Spring Preview - Offensive Line

With Washington’s Spring Football campaign nearly upon us, it’s time to look at each position group to see what they’ve done in the off-season. It’s fair to say that both the offensive and defensive lines dealt with massive attrition in the off-season. Today we’ll look at what to expect from the offensive side of the ball.

As you would expect, the OL is a little light on upperclassmen, considering they just graduated five senior starters (Micah Hatchie, Colin Tanigawa, Mike Criste, James Atoe, and Ben Riva). When you basically lose an entire offensive line to attrition, your first thought should be - trouble.

But the class balance isn’t nearly as out of whack as you may believe. Of the scholarship linemen, there are two seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and four redshirt freshmen. Not too bad, especially since there will be four more true freshmen coming through the pipeline in 2015.

So that means only 12 scholarship offensive linemen will be available for spring (assuming no injuries have taken them out of consideration), and 13 overall. Certainly enough numbers to get to the 8 or so linemen UW OL Coach Chris Strausser would want to have at any time to play. That also means that the four true freshmen should have every opportunity to redshirt, provided those ahead of them do their jobs. That can always be a big ‘if’ when in the midst of culture change.

Here’s the position group heading into spring:
Dexter Charles (6-5, 312) (RS Sr.)
Siosifa Tufunga (6-3, 313) (RS Sr.)
Shane Brostek (6-4, 301) (RS Jr.)
Cory Fuavai (6-3, 312) (RS Jr.)
Jake Eldrenkamp (6-5, 298) (RS Jr.)
Michael Kneip (6-5, 302) (RS Jr.)*
Andrew Kirkland (6-4, 300) (RS So.)
Coleman Shelton (6-4, 282) (RS So.)
Dane Crane (6-3, 287) (RS So.)
Matt James (6-4, 273) (RS Fr.)
Kaleb McGary (6-7, 292) (RS Fr.)
Jesse Sosebee (6-5, 313) (RS Fr.)
John Turner (6-3, 282) (RS Fr.)
Devin Burleson (6-7, 302) (Fr.)
* denotes walk-on

The Incumbents: Charles, Tufunga, and Coleman Shelton are the main incumbents, simply because they are the main returners with starts under their belts. Combined, the three have 42 total starts, with Charles racking up 30 of those starts.

Shelton has been putting in work this off-season, as shown by Strausser’s tweet.

Tufunga, likewise, has been sounding the siren, the result of a personal best lift.

Charles has to be anxious to get back to work after finishing 2015 on a sour note. He was left out of UW’s bowl plans due to an academic snafu.

The nice part about the three incumbents is each one of them has positions that they can occupy right away without any crossover. Conceivably, if all three play the positions they’ve been set at, Strausser will focus on bringing in a left tackle and right guard to fill in the starting picture.

Shane Brostek is a bit of an anomaly here, because he has offensive line starts in his Husky resume, but by the time the 2015 season has come around it will have been three years since he made a start. It was during Brostek’s first year at Montlake, so he still had a redshirt year available. He used it this past season to put on 18 pounds, so is he completely back? Can Brostek take that right guard spot and make it his own? One would imagine he will get every opportunity to take it, which means this spring is absolutely vital for him to impose himself and stake his claim.

Making a Play: This could basically be the juniors and sophomores that haven’t seen much action up to this point. The most notable name is Jake Eldrenkamp, and for good reason; Strausser needs to find Micah Hatchie’s replacement this spring, and the Bellevue native is the one that has been waiting in the wings. Hatch started all 14 games in 2014, meaning there was little action for the backup left tackles. Eldrenkamp was the main man last spring when Hatchie was coming back from injury. That meant he had to go up against guys like Hau’oli Kikaha for every practice. We’ll see this spring whether or not Eldrenkamp has learned his lessons, because it’s vital he step up and show he can pick up the position right where Hatchie left it.

Cory Fuavai - formerly Cory English - a player who has seen game time in two games during a UW career that has already spanned three years. At 312 pounds he can be a guard that can impose himself when he wants - but is the want to there? He’s certainly at the top of the list of guys to watch to see whether or not they’ve taken what they’ve done in the off-season and put it to good use on the field. If he just ends up being another guy coming out of spring it may not bode well for Fuavai ever seeing the field again. There’s no doubt there will be a lot of the sophomores and redshirt frosh nipping at his heels.

Andrew Kirkland and Dane Crane are the other two linemen that really need to come out of the blocks firing in spring to show they are ready to be consistent two-deep performers. It may not come as much of a surprise, but both Crane and Kirkland were the biggest losers in the off-season when it came to mass, losing nearly 30 pounds between the two of them. Will shedding some mass help them move up the depth chart?

Kirkland started outside, but maybe this spring he’s destined to try his hand inside? We’ll see. He’s certainly been a bit of an enigma since coming to Montlake in 2013. He’s a player that hasn’t been talked about much; now is the time he needs to put himself right in the front of Strausser’s mind as a guy ready to realize his potential.

Crane has been touted as the center of the future ever since he got to UW two years ago. Is this the time he goes mano-a-mano with Tufunga at the center spot? Can Crane beat out Sifa, moving him to the right guard spot? Maybe Crane ends up at guard? Either way, Crane’s time is now. He came in with a reputation for playing nasty, and spring is when that nasty needs to show itself.

The New Guys: The new guys - aka the redshirt frosh and Devin Burleson - are the first class hand-picked by Strausser and Chris Petersen to take things forward. Are they already ready to push the upperclassmen out?

If you look at the relative weights of guys like John Turner and Matt James, the answer is clearly no. They both need at least one more year under Tim Socha’s wing to get to where they won’t get overpowered by Pac-12 defensive linemen. They did a nice job this past off-season, if their weight gains are any indication. Between the two of them they put on nearly 25 pounds.

But then when you look at Boomer Sosebee, he of the wild-man mullet, and converted defensive lineman Kaleb McGary - both of them already scream out ‘Pac-12 ready!’ when it comes to size and physicality. James is a player that came in with a rough and ready reputation, but even having gained 15 pounds in the off-season it’s hard to see where he wouldn’t struggle to cope for an entire game right now.

What does spring mean for this group?: I think this is going to be an exciting time to watch the offensive linemen develop. I hope we get some time to see them in scrimmage situations, because that’s the time where you really get to watch them in their natural environment.

A lot of spring is ‘back to basics’, and that’s always important for linemen, who need great technique to fall back on when going up against great pass rushers. But a lot of spring is also about beating the man in front of you, and that’s where the OL/DL one-on-ones will be fun to note. Are the incumbents taking care of business? Are those needing to step up taking advantage of their opportunities? Are the young cats pushing their way to the front, upperclassmen be damned?

We probably won’t get to see a ton of live action, but when the UW coaches do decide to go live during their team periods, the action in the trenches will be of particular importance. And frankly, a lot of it may look relative. Washington’s offensive and defensive lines were stacked with experience in 2014, leading to a lot of good work inside, but ultimately also a lot of stalemates when it came to beating the guy across the line of scrimmage.

With both the offensive and defensive lines finding themselves in reload mode, there may be the chance for one side to dominate at times, followed by the other side taking over. It’s probably going to be somewhat disjointed early on without all that senior leadership around to play traffic cop and extra coach. This is where Strausser will earn his pay - getting all his offensive linemen on the same page from the start and sorting out who is showing out when they need to. He doesn’t have a ton of bodies to work with, but he does have a year of working with them - ‘banked reps’.

Will those ‘banked reps’ pay off for the offensive line this spring? Only if they hit the running and jump right back into practice like they never left the field. The quicker they get back in the swing of things, the sooner they can show they are ready to compete for a spot in the coveted two-deeps.

Spring Football will never been an ideal time for the big uglies on both sides of the ball. They always want to hit someone, all the time. That’s their job. That’s what they love to do. Spring isn’t typically about that, but it is about getting better and building on what they’ve done before. And in that sense, this spring is monumental for the Washington offensive line.

They have to show improvement, and quickly.

Spring Preview - QB’s

Spring Preview - RB’s

Spring Preview - WR’s

Spring Preview - TE’s

Dawgman.com Top Stories