One could argue that the offensive line was the one group that needed spring more than any other, and by the end of the 15 practices it was clear their work went a long way toward finalizing the core linemen UW OL Coach Chris Strausser will lean on in the fall. Players were tried at different positions, movement created some competition, and others focused solely on mastering their new roles.
Injury and a nod toward long-term health over short-term improvement ruled the day during spring football, so that thought played a part in the overall cohesion of what should become Washington’s first team offensive line for the 2016 season. But depth is most definitely being built, and some being out allowed others to step in and gain valuable turns. How much that matters this fall is yet to be seen.
In short, Washington has three very good tackles and five interior players with starts under their belt. That group will form the nucleus of the Huskies’ offensive line for this year, and beyond.
Offensive Linemen (by year)
Andrew Kirkland (6-4, 313, Jr.) - Kirkland showed how versatile and irreplaceable he has become for Chris Strausser. He started games at both right and left tackles last year and played both positions this spring. He was a very consistent performer while players like Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary struggled to stay healthy for all of April.
Trey Adams (6-8, 306, So.) - It was a bit of a hit and miss spring for Adams, who eventually finished spring football healthy. He did miss a few practices in the early part of April, so I’m sure he didn’t have quite the spring he was hoping for. That being said, Trey is a beast and should have the spot locked down by the first game. His blend of size, athleticism, and nasty is just too tough to ignore.
Jared Hilbers (6-6, 282, RFr.) - Hilbers got a ton of time working with the ones and twos when Adams was out and Kirkland was working with the ones. That’s only going to help Hilbers in his development going forward, especially going up against such a loaded defense. He will need to keep getting bigger, faster and stronger as he works behind those two. I expect Jared’s breakout to be a year from now.
Jake Eldrenkamp (6-5, 284, Sr.) - Like Adams, Eldrenkamp wasn’t available for all of spring, which is ironic for the senior, who, at one point, had two full springs all to himself at left tackle when Micah Hatchie was at UW. When he was in, it wasn’t a flawless spring. He had moments where the defensive line made him look foolish, but every offensive linemen had those moments. Jake is still very much the incumbent left guard, and got enough work in to keep himself right there.
Michael Kneip (6-5, 284, Sr.) - Kneip battled hard to establish himself as the number two left guard, and got a ton of one reps when Jake Eldrenkamp was out. Very serviceable player who could see a lot of time this fall, but like Jake also needs to make sure he can keep himself healthy.
Henry Roberts (6-6, 290, RFr.) - Roberts is still finding his way, and right now it looks like left guard is the spot that Chris Strausser has put him for the time being. He’s got the size and nasty to be able to make a difference, but didn’t have the kind of spring he needed to put him in the two-deep mix with the other two Bellevue alumni.
Coleman Shelton (6-4, 292, Jr.) - Shelton made the transition to center look very easy and comfortable. He’s played every other position along the offensive line, so he has taken that experience and versatility and put it to good use. There’s no question Strausser sees Coleman as the glue that will keep this youngish offensive line solid. They have starts, but they are still green in many respects. Shelton has the most starts of any UW offensive lineman by far, and it’ll be up to him to quarterback the OL and keep everyone on the same page.
Matt James (6-5, 291, So.) - After seeing him this spring, James is a very solid number two behind Shelton. Both Shelton and James are learning the spot, but I didn’t see a rash of poor snaps or exchanges to indicate that learning curve should be a serious impediment to his progress at the position. One thing Matt has struggled with in the past is keeping weight on, but if he can maintain bulk the former wrestler has all the attributes you want at center.
John Turner (6-3, 283, So.) - I didn’t see enough of Turner with the ones and twos yet to form a solid opinion on whether or not he’s taken a step forward or if he’s treading water. He’s still a young player and must continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger if he wants to be considered a serious player in this position competition.
Shane Brostek (6-4, 285, Sr.) - Brostek came out of spring football as the number one right guard after starting there as a true frosh but then moving over to defense and back. As much as it looked like Boomer Sosebee had a chance to push past Brostek this spring, it didn’t happen. I fully expect that battle to be joined this fall. When Shane is playing his best, he moves people around and can hold his own in pass protection. Since this is his final year, he has one more opportunity to put the spot on lockdown.
Jesse Sosebee (6-5, 314, So.) - Sosebee is the consummate seasoned backup with starts to his credit. That’s the kind of depth Strausser is building. ‘Boomer’ continues to push for more playing time, and Brostek’s starting position is far from secure at this point. Of all the position battles along the offensive line, this will be the one I expect goes to the wire before game one this fall versus Rutgers.
Kaleb McGary (6-7, 300, So.) - Things were on cruise control for McGary until he hurt his leg halfway through spring ball. Over a period of a few practices the big man was able to get back on the field and finished out the campaign. That’s huge news for Washington fans, who know how important McGary is going to be going forward, and it’s also a note about his toughness and willingness to do what it takes to get on the field. Pushing through pain will only help Kaleb’s cause down the road. He has a chance to be a four-year starter.
Devin Burleson (6-8, 301, RFr.) - Burleson was pretty much put in the same boat with Jared Hilbers due to Andrew Kirkland. When McGary went down, Kirkland filled in. That still meant Burleson got a ton of reps, but not necessarily with the ones. If the depth holds, Burleson’s breakout - like Hilbers’ - should be this time next year. Because of his basketball background, Burleson doesn’t quite have the upper body yet you’d want from a tackle, but he’s getting bigger, stronger, and faster every day. He’s so athletic for his size, Devin should provide ample depth at the position in time.
Where does the Offensive Line group stand heading into the summer?
While there are always going to be some questions at every position after spring football, many were answered when looking at the offensive line.
The starting lineup for Rutgers should look like this:
Left Tackle - Trey Adams
Left Guard - Jake Eldrenkamp
Center - Coleman Shelton
Right Guard - Shane Brostek
Right Tackle - Kaleb McGary
That’s over 50 starts between that group alone, with Shelton accounting for 20. That’s not a ton of starts, but it’s enough to know that when they line up against the Scarlet Knights in September, they won’t be getting thrown in the deep end.
And the answer of sixth man was resoundingly answered in April by the play of Andrew Kirkland. He had seven starts in 2015, at both left and right tackle. That’s the resume of a quality back up, a player Strausser will count on time and time again.
Who will become the next Coleman Shelton or Andrew Kirkland, the indispensable ones? That could be Matt James. He’s backing up Shelton right now at center, but had two 2015 starts at right tackle. James has the ability to be pressed into service at a moment’s notice.
Strausser liked the grouping of Eldrenkamp, Kneip, and Roberts - the three Wolverines - and I expect their bond to grow even tighter as the year progresses. Both Eldrenkamp and Kneip move on after this coming season, so not only do they have one last shot to fulfill their potential, but they also have an opportunity to pass things down to Roberts, who is poised to be the next multiple-year starter at that position.
And there’s no question in my mind that, if health allows, Adams and McGary should be the best tackle partnership in the Pac-12. To bestow that kind of distinction on sophomores is a scary thought, but it’s a testament to their abilities and their potential. It’s hard to be men-children and war daddies at the same time, but they are. And they are only getting better with each passing day.
So the bad news coming out of spring for the offensive line is that they didn’t get enough time together as the one unit to Strausser’s satisfaction, but he’s rarely satisfied. He’s constantly pushing it, looking to get his best five on the field at the same time.
The great news is that depth is being built, and the number ones can still get so much better as they get older. They have room to grow individually, and as a group. And that bodes well for UW’s future at offensive line.