Fall Position Preview - Offensive Line

With less than 50 days to Washington's September 3rd opener versus Rutgers, it's time to ramp things up with our fall position previews. Up today is a look at the Husky offensive line.

Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen spoke recently at the Pac-12 Media Days about Jake Browning. He was asked what needed to happen to see Browning improve from year one to year two. His answer? Browning’s next step in his progression as a college quarterback would be directly tied to everyone around him improving. 

“And if those guys elevate their game, if that O-line elevates their game, if our tight ends take the next step…,” Petersen said. 

And that’s the key for Washington’s offensive line in 2016, one that had their struggles but seemed to finally click late in the season when the Huskies rolled off three lopsided wins to finish the year off right.

But overall, it was a rough 2015 for the Husky offense. They finished ninth in the Pac-12 for scoring, ninth for total offense, ninth for rushing offense, ninth for pass offense, seventh for pass efficiency, seventh in sacks given up, 11th in first downs, and 10th in third and fourth down conversions.  They lost the ball 22 times on offense, 10th best in the league. They were also 11th in red zone offense.

When compared to how well the defense did in 2015, those number are negatively magnified. Of course Washington was breaking in a brand new quarterback, running back and left tackle, but it is a stark reminder of how far the offense lagged behind the defense in terms of impact.  

The offensive line could very well hold the key to Washington's offensive improvement this fall. Yes, Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin are a year older - and should be better. But the Huskies only lost one full-time offensive line starter in Sifa Tufunga and return eight linemen with starts, including three tackles and five interior players. 

It all starts up front, and if the starting five offensive linemen can make the jumps Browning and Gaskin are expected to make, Washington could certainly flip their 2015 statistics on their head. 

Offensive Linemen (by year and scholarship)

Jake Eldrenkamp (6-5, 284, Sr.)

Shane Brostek (6-4, 285, Sr.)

Michael Kneip (6-5, 284, Sr.)*

Coleman Shelton (6-4, 292, Jr.)

Andrew Kirkland (6-4, 313, Jr.)

Kaleb McGary (6-7, 300, So.)

Jesse Sosebee (6-5, 314, So.)

Matt James (6-4, 291, So.) 

John Turner (6-3, 283, So.)

Trey Adams (6-8, 306, So.)

Devin Burleson (6-8, 301, RFr.)

Henry Roberts (6-6, 290, RFr.)

Jared Hilbers (6-7, 282, RFr.)

Luke Wattenberg (6-4, 275, Fr.)

Nick Harris (6-1, 282, Fr.)

Duke Clinch (6-3, 280, Fr.)*

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Projected Depth Chart

Left Tackle

Trey Adams (6-8, 306, So.)

Andrew Kirkland (6-4, 313, Jr.)

Jared Hilbers (6-7, 282, RFr.)

Left Guard

Jake Eldrenkamp (6-5, 284, Sr.)

Michael Kneip (6-5, 284, Sr.)*

Henry Roberts (6-6, 290, RFr.)

Duke Clinch (6-3, 280, Fr.)*

Center

Coleman Shelton (6-4, 292, Jr.)

Matt James (6-4, 291, So.)

John Turner (6-3, 283, So.)

Nick Harris (6-1, 282, Fr.)

Right Guard 

Shane Brostek (6-4, 285, Sr.)

Jesse Sosebee (6-5, 314, So.)

Luke Wattenberg (6-4, 275, Fr.)

Right Tackle

Kaleb McGary (6-7, 300, So.)

Andrew Kirkland (6-4, 313, Jr.) OR

Devin Burleson (6-8, 301, RFr.)

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Where does the Offensive Line group stand heading into the summer? 

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

It's a bit of an ironic grouping, because Coleman Shelton has 20 starts for the Huskies, by far the most of anyone in that starting five, but he will be the one asked to start at a new position this fall. 

And when he takes that first snap against the Scarlet Knights, Shelton will be the first UW offensive line in recent memory - perhaps in the modern era - to have gotten starts at all five positions. And he's only a junior, which makes his Husky career up to this point all the more remarkable. 

His experience and versatility only adds to the reasons why OL Coach Chris Strausser wanted Shelton manning the middle. 

The biggest difference between 2015 and 2016 for the offensive line is in the depth, and how that depth was groomed last year. It has been a rare year when Washington has replacements available with starts at both tackle and guard, but that's exactly what the Huskies have this fall. 

Tackle Andrew Kirkland had seven starts in 2015 at both left and right tackle, including the last two games filling in for Trey Adams.  

Jesse Sosebee and Matt James are the others that return with starting experience. Sosebee has been a fixture at right guard, while James had starts at right tackle in 2015 but, like Shelton, has also been moved inside. 

The key to Washington's offensive line success this fall depends on the answers to these three questions:

1) How quickly does Shelton adapt to the center position as essentially the quarterback of the offensive line?

2) How quickly do the young tackles - Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary - ramp up their play to handle the rigors of being out on an island against some of the top pass rushers in the country?

3) Will Jake Eldrenkamp and Shane Brostek finally realize their full potential and finish off their Washington careers on a high note? 

Keep those questions in mind as Washington's offensive line gels in 2015 and helps the skill players around them shine. 

Shelton is experienced enough now and had a full spring to get a jump start on what he needs to do. Of course there were growing pains in terms of snap consistency and communication with the quarterbacks, but he's diligent in his work habits and Strausser wouldn't have put him in the line of fire if he couldn't handle it. 

As far as the tackles, Adams and McGary are arguably the best young duo in the country. Their potential for greatness is off the charts. Now it's just a matter of working toward that and maximizing their opportunities. 

I think the play of Eldrenkamp and Brostek will ultimately tell the tale of how successful Washington's offensive line play has been in 2016, upon reflection. As veterans in the system now, there's no excuses for them anymore. They have nowhere to hide. Their time is right now to positively influence how the Husky line plays this fall. 

What Strausser has this year over last is the ability to create strong competition in a few areas to bring in those that are taking advantage and aren't new to proceedings. 

2015 saw five Washington offensive linemen get their first starts. This year that number should be zero if everything holds to form, and that's a substantial improvement. 


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