Spring First Half Review - OL

It's been an interesting first six practices for the Washington offense, as they've huddled about as many times as they've punted so far - zero. It's been difficult introducing a new philosophy at high tempo, and especially grinding for the offensive line. But in some ways they've thrived off the challenge.

Up Tempo Means No Time To Think: "Last year when we did no huddle - and especially when you look at Colorado and Boise and we talk about it in the meetings - when we run plays over and over and over at a faster pace and not allow them to get set we're more productive," said UW offensive lineman Mike Criste. "We don't think too much about what their defense it going to be and how they are going to run it - we just go to that spot or drive that guy…it's not as much thinking and more reacting…just go. We kind of like it.

"You look back at the end of last season and look at everything you did wrong and everything you did right and you try and capitalize on everything you did right to make it even that much better. So that's why we're doing the new schemes we're doing; to react quicker to the defense so we can play to the best of our abilities and react quicker and faster and not think as much."

Will the Offense Wilt Under The Pressure?: It's one thing to have the smaller skill guys ready at a second's notice to run a play, but the big uglies have to constantly be moving in order to make the no huddle, up-tempo attack click. Can they manage? "We have to get used to it," Criste said, matter-of-factly. "I think when we started out I was definitely a lot more tired, but as we've progressed these last two weeks it's been a lot easier to handle. We have to condition ourselves and get ready for next season."

"It's challenging," added UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian. "They are in the best shape of their lives, and it's still hard on them. One of the keys for the guys during the break is that they have to continue to work out on their own because when they come back these practices are still going to be as challenging as they've been. And if they aren't in great shape they can be even more difficult. They responded great this week.

"We're going realistically as fast as possible. We're going as fast as we can go. We can always slow down. It's taxing on the guys physically and mentally and emotionally, but it's good to see the guys fighting through it and then you also get a gauge of the guys that struggle with it that we have to continue to coach up so they get comfortable in that environment."

By the end of the second week, the Huskies were already installing the mechanics of the up-tempo, no-huddle look with headphones on the sidelines and signals galore. And to add more pressure to the mix, the offense worked through those up-tempo periods without scripts - so a vast majority of what was taking place was literally on-the-fly. "I thought it went really well," Sarkisian said of their first go-around running the no-huddle in a simulated game environment. "I thought it was efficient. It took us a series or two to get accustomed to who was speaking when, but I thought it went really well. I thought we were efficient on offense and we kept the tempo going even with using the headsets. At the end I thought the offense had one of their better practices so far this spring."

Communication Is Key: With the chaos a no-huddle, up-tempo style brings, communication is always going to be massively important, but especially along the offensive line where five cogs have to churn as one moving part. "We're working really well together along the offensive line," left guard Dexter Charles said at the end of the first six practices. "Me and Micah (Hatchie) are really communicating well and that's been good, especially with the up-tempo offense, sometime's it's hard to get that down, but I feel like we've really come along well in that area."

Getting Back To Having More Experience: Combined, there are eight offensive linemen with game experience: Hatchie, Charles, Colin Tanigawa, Erik Kohler, Criste, James Atoe, Shane Brostek and Ben Riva. There's 81 total starts between the eight of them, but if you take away Kohler and Tanigawa's 33 combined starts that's a lot of experienced beef that got very little work the first half of spring. It's UW's hope that Tanigawa, who has suffered knee injuries in each of the past two years, will be back to full health this fall. Kohler, out with a dislocated kneecap since the LSU game last season, started to get some work in by the end of the first half of spring, which according to Sarkisian was slightly ahead of his return timeline.

"We're getting more out of Erik," Sarkisian said. "Our hope was to have him back when we come back after break to really start getting him in there but he looks good so far."

Experience Breeds Cohesiveness: More than most any other position group, the offensive linemen stick together. And it's that kind of tight-knit environment where they can learn to take a unit of five and play as one. "We really tried to work on cohesiveness as a unit," right tackle Riva said. "We came in every Saturday to work on stuff and came in every afternoon to do extra stuff to come together as a unit.

"We hang out together. We're always getting food together, that sort of stuff. If we all improve individually we'll improve collectively."

"We're working really well together and we're trusting each other," added Charles. "Obviously we're not even close to where we need to be, but I think we're doing pretty well. The young guys have really been stepping up and playing well and when we get Erik (Kohler) and Colin (Tanigawa) back we should be in great shape going into fall camp."

Numbers Gives The OL Options: Charles is just one of a handful of offensive linemen that can move over to another position at a moment's notice. "I feel really comfortable at left guard, but I can slide out and play tackle if they need me to," he said. "In one-on-ones I'm doing a lot of work at tackle, but I'm fine inside and with Micah (Hatchie) and I working really well together, it's a good thing we have going."

Players like Criste, who got starts in 2012 playing at right guard AND right tackle are getting a lot of time back at center. James Atoe is another player who is back with starts at both right sided OL positions last season. UW OL Coach Dan Cozzetto demands his interior linemen play multiple positions and he's got that with Charles, Criste and Atoe. Erik Kohler, when 100 percent healthy, is a player who has starts at three different line positions (left guard, right guard, right tackle) during his time so far at UW.

Finding A New Center and New Leader: It's the one glaring hole so far this spring - finding someone to replace Drew Schaefer and his 37 career starts, but Cozzetto has options. Criste, who backed up Schaefer at center two years ago, got the most reps in the middle so far through the first six practices, but don't sleep on Kohler pushing Criste once he regains his full health in the fall.

"It doesn't feel as strange to me as it did last year," Criste said about moving back into the middle of the offensive line. "Last spring, especially - it was really hard for me. I played center during the season, but I never had as much playing experience - so when I actually got on the field, playing every snap in the spring game, it was hard to adjust. And then when we got to the season going through camp playing both guard and center…it doesn't feel as strange now. It feels kind of comfortable. But instead of being next to the guy making the calls I am making the calls."

But what about that senior presence? Schaefer was a three-year starter, a stalwart along Husky offensive lines littered with young pups during that time. And in 2013 there won't be a senior among the returners but that doesn't mean they won't be devoid of leadership. "It's a little weird not seeing him," Criste admitted when asked about Schaefer. "I feel like…we all played last year at one time or another so we're all filling in that leadership role as a unit."

Brostek Back To Square One: Shane Brostek, son of Husky legend Bern Brostek, started his UW career in 2012 as a right guard, eventually starting three games there. But injuries, some unwanted weight loss and a desire for playing time pushed the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Brostek to the other side of the ball, where he finished the season. But Brostek is back along the offensive line and happy once again to concentrate on the position he began at with so much promise.

"I need to play a lot better," Brostek said this spring. "I need to work on my feet and know the offense a lot better, but I like it. It's awesome. I think the coaches have a great plan."

Kudos for Coach Coz: When asked about playing for Dan Cozzetto, the offensive linemen have nothing but praise for the long-standing Pac-12 OL Coach.

"From the outside, it looks like he's just constantly on us, but that really isn't the case," said Charles. "I mean, he is, he expects a lot out of us, but he doesn't just tear us down. He breaks you down, but then he builds you back up. He's a really knowledgeable coach and we all love the way he coaches, otherwise we wouldn't be here."

"Coach C is always work…it's pretty awesome," Brostek simply said. And growing up with Father Bern certainly prepared him well for the rigors of playing under the charge of a War Daddy like Cozzetto.

"He really pushes you harder than anyone I've ever met," Brostek said of Bern. "He expects the most out of everybody. I was really fortunate to have that growing up."
Unofficial Depth Chart: Here's what I was able to pick up during the first six practices in terms of who was getting playing time where. Obviously the order is my best guess as to how they'll line up once the team gets back from their break on Tuesday.

Left Tackle: Micah Hatchie 6-5, 293, Jr.
Dexter Charles 6-4, 292, So.
Jake Eldrenkamp 6-5, 292, RFr.
Ross Dolbec 6-6, 300, So.

Left Guard: Dexter Charles 6-4, 292, So.
Siosifa Tufunga 6-2, 307, So.
Cory Fuavai 6-3, 310, RFr.
Colin Tanigawa 6-3, 281, Jr. (INJ.)

Center: Mike Criste 6-5, 295, Jr.
Erik Kohler 6-4, 299, Jr. OR
Siosifa Tufunga 6-2, 307, So.

Right Guard: James Atoe 6-6, 335, Jr.
Mike Criste 6-5, 295, Jr.
Shane Brostek 6-4, 280, So. OR
Michael Kneip 6-4, 299, RFr.

Right Tackle: Ben Riva 6-6, 302, Jr.
Nathan Dean 6-5, 282, RFr. OR
Mike Criste 6-5, 295, Jr. OR
Erik Kohler 6-4, 299, Jr. OR
James Atoe 6-6, 335, Jr.

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