Season Grades: Offensive Line

2012 was going to be a trying year for the offensive line regardless of any health concerns or anything else that would pop up; they would be breaking in two new tackles. Drew Schaefer would anchor the line at center, and two relatively experienced guards (Colin Tanigawa and Colin Porter) would solidify the middle of UW's offensive attack. No one could have predicted what came next.

The Ugly - We're starting with the worst news first, because it just seems to fit with all the luck Washington's offensive line didn't get in 2012. In spring football it was revealed that Porter, a two-year mainstay at right guard, would retire due to degenerative shoulders that had plagued him for a long time. But Erik Kohler, another junior that had been pressed into action as a true frosh, would take over for him to start the year. Kohler suffered a dislocated kneecap in fall camp, and even though he did start the first game of the year it came out again and he was forced to sit out the rest of the year. Tanigawa had fought all his way back after suffering a knee injury in UW's 2011 loss at Oregon State, and he also started the San Diego State opener at his customary position - left guard. After the LSU game, he sat out a week while redshirt frosh Dexter Charles took over. The following week it was revealed that Tanigawa had suffered another knee injury, putting him out for the rest of the year. And oh, by the way - UW lost their new right tackle Ben Riva after the SDSU game with a broken arm, an injury that would cost him the next five games.

So within a span of six months, UW lost three returning offensive linemen starters from a productive 2011 team, as well as their new right tackle for nearly half the season. In total, the Huskies offensive line fought through six different lineup changes, with four players each trying their luck at right guard and right tackle - all without three starters they were expecting to have as the backbone of their unit.

Now THAT is ugly.

The Good - There's a ton of silver linings to be found in the patchwork fabric Washington's offensive line created in 2012. The biggest one is that they found a working, cohesive group the final half of the season, with Hatchie and Riva at the tackles and Charles and Criste at the guards with Schaefer tying it all down. They certainly had enough OL trials to last them an eternity, but they came out of it intact and ready to get back to work for 2013. In total, Washington broke in six new offensive linemen, all players that got at least three starts each. True frosh Brostek was moved to the defensive line the last three games, but he's expected to go back to the OL after an off-season of getting bigger, faster and stronger. Riva finished with seven starts at right guard, while Criste and Atoe started six games each. After Tanigawa's injury, Charles was able to step in and start the final 10 games of the year, providing as much stability to his spot as Schaefer was to the center position. In fact, one could argue pretty persuasively that Charles was the only lineman that really responded to the challenge an d adversity by coming through and doing his job.

And Hatchie, who arguably needed the most work coming into 2012, stayed healthy and battled his way through a very trying season unscathed, starting all his games. The experience he gained playing against the likes of LSU, USC, Stanford, Oregon and the rest will be invaluable as he now has the proper foundation in which to attack his most important off-season to date. If he does the work he's supposed to for the next four months, hopefully he'll come to spring ball ready to move into the next evolution of his development. There's no reason he can't become a real force at left tackle if he applies himself.

The biggest loss heading into the off-season will be Schaefer, but there are plenty of options to be had. Kohler, if he can put his knee problem behind him, has the tools and smarts to fit right in at center. Tanigawa also has a chance to be that guy if he can return to 100 percent health. The bottom line is that, for the first time in a LONG time, Washington has a chance to play as an offensive line unit with eight returning starters. They paid a heavy price to get to that point, but that's where they are right now.

The Bad - As a result of all the displacement and uncertainty and thinning of the herd, the Washington offensive line played as if they were a young, inexperienced lineup - about as one might expect given all the upheaval. They were having to replace consistent left tackle Senio Kelemete with Micah Hatchie anyway, and Hatchie really struggled at times to make the position his own. They weren't the only ones that struggled due to their misfortune; quarterback Keith Price had only worked extensively with one of the linemen in this new configuration (Schaefer), so snaps were not a problem. But the rest of it was. His blind side was exposed because of Hatchie's inconsistent play, and he acted like a quarterback in the pocket that didn't trust what was happening around him. Schaefer, perhaps because of the enormous burden put on him as the quarterback of the OL to keep all his young charges together, plateaued early in the year and never really continued to progress as was expected. The fact that he started every game in 2012 for UW is in itself a minor miracle considering everything that happened around him.

The carousel that was the right side of the offensive line was simply disastrous; UW was literally holding that part of the line together with duct tape, bailing wire - anything OL Coach Dan Cozzetto could get on his hands to work with. Kohler, James Atoe, Shane Brostek and Michael Criste were all tried at right guard, while Kohler, Criste and Atoe gave right tackle a shot before Riva was able to return and start the final six games of the season.

The Grade: D - Overall the offense was the least productive under Sarkisian by roughly 400 total yards and they averaged about 30 yards a game less in their pass attack. They were also responsible for a large number of the 106 penalties handed down to UW in 2012, the first time any Washington team in the history of the program had been flagged more than 93 times: Holdings, false starts…you name it. There was not one FBS game where the offense looked like it was even close to firing on all cylinders, and while it takes all 11 players in sync to execute effectively in any one phase of the game, the reality is that it all starts up front - that's where the plays are won and lost. And though no one would ever doubt or question the effort of the players or willingness to be coached, this group of linemen was simply not prepared to step up and immediately go to work without a noticeable drop-off, the ideal of any player listed in the depth. They struggled mightily, and when they struggled everyone around them struggled too. And when they did taste success, it was inconsistent at best. For every productive half like Colorado, they backed it up by laying an egg against Washington State. Chalk it up to youth, emotion, lack of communication - wasn't what you'd expect out of a Cozzetto line that typically would find a way through adversity to shine at the bleakest moments.

There's no question injuries played a ginormous part in what happened to the line, but the players would never use that as an excuse; it's simply another hill they had to climb. They had no idea it was going to be Kilimanjaro. Either way, the staff knew they were going to have to break in a left tackle - and Hatchie was perilously close to losing his spot to Schaefer before the season began. They were that desperate to make sure Price - as Cozzetto would say - with a clean jersey and a sound mind after every game. As it happened, Price never truly got comfortable in the pocket all year long and often seemed more skittish outside of it - especially when he rolled to his right.

Price survived physically, but mentally this season took a monster toll on him. All you have to do is look at the fumbles he was responsible for and you could tell early on he was not going to be himself. It seems like the same happened to Schaefer, who had to juggle roles just to make sure everyone knew what they were doing. And it didn't work a lot of the time. It just didn't. Top Stories