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The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

February 25, 2013 at 1:47 PM

Spring position preview — Offensive line

We’ll continue our preview of UW’s position groups heading into the spring with a look at what will be one of the more intriguing and critical areas for the Huskies in 2013 — the offensive line.

It’s a group that features four returning fulltime starters from 2012, including left tackle Micah Hatchie (No. 72 above at left) as well as the return of two other former starters from injury.

Those returners, as well as some emerging young players, will be expected to form a group that can play at a demonstrably higher level than it did in 2012 when the Huskies allowed 38 sacks, tied for 102nd in the nation, and also struggled at times to get a consistent running game going against some of the better defensive fronts.

REVIEWING 2012

Before going further, let’s first look back at the season that was in 2012.

UW’s offensive line may have been the position on the team that was hit the hardest with injuries. First, two-year starting guard Colin Porter, who may have had as much potential as anyone on the line, was forced to retire prior to spring ball  in 2012 due to chronic shoulder issues.

Then, in the first half of the first game of the season, starting right tackle Ben Riva suffered a broken forearm that caused him to miss five games.

And then, in the second game at LSU, starting guard Colin Tanigawa and Erik Kohler, who had moved from guard to right tackle to take the place of Riva, were lost for the season with knee injuries. Exact details of each injury were never given. But Tanigawa had also missed the last two games of the 2011 season with an ACL, and Kohler’s was initially mentioned as a kneecap injury, something he had also suffered early in fall camp.

That had UW playing the first half of the season essentially without four players it ended the 2011 season assuming would be starters in 2012.

Riva made it back for the final seven games, and the OL was pretty stable from that point. Here’s how the depth chart looked at the end of the 2012 season:

Pos. # Player Year Ht/Wt Hometown
LT 72 MICAH HATCHIE So. 6-5, 293 Haleiwa, Hawai’i
76 Dexter Charles RS-Fr. 6-4, 292 Camano Island, Wash.
LG 76 DEXTER CHARLES RS-Fr. 6-4, 292 Camano Island, Wash.
65 Siosifa Tufunga RS-Fr. 6-2, 307 Long Beach, Calif.
C 73 DREW SCHAEFER Sr. 6-4, 294 Sammamish, Wash.
65 Siosifa Tufunga RS-Fr. 6-2, 307 Long Beach, Calif.
RG 78 MIKE CRISTE So. 6-5, 295 Mission Viejo, Calif.
70 James Atoe So 6-6, 335 The Dalles, Ore.
RT 59 BEN RIVA So. 6-6, 302 Seattle, Wash.
70 James Atoe So. 6-6, 335 The Dalles, Ore.

Hatchie ended up starting all 13 games, as did Schaefer. Charles started the final 11, and Riva started the final seven and Criste the final six.

In fact, the starting lineup detailed above started each of the final six games, a period when UW went 4-2 and rushed for 160 or more yards four times, and averaged 156.8 — an average that is higher than the rushing yardage totals of all but two of the first seven games. Bishop Sankey accounted for most of those yards, though, and the question of how much of it was better play by the line or Sankey coming in is always a difficult one. Also, the fact that UW managed just 75 yards rushing in the Apple Cup — lowest of the season other than the 26 at LSU — indicated that there was still  lots of room for improvement in the running game.

Pass blocking, meanwhile, was an issue the entire season, capped off by Keith Price being sacked four times and evading the rush another half-dozen-or-so other times in the Las Vegas Bowl  loss to Boise State. It’s not uncommon for young lines to be better at run blocking early on, with pass blocking involving a bit more technique, and also being something that many OLs often didn’t have to do a lot of in high school (or certainly not to the complexity called for at the Pac-12 level). The hope will be that the pass blocking begins to catch up to the apparent late-season improvement in the run blocking.

A LOOK AHEAD

As you can see, the only starter the Huskies lose is Schaefer. And every indication given by UW coach Steve Sarkisian is that he expects Tanigawa and Kohler to be back for the 2013 season, though it’s unclear if either or both will be ready for spring (almost certainly not Tanigawa).

While the other four starters were pretty set the final half of the 2012 season, the team is obviously looking for improvement, and there is no doubt there will be a lot of mixing and matching up front throughout spring and summer camp to get the best combination up front. Of the returners, the spotlight may fall brightest on Hatchie, a former four-star recruit who has long been groomed as the left tackle of the future but was spotty in his first season as the starter. The Huskies will need to see progress from him this season.

As for replacing the one departure, if Tanigawa returns, he could slide in at center. Kohler could also  be used there. But if neither is available for the spring, someone else will get those reps — Criste was the team’s backup center early on before moving out to guard when injuries hit. One option would be to move him there and have Atoe — who started three games at right guard and three more at right tackle — settle in at guard.

Should Kohler and Tanigawa make it back, UW would have seven players returning in 2013 who have at least six career starts on the offensive line, the kind of experience it has not had in years.

An intriguing aspect of the spring will be seeing which of the younger players can make a move. All indications are that Shane Brostek, who started three games at guard at mid-season, will remain on defense.

The only other scholarship player to see any time in 2012 was Tufunga, who saw some spot duty in mop-up situations.

Four other OLs signed in 2012, however, will now be off redshirt status — Jake Eldrenkamp, Taylor Hindy, Cory Fuavai and Nathan Dean. Also worth noting is Michael Kneip, an invited walk-on who redshirted in 2012. Of that group, Eldrenkamp at the end of the season appeared closest to making an impact, getting substantial work as a backup left tackle during the Las Vegas Bowl practices. All spent most, if not all, of the 2012 season working with the scout team, other than during early bowl practices and a few other spots here and there. So the spring will be a vital time for each to begin stating their case for their role in 2013.

UW signed three OLs as part of the Class of 2013, but none will be available in the spring.

The line will be coached for the fifth year by Dan Cozzetto, the only member of Sarkisian’s initial UW staff who remains at the same spot.

For all involved with the line it will be a critical season. After three straight 7-6 years, expectations entering 2013 will be higher than at any time during Sarkisian’s tenure. But that “next step” won’t be taken without some significant leaps in improvement up front.

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