2006 will go as far as this group does

As 2006 rapidly approaches and the Huskies continue to practice and hone their playbooks and fundamentals in preparation for the opener with San Jose State, there are a few alarm bells going off. Academic hurdles have been barriers to Tyrone Willingham – he has yet to see his squad with the likes of key JC transfers safety Ashlee Palmer and offensive tackle Aaron Mason.

I have to wonder if Palmer might be a better fit at linebacker at some point, but without seeing him on the field to date, it's hard to tell. This team clearly needs him at safety now.

Now let's focus on Mason. Why? Because he is part of the unit that will perhaps define how the 2006 season will go for Washington. For years – Hell, make that decades – Washington had been known for their big, nasty, blue collar offensive lines. They were the guys that would wear you down in the trenches, and usually there were guys behind the starters that were just as big and strong, waiting to come into the game with fresh legs to pummel you.

That all changed, and my how it has changed.

The 2006 Husky offensive line does not have one bona fide All-Pac 10 team selection on it. That doesn't mean that one or two guys might not play their way into those type of accolades, but to date, none of them have done so. That is very unusual for a program that produced the likes of Blair Bush, Mike Zandofski, Kevin Gogan, Suipele Malamala, Lincoln Kennedy, Olin Kreutz, Benji Olson, Frank Garcia, Tom Gallagher, and most recently Khalif Barnes. All went from the UW into the NFL after solid college careers.

The starting offensive line for the Huskies in 2006 has potential to be very good. Potential means that you haven't done anything to warrant accolades yet, but with offensive line coach Mike Denbrock on board for his second season, this unit has perhaps the best chance to really do something. Denbrock is a great coach who connects with his players and has their trust. Much more so than Dan Cozzetto or Charlie Dickey, whom the players had a difficult time with because those two men were so different in approach and in personality. Denbrock provides stability, and appears to be able to communicate with his kids using different styles with different kids. I cannot tell you how much I respect this man.

Let's take a look at the five guys he's lining up as his starters.

OG Clay Walker 6-4 300 senior – Walker is a senior who played probably too early in his Husky career and really got blown up by some defensive linemen. This year he appears ready to have a solid senior year. He's mature and has a bit of nasty in him. He also has a lot of experience that he can bring to the table. His confidence should be at an all-time high this year.

OG Stanley Daniels 6-4 330 senior - The best athlete on the line probably, this has to be the year that Stanley doesn't take any plays off. If he goes all out on every down and plays through the whistle, he could play on Sundays next year. His talent is undeniable and now as a senior, he needs to show that he can bring it every play.

C Juan Garcia 6-3 310 senior - Untested but comes with a very good endorsement from Denbrock. Still, he will be the guy that defenses will try to exploit because he is so green despite being a senior. His penchant for injury is scary. He has to stay healthy. Strength is no problem, Garcia is a brute. He struggled with his calls in the spring but appears to have them down now.

Note: If any of these three guys goes down with injury, trouble looms. The backups are green, young, and not ready for extended minutes.

ST Chad Macklin 6-8 300 junior - Macklin has been a solid tackle and has a lot of quality playing time under his belt. Has been a rock solid contributor on a line that has been shoddy at times the past two years.

WT Ben Ossai 6-6 295 RS Freshman - Ossai barely beat out the departed Nathan Flowers for the starting tackle spot at the end of spring, but part of that may have been due to the fact that the staff knew that Flowers was on his way out. Still, there is no denying that Ossai is a diamond in the rough. He'll need to be polished right away, as he is the only bona fide weak tackle ready for action. Ideally you'd love to see him come in for spot minutes until next year, but depth and talent issues have forced the Huskies to move Ben into a starting role.

Note: There is no depth behind either Macklin or Ossai that is Pac-10 ready in terms of extended minutes, so it goes without saying that they cannot afford injury here. If Ossai goes down, don't be surprised to see Macklin move to the weakside and for OC Tim Lappano go to two tight ends to help out.

C/OG Ryan Bush 6-2 285 sophomore - Bush will back up at both center and guard. He hasn't played a down of Pac-10 football but will see action this year. This will be a building year for Ryan as he prepares to move up to the ones next fall. He'll need to play 10-20 snaps a game in spelling Daniels and Garcia, and hopefully will not be thrown into the fire too early due to injuries ahead of him.

OG Casey Bulyca 6-5 315 sophomore - Bulyca has done a nice job of rehabbing his shoulder and moving up the depth. Not quick enough to be a tackle, the interior looks to be his future, and that future is now. He'll need to spell Daniels and Clay Walker at least 10 snaps a game, but hopefully won't be pressed into too much action due to injury. I ‘m not sure he's ready for that just yet.

OT Morgan Rosborough 6-6 390 RS Freshman - Morgan is right on schedule, perhaps a bit ahead in terms of his development. In a better world, he would not see the field until next year, but depth issues will force him to the field this year. He is learning fast but to be fair to him, another year of scout team would be ideal, however he's not going to get it.

OT Erik Berglund 6-6 290 junior - although a walk-on, Berglund was at one time on scholarship. He does have some experience, more so than Rosborough, so I would expect him to be the first tackle off of the bench to spell Macklin and/or Ossai.

OT Cody Habben 6-5 275 freshman - Husky fans should hope that he redshirts, but he is clearly in the two-deeps right now. He is undersized, but he has quick enough feet to play outside so he is in the mix. Asking a true freshman to match up physically with defenders that have spent years in a college strength and conditioning program just isn't fair, but then again, who said life was fair? If injuries strike, Habben's redshirt year will be burned.

Conclusion: This is one of the thinnest and greenest Husky offensive lines in nearly 30 years. Coach Mike Denbrock has his work cut out for him, but he is up to the challenge. And if this line can somehow remain healthy, it might wind up being pretty solid. The talent level isn't bad. In fact, Walker and Daniels are probably as talented as some of the Husky OL that came before them that are now in the NFL. They just need to put it together.

And now getting back to Sir Aaron Mason, a 6-5 290 pound tackle who is as athletic as they come. If he can add anything on the outside, assuming he gets into school, that can do nothing but help.
Other Dawgman editorials for 2006:
- Patience with big Ben
- 4 Keys to 2006 UW football

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