In the haze of information that comes from Pac-12 Media Day, some things can sometimes get overlooked.
So I thought it worth reviewing what UW coach Steve Sarkisian said when asked about what is one of the key areas of the team this season (or any season, really) — the offensive line.
Recall that UW’s O-line took a serious hit in the spring when starting right guard Colin Porter had to retire due to shoulder injuries. UW was already being forced to replace two-year starting left tackle Senio Kelemete, now with the Arizona Cardinals.
And the Huskies played the spring without starting left guard Colin Tanigawa, who suffered an ACL injury against Oregon State.
With the Huskies moving right tackle Erik Kohler to right guard, that had UW with just one player at the same spot as a year ago during the spring — center Drew Schaefer.
Kohler and Schaefer each battled some minor injuries during the spring but should apparently be fine for fall camp. Tanigawa is more uncertain. Sarkisian said his recovery is going well and he should be cleared for some work when camp begins Aug. 6, but may not be full contact right away.
This is how the depth chart appeared to look at the end of the spring:
LT — 72 Micah Hatchie/76 Dexter Charles
LG — 76 Dexter Charles/65 Siosifa Tufunga (Colin Tanigawa injured)
C — 73 Drew Schaefer/78 Michael Criste
RG — 75 Erik Kohler/70 James Atoe
RT — 59 Ben Riva/70 James Atoe/62 Ross Dolbec
As noted, Tanigawa could be back (and figures to be back eventually). Still, the depth chart above would have UW staring at the prospect of starting a redshirt freshman (Riva) and an untested sophomore (Hatchie) at the two tackle spots.
Sarkisian, though, floated the idea of trying some different alignments during camp that could shake up the lineup you see above — and specifically, using Schaefer at tackle.
Here’s what he said when asked about the line on media day: “The questions are obvious. When you think you return four starters, you lose one to a medical hardship in [Colin] Porter and you’re down to three and one of them is coming off a knee, you have concerns. I think we have depth and versatility at the position, and we will be able to do things to make that happen. Obviously, that is one of our question marks, who are going to be our five guys? Where do they fit, making sure that our best players are in the toughest positions so we can be successful? You’re going to see times at training camp, Drew Schaefer will be at tackle, Tanigawa at center and [Erik] Kohler at center, and we will do it time and again to get the best 5 guys to be successful on the field, so we can run the football the best and protect this guy and so that we have the best continuity as we continue to move forward. Like anything, we have question marks. The O-line happens to be one of those.”
It’s worth remembering that UW OL coach Dan Cozzetto usually spends the early parts of camp experimenting with a lot of different alignments — he’s a big believer in having OLs who are experienced at a lot of different spots. So some of this could be business as usual. Still, the line had its struggles in the spring and some of this could be a reaction to that. It’s also worth recalling that Schaefer started two games at right tackle in 2010 and four games at left tackle in 2009, so playing outside is hardly new to him and this would likely be an easy transition.
And playing Schaefer — the leader of the group now — at tackle would obviously give UW more experience at a key spot in a season when the Huskies don’t have a lot of time to just ease into things with LSU in week two, Stanford in week four, Oregon in week five and USC in week six.
Sarkisian also said on media day that he would hope to get the alignment up front solidified fairly quickly.
“It would be great to get Colin back so we know what he is,” he said. “Great to get Drew (Schaefer) healthy — remember he got kind of nicked up in spring ball, which gave guys a lot of really good experience, so that ‘okay, who are we now?’ Guys been playing different spots, let’s figure out who we are that first week or so, the first 7-8 practices and figure it out and move forward with the line so we know what we are doing.
“If we can’t figure that out (in the first two weeks), that probably means we are not playing very good and I don’t want that to be the case because I think we have talented guys at those spots, it’s just a matter of getting that continuity right and getting that confidence in what we are doing.”