the Holiday Bowl.
But as UW fans should know by now, line coach Dan Cozzetto likes to mix and match a lot, to have all the players know as many positions as possible, so I’d expect to see some experimentation in the spring, guys working at multiple spots. So don’t be surprised to see guys working at spots other than what I’ve listed here in the spring.
As for the overall prognosis for the line, the main foursome of Kelemete, Schaefer, Porter and Kohler could be as good as UW has had in some time. Obviously the Holiday Bowl performance against Nebraska portends well for 2010 as UW rushed 52 times for an average of 5.2 yards per carry (and with a long of just 25, signifying that the Huskies were able to get a consistent push, and not just one or two long runs). Jake Locker, however, was a key part of that effort, and his impact on the running game — which obviously is now gone — has to be taken into account when assessing 2011.
But if the main players continue to progress and younger players develop to give the Huskies needed depth, this is a line that could be one of UW’s best since the 2000 Rose Bowl season. And with Kelemete the only senior of likely starters, the long-term prognosis also seems as bright as it has been in a while.