Husky line strives for versatility

It all begins up front. That's the mantra you hear from football coach after football coach. Teams don't win if they can't hold their own in the trenches. After four years of building up the depth, offensive line coach Mike Denbrock has quite a few talented bodies to work with, but it all starts with his experienced man in the pivot – Juan Garcia.

"He's so important to us, especially in the way we structure our line calls," Denbrock said before the start of spring practices. "The guy who handles all that is our center and to have Juan's experience back is invaluable to the guys around him and he does so much for the guys around him, let alone the rest of the offense to make sure we've got things identified correctly, he's a coach on the field and he gives us that versatility so we're sure our message is getting across there on the field."

Garcia, who was granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA because he missed two full seasons with ankle, leg and shoulder injuries, is an inspiration to those who work the closest with him.

"I couldn't be happier for Juan in what he's been able to accomplish," Denbrock continued. "It's just a testament to the type of person he's developed into and how serious he takes his game and how hard he's worked to get better every year and taking on a leadership with the younger guys and making sure those guys are all on the same page and headed in the right direction, he's a very, very valuable human being to our program."

With Garcia's injury woes behind him, Denbrock is working to fill in a gap left after another one of his starters had surgery this offseason.

"Yeah Ryan Tolar being out hurts a little, but it allows for the guys behind him to get some valuable reps," Denbrock noted. "It's a great opportunity for Jordan White-Frisbee to get some very necessary snaps and to gain some needed experience.

"I think he's had a very good winter and he's poised to get himself into the depth as he did last year and as much as it takes a little bit away from Ryan to not participate it's a great opportunity for Jordan and it's an opportunity I look forward to watching him take advantage of."

The guards in general are a source of relative contentment for Denbrock as he has both of his starters returning this fall – Tolar and Casey Bulyca – as well as two upper classmen in backup roles – White-Frisbee and Rosborough – and he's got Scott Shugert who impressed the staff with his tenacity last fall.

"I think we've got some good competition in there," Denbrock said. "We've got a mix of personalities and abilities, so I think it lends itself to being pretty versatile, number one. It allows us to rotate guys and keep guys fresh.

"Morgan has had a great winter. I mean, the kid just looks different and looks like he's starting to figure out things. He needed to get in better shape and he's pretty much done that. Now it's going to be whether or not he takes advantage of this newfound conditioning and the opportunities he gets.

"Casey is just a big kid and when he gets into you, you're pretty much done. I'd like him to work on his pass-blocking a little more and get a little more savvy at that, but he's put in the time and now it's about getting out there and showing us he's improved and I think he will be.

"When you talk about guys like Casey and Jordan, you have guys who use power and physicalness as their strongest ally. That's their most significant tool available to them and those two guys do a good job of doing that."

When you have an offense geared around someone like Jake Locker and the myriad talents he has, you need strong tackles and the Huskies have two players out on the edge with starting experience.

Redshirt junior Ben Ossai returns at the left tackle spot, a position he's manned since his redshirt freshman season, and they slide redshirt sophomore Cody Habben over to the right tackle spot to replace the departed Chad Macklin.

"We're going to need to develop some depth at tackle for sure, but I like the winter that Skyler Fancher and Mark Armelin have had," Denbrock said. "Those guys have made some strides and Scott Shugert is going to be an inside guy for us, at least for right now, but we'll see how those guys come along.

"There may be a need, depending on what we see from those young guys, to move one of the inside guys outside and see how they do this spring, but we'll see how far along those guys are.

"Ben and Cody are great competitors and both have the feet you like since we see some pretty amazing pass-rushers here in the Pac 10. Both of those guys have a lot on their plates and we expect a lot from them. This spring will be about them gelling with the other guys at their positions and just working hard and showing the stability we need them to show."

Denbrock also has the luxury of anticipating the arrival of four line prospects this coming fall that should further bolster a position that is likely to be one of the strengths of the team.

"The versatility and athleticism that those guys bring is going to be great," Denbrock said. "I mean you take a look at Allen Carroll, who a lot of people project as an inside guy, and he can certainly do that, but I see him as a guy who can play some tackle for us, so I think he's a guy that brings that versatility that you like.

"Mykenna Ikehara is an inside guy, a guard or a center, and we're going to play him as a center when he gets here, and again, he brings that versatility to the table where we can teach him center when he gets here and he can have that in his back pocket and if he develops into a guard that's fine, but if he develops into a center that we like that helps us out all the way across.

"Matt Sedillo is a veteran guy who hasn't taken a whole lot of snaps, but he's another guy that could play center or guard for us so he allows us that versatility as well. He's a kid that I really look forward to seeing him develop this spring and it's going to be a big spring for him."

Two other players the Huskies look to add will be Drew Schaefer, a local from Eastlake High School in Sammamish, and Caldwell, Idaho's Terence Thomas.

"Terence is a great athlete for a young man his size and he's got room to get bigger," Denbrock said. "He's going to be a huge prospect for us down the line. He's got some work to do, but you have to love what he brings to the table and then Drew, he's just physical and he's got that nasty side you like.

"Drew will be a guy we will start out at tackle, but he could slide inside as well, so he continues with that versatility you're constantly striving for."


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