Player Spotlight - James Atoe

SEATTLE - Washington signed seven offensive linemen in 2010, and two of them played that fall; Colin Porter and Erik Kohler. UW OL Coach Dan Cozzetto had a name for the remaining five linemen; they were known as the Cascade Front - Micah Hatchie, Colin Tanigawa, Michael Criste, James Atoe, and Ben Riva.

The reason the five linemen were given that nickname was due to the fact that all of them perfectly fit into a functioning line. Hatchie was the left tackle set to take over the position when Senio Kelemete graduated. Last year, Tanigawa joined Porter and Kohler as starters along the Huskies' young line, replacing the departed Ryan Tolar. Criste would be groomed to slot in at center when incumbent Drew Schaefer matriculated.

And when it came to the right side of the offensive line, both Atoe and Riva would be asked to supply capable backup to their classmates Porter and Kohler.

Move forward to April 2012, and Tanigawa, Porter and Kohler are either limited or out of Spring Football completely, which has put Cozzetto in a bit of scramble mode. Tanigawa is rehabbing a knee injury sustained in the Huskies penultimate game of 2011 versus Oregon State, while Porter dealt with the effects of shoulder surgeries on both shoulders, the last coming just a week before the start of Spring Football.

On Monday, it was learned that Porter would have to retire from football because of the damage done to this shoulders, despite the fact that he has a redshirt year available to him. Because he is now done with football, the junior from Bothell will still be on scholarship, allowing him to graduate with his degree, but that scholarship will not count against the Huskies' number of 85 total scholarships.

Porter's retirement immediately puts Atoe front and center when it comes to getting linemen ready for the Huskies' home opener against San Diego State on September 1st.

Add the expectation that Kohler will be moved inside from the right tackle position where he was a 13-game starter in 2012, and now the right side of the offensive line goes from an unquestioned strength to a major question mark. The last two years, Porter and Kohler combined for 35 starts; Atoe and Riva don't have a start between them.

But that hasn't stopped Atoe, for instance, from being one of the real bright spots so far this spring, getting special recognition by head coach Steve Sarkisian for his work during the first four practices of spring football. The redshirt sophomore from The Dalles, Ore. came to Montlake under the national recruiting radar, but at the same time with a lot of expectations heaped upon him from the head coach.

"This guy is a potential top five NFL draft pick," Sarkisian would say of Atoe, not exactly what you would expect to hear from a player ranked by as the 146th-best tackle in the country for the class of 2010. But Atoe was a player the Huskies saw at camp and loves, and intentionally tried to keep him out of the glare of the spotlight until just before Signing Day.

Atoe came to Seattle at 6-foot-6 and just a biscuit under 360 pounds, but due to a combination of hard work in the gym and the proper diet and nutrition, Atoe is now at a lean, mean 330 pounds - and playing like it. He's obviously big enough to handle interior defensive linemen, but also quick enough to take on the smaller 3-techniques when asked to go one-on-one in space. Going into his third year, the game is starting to slow down for the big man from Oregon, and it's clear that Cozzetto and the UW coaches have faith in Atoe to get the job done now that Porter's future has been decided.
Quotable - "Yeah, I thought James has been awesome so far. He's really brought it. James…it takes time to evolve as an offensive lineman. It takes time to grow into that body. James has been terrific, he really has. I would say he's one of…if I could name five guys for four days that have really caught my eye, he would be one of them. He's been a pleasant surprise so far." - Steve Sarkisian on James Atoe.
OG James Atoe:

Competition - It's clear Atoe is the main player at the right guard position this spring with minimal depth to work with (a limited Kohler is right now playing as the No. 2 RG instead of the right tackle position he started at all of 2011). With other players getting moved around like checkers (Criste is getting looks at center and left tackle, while redshirt freshman Dexter Charles is seeing time at both left tackle and left guard, for instance), Atoe has only one job now - replace the now-departed Porter.

So who is going to be his main competition? Kohler looks to be the main bet right now, assuming Tanigawa is able to come back to full health in time for the SDSU opener. If Tanigawa is slowed by his knee rehab, Kohler - who did start four games at left guard as a true freshman - might be asked to man that spot and compete with Charles at LG until Tanigawa is cleared to play.

The other thought is that one of the true freshmen coming in this fall might be asked to immediately jump in the fray. The one linemen that has the physical attributes to handle the rigors of Pac-12 line play from the get-go is probably Shane Brostek, son of former UW center Bern Brostek. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Brostek is expected to man an interior line spot the moment he gets to Washington, so I imagine he will get looks at both guard spots to determine where he fits in best. Top Stories