Last year’s dismantling of Washington’s offensive line began before the season kicked off.
Colin Porter, one of four expected returning starters, had to retire in April because of shoulder problems.
Colin Tanigawa was coming off a knee injury from the previous season. He made it through fall camp, but played in only two games before tearing a pair of ligaments in his knee. His season was over.
Erik Kohler’s season also ended after just two games because of a knee problem.
Inexperienced players suddenly had to fill in, leaving quarterback Keith Price on his behind much more often than the previous year. Price was sacked 26 times during his record-setting 2011 season. That number bloated to 37 last year.
Kohler is again out. He has been in a walking boot throughout camp after a late-summer foot injury. Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said Kohler won’t be ready for Saturday night’s opener against Boise State in Seattle.
One positive for Kohler is that Washington has a bye the next week, giving him extra time to get healthy.
Shane Brostek, who moved from the offensive line to the defensive line late last season before switching back, also has been injured much of camp.
But the Huskies have used the same starting five offensive linemen on almost every snap during preseason preparation this month. The positions for two of them changed last week.
Junior Ben Riva (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) was moved to the more fabled position of left tackle from the right side at the start of camp. Junior Micah Hatchie (6-5, 305) was moved from left tackle to right tackle.
Throughout camp, these moving monoliths worked their new sides. Last week, the Huskies switched them back.
“I’ve switched players my whole life,” offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto said.
Mike Criste has stepped in for four-year starter Drew Schaefer at center. Dexter Charles, who received early playing time last year because of the widespread injuries, is the left guard.
Tanigawa, named a captain over the weekend, is back at right guard. He says he feels good and knew he would be out a long time when his injuries were explained to him last year. Tanigawa is a mobile guard the Huskies often use to pull.
“He just goes out and performs,” Cozzetto said. “If there’s something he doesn’t like, he’ll let you know. He’s my steady guy. My steady guy in there. People watch him and learn from him. It’s great to have him healthy again.”
Cozzetto worries about injuries. It’s a standard annual concern for him. That’s why he teaches each lineman multiple positions. He thinks a couple of guys could play all five positions, if necessary.
“As long as they are position flexible, they are able to understand the whole concept of what we’re trying to do,” Cozzetto said. “We’re not just linemen with blinders on. We’re not going to play one spot. That’s just not how it works anymore.”
The Huskies’ move to a full-time up-tempo offense this season will be an extra test of depth.
James Atoe is listed as the backup right guard, but he can play multiple positions on the line after starting six games last season and playing in all 13.
Redshirt freshman Jake Eldrenkamp has made a significant push to snatch the backup spot at left tackle this fall. Brostek is the backup at left guard, and sophomore Siosifa Tufunga is the No. 2 center.
Sophomore Ross Dolbec will be the second man in at right tackle.
There isn’t one senior in the two-deep roster.
“We’re going to have to deal with injuries,” Cozzetto said. “That’s just part of the game. Hopefully, we’re not going to have to go through the same ordeal we did last year. You know, that kind of brought along a lot of people real fast because some people were called upon to play right away. To say we had to take our lumps early hopefully, it pays off.” firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas