Spring Preview: Offensive Line

The Washington Huskies used to dominate the line of scrimmage back in the 80's and 90's, but the "big uglies" up front have struggled the past few seasons to mirror the heyday of the feared Dawg offensive lines. Line coach Mike Denbrock thinks his charges have improved and he recently spoke to Dawgman.com about each of the men he'll be watching as spring practices start up next Thursday.

"There'll be a lot of excitement going into spring ball," Denbrock said recently. "We've got a lot of competition I think getting ready to take place and it's an exciting time and it'll be a big spring for a lot of guys."

With a nice combo of experience and youth, Denbrock will be wearing some different hats this spring as he tries to mold his players into one cohesive unit.

"We've got some guys with a little bit of playing experience and we've got some brand-new faces that will be competing for jobs, so I think it's a little bit of everything that you have to provide for them," Denbrock said. "I know I'm looking forward to watching those guys battle it out and see who emerges as the starters."

The first thing he's looking for is a leader for the offensive line.

"There isn't one," Denbrock said matter-of-factly when asked about a sure-fire leader in the unit. "If there was it would probably be Juan Garcia. I feel real comfortable with the things he brings to the table, but there's an awful lot of things he needs to improve on and I think he'd be the first one to admit that.

"I think Juan and Chad Macklin are two guys who've really done a good job of stepping into leadership roles and the guys have a lot of respect for them and they've helped to keep them on the straight-and-narrow.

"However, across the board we have to put ourselves into a position offensive line-wise to give a lot more to this football team than we have the past couple of years."

Number one on the agenda is finding some players who can substitute to give the starters a rest.

Washington only played seven offensive lineman the entire 2006 season. Graduated seniors Stanley Daniels and Clay Walker both started every game at guard; Garcia started every game in the pivot; Macklin, who will be a junior this fall started every game at tackle and soon-to-be sophomore Ben Ossai started all but one game at left tackle.

Subbing for Ossai for the first quarter of the USC game was walk-on Erik Berglund and subbing for Walker when he went down with a leg injury in the Oregon game was junior Casey Bulyca.

Now Denbrock has his eyes focused squarely on the four young men expected to battle for the two open guard spots.

"Well Casey Bulyca and Ryan Tolar are going to be going at it at right guard early in the spring and I look for those guys to have a real healthy competition there and see who plays the best," Denbrock said. "On the left side Morgan Rosborough is going to be given an opportunity there along with Jordan White-Frisbee. Those guys are going to battle there and see who emerges inside.

"Morgan in particular over the winter has done a good job of really trying to condition himself into a lot better shape. I think he's made some strides in that area. For as big as he is, he's got tremendous feet and, as we witnessed a couple Saturday's ago, we had one of our own little mini-NCAA tournament basketball deals where the guys played basketball and he was one of the best players out on the floor. He's got a lot of ability. He's got a lot of work left to do there, but he's made some strides.

"Jordan, unfortunately, we haven't seen the best he has to offer yet. He hasn't been healthy enough to contribute to our football team, but we've got our fingers crossed. He's had a good winter and he's as healthy as he's been in two years and we look for great things. He's loaded with a lot of ability that can really help our football team."

"I think for now we're going to work him inside. I'm semi-comfortable with the guys we have at tackle and we've got some competition going on inside and I think he deserves to be a part of it."

Speaking of the tackle position, Denbrock's "semi-comfortable" status relies on an improving Ossai to solidify himself at the all-important left tackle spot and for two players to add depth behind the two starters.

"Well, on the left side Ben Ossai has a lot of improving to do and nobody knows that more than Ben," Denbrock said. "He's excited for the spring. He has an understanding through a ‘baptism by fire' of knowing what he has to do to improve on to make himself into the type of left tackle we need on this football team. He's going to have to really step up his game and I think he will and I'm excited about that.

"We've got Cody Habben who continues to impress and had a great winter and has been working really hard to get himself into a position to compete for playing time and I look forward to him to pushing both at left tackle and at right tackle for some playing time.

"My big guy on the right side, Chad Macklin, has had a great winter. You know one thing we've worked on with Chad more than anything over the winter months is his quickness and agility and he's really focused his attention on that more than anything. I think he's shown some improvement in that area and I think he's ready to jump in there and play physical."

He also mentioned Aaron Mason, last year's delayed junior college transfer, as a player who he's looking forward to adding to the mix.

"Mason is still a little bit light, but I think one of the things that Aaron brings to the table is the type of tenacity that we talked about and identified as important along the offensive line," Denbrock said. "I love his ‘compete'. He loves to mix it up. He likes to drive defensive lineman crazy with staying after them until the whistle blows and a guy who plays like that is tough to keep off the field. We'll see how he handles it this spring a little bit more and we'll see him in a few more live situations so I look for him to provide us with some quality depth as well.

"For now he's going to start as the backup on the left side."

Garcia will man the center spot and will be backed up by junior Ryan Bush and redshirt freshman Matt Sedillo and there was some interesting news on the eligibility of the senior-to-be from Yakima, Wa.

"Sedillo will play some guard, but I'm going to teach him some center because we don't know what Juan's situation is going to be," Denbrock mentioned. "(Garcia) is listed as a senior, but because of his injury situation, he's got a possibility to get another year, but who knows with the way the NCAA is on that stuff. We're hopeful he can get another year though."

As far as depth is concerned, the Huskies are looking for more than they had last season. Denbrock admits the team doesn't have a lot behind the starters right now, but he's hopeful some of the younger players will make their presence known.

"We're thin and we've got to have some of those young guys to make the steps and the progress that they're capable of and I think they will," Denbrock admitted. "I've really watched anxiously with their work over the winter in the weight room and things and I couldn't be happier with the young guys in our program.

"I think they're going to be in a position, at the very least, to provide us with the quality depth that maybe we didn't have a year ago. I'm in favor of playing more than five guys if we've got some that we feel comfortable with and I think we've got the chance to develop that this spring."

Lastly, Denbrock also made mention of the three offensive lineman the team signed with the 2007 class – T Mark Armelin, T Skyler Fancher and G Scott Shugert – and his discussions with them since they signed.

"I've explained to those guys that I don't care who plays," Denbrock said. "So if they come in (during fall camp) and can pick things up and do a good job then they have a chance to play early in their careers. Competition is something that brings out the best in everybody and that's something we're going to make sure that's part of what we're doing all the time."

We'll see who competes the best as the spring practices get underway. No matter what though, the Huskies have to be considered further ahead along the offensive line than they've been at any time over the past few years.

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