Today we’ll tackle the offensive line group.
No offensive coach at Washington understands the idea of replacing like for like numbers better than Chris Strausser. So it’s a little odd that the Huskies’ offensive line ended up on the short end for 2016. They lost four offensive linemen to graduation and/or retirement; Dexter Charles, Siosifa Tufunga, Cory Fuavai, and Dane Crane - yet only signed two players, Luke Wattenberg and Nick Harris, to fill those scholarships.
Both players are from the same school, JSerra Catholic in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
So what explains not replacing four outgoing linemen with like numbers? Well, if you go by offers extended, Washington only offered 14 offensive linemen for the 2016 class; for 2017 they already have 11 offers tendered and it’s not even March.
Okay, so one can safely assume Strausser and the UW staff weren’t enamored with the 2016 offensive line class as a whole. And the way the 2017 in-state offensive line class is looking - headed up by national recruits Foster Sarell and Henry Bainivalu - why should they take flyers on ‘reaches’ when next year looks so good on paper?
Well, there’s a couple of flaws with that thought.
The first flaw has to do with quality; they already took a flyer by signing Nick Harris. They did so in late July after missing out on Michael Eletise, a lineman from Hawaii that showed a ton of UW interest before committing to Arizona the Monday before Harris pulled the trigger on his own commitment.
Harris had two offers before his commitment; Cal Poly and New Hampshire. There were bigger schools that were sniffing around like Boise State and Colorado, but it’s clear by the chronology that Harris was Strausser’s next best option after Eletise.
Washington tried to enter the game late with Nate Herbig, another Hawaiian lineman who initially backed off a long-standing Stanford offer to eventually sign with the Cardinal.
But other than those two prospects, that was it for offensive linemen. In fact, no other offensive linemen took official visits to Washington during the 2015-16 recruiting cycle.
The second part of the equation has to do with quantity. I’ve already laid out how the Huskies will be short in 2016 because they lost four linemen but only signed two. Part of the reason Strausser couldn't necessarily sign like-for-like numbers was because of the overall 85 number. At least that's a possible explanation.
Right now the Huskies are at 86 players on scholarship, but that could change this spring depending on who returns. It’s obvious there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room and it's going to be just as tight for 2017. Each class is expected to lose roughly the same number of players - 14 - so where are the numbers going to be picked up for the offensive line?
Washington will lose two more scholarship players after 2016 in Jake Eldrenkamp and Shane Brostek. So will they be able to replace like-for-like going forward? One would hope so, especially if those two are Sarell and Bainivalu.
Maybe Strausser will be able to squeeze one more precious scholarship out of Chris Petersen in an attempt to get the offensive line numbers more in line with where they need to be, but who knows if that’s going to happen.
It certainly appears as if the quality of the 2017 offensive line class - especially out west - is head and shoulders above the 2016 class, which makes getting a U.S. Army All-American like Luke Wattenberg for 2016 even more vital. That was a fantastic job of recruiting by Strausser to get him in the boat before Wattenberg's recruitment really took off.
But assigning an offensive line recruiting grade is like the line itself; you have to look at the collective unit, not just one outstanding player. And while Washington’s offensive line recruiting got off to a really strong start with Wattenberg’s verbal commitment on Tax Day, that momentum petered out quickly. Missing out on Eletise was a real gut punch, and they never really recovered from it.
There’s nothing to suggest Nick Harris can’t be a quality offensive lineman in time for the Huskies - and there’s no doubt his connection with Wattenberg could pay off handsomely if the two play next to each other down the road - but he is the classic definition of a Plan B recruit.