Cozzetto talks Husky offensive line

Husky offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto spent some time on Saturday talking with us about the players he has to work with this coming fall. He updated us on where things stand with several of them including the three 2013 signees who will arrive early next month...

On the injuries last season: "It was an interesting year. I don't think I'd been through anything like that where I'd lost four starters right in a row. It was challenging, but guys had to rise up and bring their game along real fast. James Atoe, Mike Criste, Shane Brostek, those guys had to come in and play. They got thrown into the fire and they worked hard and they were able to help us win some ball games. Obviously we got Ben Riva midway through the season, but you lose quality players like that it's always a challenge."

On the young guys growing up fast: "Anytime you're put in there, what do they call it? You get your union card real fast. It's going to be good competition. We're always going to have competition up front, so when we get into fall camp, there's going to be some guys that have to continue to improve because they know the guy behind them wants a piece of that job. Other than that, their working hard, they're doing a great job and we just can't wait to get going."

On Mike Criste: "For what we asked him to do – he went in early in the year and played some tackle; then he played at right guard; then we moved him in at center; then he had to finish the last game, the bowl game, at left guard when Dexter (Charles) went down – but he was really position-flexible. He did an outstanding job for us."

On what he's looking for in his linemen: "With the type of offense we're running and you look at the way that college football is going – the fast pace, no-huddle – if you're going to have a guy that's going to be big, 330 pounds, he better be able to run because if you're not huddling up, you're not giving him a break or you'd better be able to substitute guys, so the training is a little bit different. College football is changing and I think you're going to see that. I think you saw that in the NFL draft, the athleticism that was taken at the tackle spot in the draft."

On the "new" offense and how the offensive line dealt with it in the spring: "It might have been a new philosophy for the outsider to take a look at, but we had always had a no-huddle offense. If you look at us and some of our games that we got back into, we jumped into it. You look at Oregon State, you look at Stanford, you look at certain times during the games, we would go with that no-huddle offense and we were very productive with it. We're still doing the same stuff, as far as the system, it's just that we're moving at a faster pace. This also allows a lot more players to play. You're not just going to play five offensive linemen. Obviously your center is going to have to be in shape because of the consistency of the ‘gun-snapping' but you can look at other teams, they substitute and we'll substitute too. Guys that, if they get exhausted after six plays, we'll have to get somebody else in there so that we're fresh."

On having his top eight guys ready to go: "The five guys (Mike Criste, Dexter Charles, Ben Riva, James Atoe, Micah Hatchie), those would be the first five, then you get Colin Tanigawa back, you get Erik Kohler back, those are two battle tested players, they've played a lot of games for the Huskies. You have Jake Eldrenkamp that's really come along. He would probably be the eighth guy right now. I'm pretty satisfied with it. I'd like to get another tackle ready to go so this will be an interesting training camp."

On the backup at left tackle behind Hatchie: "Dexter has played it; Eldrenkamp's played it; Kohler's played it; there's actually a lot of guys that have played it right now. I think in the long run, I'd eventually like to see Ben Riva be it because he's so tall and long. As far as the offseason, what he did was very impressive where his numbers are at right now as far as his strength gain, his flexibility, his power. He's really done an excellent job and the same thing with Erik Kohler. He's probably in the best cardio-vascular fitness he's been in during his life with all of the setbacks he's had to go through with the sickness. Those are the things we have to look at, the ‘what ifs'. ‘What if they get hurt?' ‘Who goes over there?' but that's my job and that's what I get paid to do."

On other youngsters who have stepped up: "Shane Brostek, I'd like to see him do some more stuff. Especially with as many snaps as he took last year, he needs to be more productive. I think he's in too much of an analytical state right now where he doesn't want to screw up instead of just going. I think a lot of those young players I just mentioned, Eldrenkamp, are like that. They just have to turn it loose. Both of those guys are going to be great players. Nathan Dean, he's got the size, he's got the athleticism, he just needs to get stronger and so there's going to be a lot of pressure put on him during the summer to really step it up. The you have Cory Fauvai, Siosifa Tufunga and then the three guys that are going to come in – Dane Crane, Andrew Kirkland and Coleman Shelton."

On what the team loses with Drew Schaefer graduating: "He was a good student of the game. He was mean out there. He communicated well. He had a good sense of directing everybody because he starts all of the communication as far as assignments. His snaps were great. That's the biggest thing I worry about – the consistency of the snap. Obviously when you have perfect conditions it's great, but you get a gusty wind or the elements are bad, who can consistently snap that ball where Keith (Price) can just concentrate on what he has to do, the ball is right there in his hands. That's why we spend so much time on it."

The backup at center: "If you can throw a football, you can snap. I've always taught everybody to snap. If it wasn't Mike Criste, I'd go with Erik Kohler. If it wasn't Erik Kohler, it might go Dexter Charles. If it wasn't Dexter Charles, it could possibly be Colin Tanigawa. All of those guys can snap, as well as Siosifa Tufunga, so we do have centers. I always want to have four centers we can rely on."

On Dexter Charles: "For a redshirt freshman to come in and take over for Colin Tanigawa and do the things that he did, especially if you look at the Utah game and the big defensive tackle that got drafted high (Star Lotulelei) from Utah and how he played against him and how he elevated his game. He's got a sense of confidence that is very impressive for a young player. He's a physical type guy. He's not afraid to challenge anybody. Everybody respects that. Obviously he's one of the leaders on our team along with Ben Riva, Colin and Erik. I just see Dex getting better and better all the time."

On the 2013 signees: "The bottom line with Andrew Kirkland is his size to play tackle and his athleticism. Is he athletic enough to play on the left side? We'll find out, but he is a big human being and we followed his career at Jesuit High School and we think that he is one exceptional athlete. Dane Crane, obviously he's a center type. His dad played at USC when I was at Cal so he's from a football family. He's a typical leverage-player. He's a good communicator, has a good work-ethic and center is where he's going to be. He's going to be the Husky center one of these days when some of these guys graduate and move on. Coleman Shelton was a late one. He was a young 16 year-old and when we were recruiting him he was just under 6'4 and 265 and now he's all of 6'4.5 and 295. His dad was a football player also, I think he played at Cal-Poly, but he comes from a good high school, the same school that Colin Tanigawa is from, Loyola High School, and Dane Crane is out of Santa Margarita so they're all from great programs."

On Dane Crane: "There was a center for the Dallas Cowboys, Mark Stepnoski, he reminds me a lot of him. Good awareness, quick off the football, he can get underneath your pads, he can redirect a big guy that's going to challenge at the nose guard position and he has that sense of arrogance in him that I like that he shows a lot of confidence in the huddle."

On the recruiting focus: "We're looking for the best, athletic offensive linemen that we can find. There's going to be an emphasis on tackles this recruiting season. I want to find the best offensive tackles in the country and bring them to Washington. I don't care where they're at. That's what Steve (Sarkisian) and I have talked about and what we're doing and what the rest of the staff is doing. As far as interior players, we want to get big, strong maulers that want to play at that inside spot. I think that we have quality players in there right now, but whether we need to take a bunch of them, I don't know, but tackle is our big concern right now."


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