Cozzetto Putting the Puzzle Together

Low numbers and big expectations are nothing new to Dan Cozzetto. When the Washington Huskies traveled to Tempe, Ariz. this past weekend, they had more defensive linemen than offensive linemen. They had as many defensive backs as offensive linemen. With Greg Christine out for the year, the line coach had to look to the other side of the ball to find an answer.

What he saw was Nick Wood. "Coach Sark (Steve Sarkisian) told me to take a look at him, see what I thought," Cozzetto said Tuesday as the Huskies continue to prepare for their Saturday game with Oregon. During the one-on-one periods, Cozzetto would line Wood up against certain offensive linemen, watch his movement, see how he did. What he saw was a kid that was young, but competitive as hell and wanted to play in the worst way.

"He'll battle you until the end, and that's all we're asking," Cozzetto said of the sophomore from Poway, Calif., noting that he got his lunch handed to him a couple of times by some Arizona State defensive linemen, but he just got right up and continued to battle. "He's got a good football mind," Cozzetto said of Wood. "He learns well."

Cozzetto is learning a lot about his linemen lately. He's learning he doesn't have enough of them - not nearly enough. The irony of his guys going up against players like Arizona State's Lawrence Guy - a player Cozzetto recruited to ASU when he was then working for Dennis Erickson - wasn't lost on Cozzetto. "That was a heavy emphasis when we came back to that school, the quality of defensive lineman that were in there," he said. "We got rid of a lot of them and got our own guys in there - much like we've got to get great d-linemen and o-linemen here.

"Lawrence Guy? That guy is like the second coming of Steve Emtman," he added, matter of factly.

While Cozzetto works behind the scenes to recruit players like Erik Kohler, Ben Riva and Colin Porter to Washington in the hopes they'll become the next Lincoln Kennedy, Tony Coats and Benji Olsons of UW football, those kids can't help him today. So every night he puts together ideas of how he can best utilize the healthy talent he does have available. Consider it the Husky version of Sudoku; no matter what player he puts in a certain spot, they all have to line up with two tackles, two guards and a center.

So far this year, until Christine's injury, the lineup had been very straightforward: Ben Ossai and Cody Habben at tackle, Christine and Senio Kelemete at guard and Ryan Tolar at guard. But like any good coach, Cozzetto has to make room for contingencies - like more injuries - while also looking toward the long-term viability of the line and what is best for the team. Hence the late-night brainstorming sessions, where variants come sharp and sudden.

After Tolar and Mykenna Ikehara - who Cozzetto said is now putting weight back on his 6-foot-2 frame - there is no set plan at center. Cozzetto said Tuesday that he's toying with the idea of trying redshirt frosh Drew Schaefer there. Just like one of his Arizona State proteges, Grey Ruegamer - who is now working at Washington - Cozzetto moved him around so by the end of his career he played at both tackle spots and center. He ended up playing all three of those spots in the NFL too.

In some cases, players are more physically suited to just playing on one side of the line - like the right side - so they learn the guard and tackle positions there. In other cases, a tackle may learn both the left and right tackle positions so they can flop the line if necessary. Versatility is key, but it ultimately comes down to the player and what they do best. "It all depends on what they are comfortable at - either staying on the same side or can they move around and have that football sense that they can adapt to it," Cozzetto said. "Some guys can, some guys can't. It all depends on what they can learn."

With Schaefer, Cozzetto sees a raw body that has the potential to do a number of things along the line. "He's young in his career," Cozzetto said of Schaefer. "He has a natural snap to him and he been down here on this one-on-one stuff and performed pretty good against Alameda (Ta'amu) and Semisi (Tokolahi). He can anchor up in there, which is kind of a surprise and has me thinking to the future."

So if Schaefer's future might be inside, Cozzetto will still need to develop a player to take his place. Could that player be Senio Kelemete? Kelemete moved from the defense in the spring and has done nothing but start every single game at right guard for the Huskies this fall, a remarkable achievement. Cozzetto wants to see more.

"He might be an outstanding (right) tackle," he said of the sophomore from Evergreen High School in Burien. "He's very athletic."

The puzzle isn't done, and the possibilities are endless. Say, for instance, Wood goes down. Then does that mean Cozzetto moves Ben Ossai inside from left tackle to left guard? And if that happens, does he move Cody Habben from right tackle to left tackle? Or does he leave Habben there and put Schaefer at left tackle? If he moves Habben too, would Schaefer be the lock to play right tackle? Or would Kelemete be that guy? Would Schaefer move inside? Or would Tolar, a converted guard, move back to guard and push Ikehara into a starting role?

Don't blame Cozzetto if he can't keep all the combinations straight. It sure wasn't easy his first go-around at UW in 2003, when he his two tackles - Khalif Barnes and Nick Newton - played the whole season. But it took six other players to handle the rest of the starts on the inside, including two brand new players in Tusi Sa'au and Brad Vanneman.

Everything is new at UW this fall, especially the coaches. Cozzetto said for the players, it's like wading the waters, trying to get a sense for the ebb and flow of their position coach's demeanor. By game seven, they know there is no tide; the coaches have been consistent in their approach from day one.

"You look at Coach (Nick) Holt, he doesn't change," Cozzetto said with a grin. "So you either buy in or you get out." Top Stories