There was great benefit, Jake Eldrenkamp says, to playing the same position as former Washington Huskies left tackle Micah Hatchie.
Eldrenkamp’s first season at UW was 2012, which is when Hatchie took over as the Huskies’ starting left tackle. He never relinquished the position, starting every game that season, then again in 2013, then again as a fifth-year senior in 2014.
“To be able to play behind him, watch him, (and) have him be my mentor,” Eldrenkamp said, “was unparalleled.”
But it also meant that Eldrenkamp, a Bellevue High product, didn’t get to play a whole lot.
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That is likely about to change.
Washington’s new-look offensive line, which lost four of the five players who comprised the starting lineup when last season ended, will rely heavily this season upon Eldrenkamp and similarly inexperienced players.
UW coach Chris Petersen will remind, constantly, that there is no depth chart this time of year — just a “seating chart,” as he calls it. But Eldrenkamp has been at left tackle with the No. 1 offensive line throughout the spring, and seems the natural successor to Hatchie after serving as his backup all of last season.
The four guys lining up to his right might not look familiar, either, because what little returning experience the Huskies do have is usually unavailable. Dexter Charles, whose 30 career starts make him by far the most experienced lineman on the team, has been leaving each practice early to attend class. Coleman Shelton, a third-year sophomore who started seven games at right tackle last season, is currently resting his arm in a sling and likely won’t practice this spring.
“It’s a different culture,” Eldrenkamp said. “Obviously we lost seven offensive linemen, so (we have) a lot of young guys. A lot of guys have played, though, so we know what it takes. The older guys have just got to bring the younger guys along.”
UW’s first-team offensive line (right now, anyway) typically features Eldrenkamp, Dane Crane (zero career starts) at left guard, Shane Brostek (zero career starts) at right guard and Matt James, a redshirt freshman, at right tackle. Andrew Kirkland, a third-year sophomore, has spent time at right tackle, too.
At center is Siosifa Tufunga, who played more last season than anyone in that group … but he played exclusively at guard, where he started UW’s final five games. So he is adjusting to a different role.
Tufunga, a fifth-year senior from Long Beach, California, said he played some center earlier in his career, under the previous coaching staff, so the position is not entirely foreign to him.
It’s just going to take some getting used to it again.
“It’s a lot harder, because I’ve got a ball now in my hand,” Tufunga said after Monday’s practice at Husky Stadium. “It’s all mental stuff. Just make sure the ball is getting to the quarterback on point and just getting calls down so everyone is on the same page.”
Fourth-year junior Jeff Lindquist, one of three quarterbacks vying for the starting job, said Tufunga seems to be adjusting just fine to his new snapping duties.
“Even though he hasn’t been playing center, per se, we’ve been around him quite a bit,” Lindquist said. “So he’s pretty comfortable.
“He works hard. Any little mistake or error that he has that day, it won’t be there the next day.”
Petersen said he evaluates players such as Eldrenkamp and Tufunga, who have a decent chunk of game repetitions, differently than he evaluates younger players who might not have actually played yet, saying that “for some of the young guys, it’s just like, ‘Are you heading to the right guy?’ And you can see that very rapidly.”
Considering what UW must replace, rapid growth will be required.
“There’s just a lot going on with a lot of new, young guys,” Petersen said. “And so we’re getting close. At times it doesn’t look like it, but you put the tape on, and you’re going, ‘Oh, we’re closer than we think they are.’ ”