Because things are set up that way, it's as if spring is one giant test for offensive linemen. The practices are so skewed toward allowing the defensive linemen to do what they need to in order to get to the quarterback, it's as if they are set up for the OL to fail - to see how much they can mentally handle.
The reality is that it's not quite that bad, but being an offensive lineman in April always presents a big challenge. Perhaps an even bigger one than in the fall when position battles determine future playing time.
- LG Dexter Charles (6-5, 312, Sr.)
- C Siosifa Tufunga (6-3, 313, Sr.)
- LT Jake Eldrenkamp (6-5, 298, Jr.)
- RG Shane Brostek (6-4, 301, Jr.)
- LG Cory Fuavai (6-3, 312, Jr.)
- C Michael Kneip (6-5, 302, Jr.)*
- RT Coleman Shelton (6-4, 282, So.)
- OT Andrew Kirkland (6-4, 300, So.)
- LG Dane Crane (6-3, 287, So.)
- RT Matt James (6-4, 273, RFr.)
- RT Kaleb McGary (6-7, 292, RFr.)
- RG Jesse Sosebee (6-5, 313, RFr.)
- LG John Turner (6-3, 283, RFr.)
- LT Devin Burleson (6-7, 302 Fr.)
Where does the offensive line group find itself after spring: With only four offensive linemen returning with starts under their belts - and one of those players hasn’t started a game as an offensive lineman in three years - it wasn’t going to help to have two of them out for spring. Yet that’s exactly what happened with Dexter Charles and Coleman Shelton.
The upside to this problem is that, after the small senior class, there is consistent balance throughout the other four classes. Once the remaining three offensive linemen show up this summer for the 2015 season, three of the four classes will have four linemen apiece. That’s balance, and that will help bring groups along and help Offensive Line Coach Chris Strausser build cohesion and chemistry within those classes.
In spring, Strausser kept some existing pieces in place - Jake Eldrenkamp at left tackle and Shane Brostek at right guard - while moving many others, like Sifa Tufunga from left guard to center, Dane Crane from center to left guard, Michael Kneip from guard to center, etc… April is the time to experiment, get film on each lineman and see what combinations just might prove effective down the road.
So what we did find out about each offensive lineman during the 15 spring practices held at Husky Stadium? Here’s some quick Cliff’s Notes on each player:
NotesCharles was out for most of spring but he’ll be back full force for fall. Besides, the Huskies know what they have in Dexter, who will be a four-year starter by the time he finishes out his UW career.
NotesDespite starting some 2014 games at left guard when Charles was injured, Strausser moved Tufunga to the number-one center position for spring. Both of last year’s starting centers - Colin Tanigawa and Mike Criste - are now gone, so Strausser had to fill that hole in a hurry. Tufunga had worked some there last spring, so it wasn’t a tough move to make, and he handled the transition as flawlessly as could be expected.
NotesEldrenkamp has never started a game for Washington, but he just finished his second-straight spring campaign as the number-one left tackle. Based on his work during this past April, there’s reason to believe the former Bellevue star will be the first tackle called on to protect the blind side of whichever right-handed quarterback starts at Boise State this fall.
NotesBrostek’s journey has taken a circuitous route, but the true freshman who started three games at right guard in 2012 is now back at right guard three years later. In the meantime he has played on defense, redshirted, and then moved back to offense. During this past spring he was the number-one right guard, having finally recovered the weight lost after his freshman year when he had mysteriously shed pounds.
NotesWith Charles out, Fuavai took part this spring at left guard, often sharing turns with Dane Crane. But Crane was the one that typically started out with the ones, leaving the junior to snap up the scraps. With Dexter coming back this fall, it’s hard to know how much playing time Fuavai will get based on his work this April. In the words of one former UW assistant coach, he’s just another guy out there.
NotesKneip has been an interior lineman his whole time at Washington, and credit to him for sticking it out as a walk-on player. He just might get his chance to shine this fall, as he was inserted into Strausser’s two-deeps as Sifa Tufunga’s backup at center. They took the vast majority of turns, so if Tufunga was out for any period of time, Kneip would be the player counted on to step in with a minute’s notice.
NotesShelton was the other 2014 starter sidelined this spring, his arm in a sling. There’s no indication that he will be sidelined at all this fall, so expect Shelton to once again compete for the starting right tackle spot. The one problem with his injury is that it limited his ability to put on good weight through lifting, so that’s lost time he will have to recover.
NotesShelton will have competition at right tackle, namely from Matt James and Kirkland, who also has taken some turns at left tackle too. He missed a few practices this spring, so that didn’t help his development.
NotesBrought in initially to be the heir apparent at center, Crane was moved by Strausser this April to left guard. With Dexter Charles out, Crane seized the chance to impress and he did. Even though he didn’t practice at center due to the amount of turns he had to take at guard, Crane can certainly bounce back to the middle if required.
NotesJames was one of the breakout performers this spring along the offensive line. With Shelton out completely and Kirkland missing a few workouts, James took full advantage of the opportunity and made the first-team right tackle spot his own.
NotesThe battle at right tackle will certainly be on this fall, and don’t count out Mr. McGary. After spending 2014 on the defensive side of the ball, Kaleb moved over to offense. Until this spring he had never played on the offensive line, so he still has some way to go to make the position his own but his will and athleticism have never been questions. Just a matter of when it all clicks for him, not if.
NotesFor most of the spring, when Kaleb McGary was the right tackle, chances were good Jesse ‘Boomer’ Sosebee would be paired with him at right guard. He spent basically the entire spring as Shane Brostek’s backup, earning a ton of valuable reps and making that position his own.
NotesTurner was a player that looked to be destined for center, and he still could take turns there if need be. But with Charles out and Cory Fuavai not offering much in the way of competition at left guard, there was a spot to be had behind Dane Crane in the two deeps and he battled hard for it. Turner is still a year away from doing serious damage along the offensive line, but he could be a valuable performer at any of the three interior spots.
NotesIn only his first spring, Burleson captured enough of Strausser’s attention to get some serious action at left tackle behind Jake Eldrenkamp. Only problem was the true frosh’s inability to stay healthy. But at 6-7 and 300 pounds, there’s ample reason to be excited by the thought of Burleson along the edge of the offensive line. He’s got the feet and quickness of a basketball player combined with the nasty of a football player. A great combination to have.
Where will the offensive line be as UW heads to fall camp?: Well, they should be 100 percent healthy, which is all you can ask for when trying to put together an offensive line tasked with replacing nearly 130 games’ worth of experience to graduation.
Based on history, as well as how each player finished spring, this is how I would see the starters for the first week of fall camp:
- Left Tackle: Jake Eldrenkamp
- Left Guard: Dexter Charles
- Center: Sifa Tufunga
- Right Guard: Shane Brostek
- Right Tackle: Coleman Shelton OR Matt James
It’s not an offensive line that will immediately strike fear in opponents’ hearts. But it is a blue-collar line capable of getting things done and working well as a unit. They also average 6-foot-4 and 301 pounds across the board, so they can move people around a bit.
But they are going to have to show a lot in their first game at Boise State to get Washington fans excited about the prospect of this line being better than last year’s.
Should any of the true freshmen play this fall?: Absolutely not. The offensive and defensive lines should always live by the maxim Don James often referred to when talking about freshmen; the best time to play freshmen is when they’re juniors.
As it stands, Washington simply doesn’t have enough veteran playmakers along the offensive line and they may have to promote the younger kids earlier than they’d like to. At some point they are going to have to crush the vicious cycle of using younger and younger players, but it’s a hard habit to break and it’s also an effective recruiting tool to entice top talent with the allure of early playing time.
Does that mean a Devin Burleson or Trey Adams just might see the two-deeps? It does, even though Strausser will undoubtedly try his hardest to make sure redshirts remain on all the true freshmen for as long as possible.