When the Washington Huskies began their Wednesday practice last week, Coleman Shelton was their starting left tackle.
By the time it ended, starting left guard Jake Eldrenkamp was injured, and Shelton moved one spot to his right to take Eldrenkamp’s place.
By Saturday, Shelton, a third-year sophomore from Pasadena, Calif., was starting at left guard against Utah State — his 10th career start at his third different position in two seasons.
“I felt comfortable with it,” Shelton said. “It wasn’t that big of a deal.”
He’s probably used to moving around by now. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Shelton was a surprise starter at right tackle in UW’s season opener after senior Ben Riva was sidelined by a knee injury. Riva’s injuries persisted, and Shelton wound up starting seven games in his place.
Coaches considered moving him to center in spring, but a shoulder injury kept him out for the duration and he remained at right tackle when preseason camp began. But when starting left guard Dexter Charles was forced into retirement due to injury in mid-August, Eldrenkamp, who had been working as the team’s No. 1 left tackle, moved inside to guard, and Shelton bounced from right tackle to left tackle.
He started the Huskies’ first two games there until Eldrenkamp was banged up during practice last week.
“He’s been a little bit of a journeyman,” Huskies offensive line coach Chris Strausser said of Shelton. “The one thing he kind of always hangs his hat on is being a great competitor, and having tremendous knowledge of the game. So for him to switch from position to position in a sense is easier than a lot of guys in the group because he’s got such a good knowledge of all the positions.”
The primary difference between tackle and guard, Shelton said, is simply “the space you work in. Playing tackle, you're going up against guys that are long and a lot faster, and inside, you're kind of like in your own little box. You have bigger guys coming at you who are a little stronger and more physical.”
Eldrenkamp’s injury, coupled with another undisclosed injury to starting right guard Shane Brostek, set off a chain reaction that led to UW starting three freshmen against Utah State: with Shelton moving to guard, true freshman Trey Adams made his first career start at left tackle. And with Brostek out, redshirt freshman Jesse Sosebee made his first career start at right guard.
Kaleb McGary, a redshirt freshman from Fife High School who had been sharing time with fellow redshirt freshman Matt James at right tackle, also made his first career start on Saturday. Because the Huskies often don’t discuss injury details, it is unclear how long Eldrenkamp or Brostek might be out.
They fared OK in pass protection, allowing only one sack — it came on the Huskies first offensive series — as quarterback Jake Browning threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns. But UW had trouble running the ball against Utah State’s stout defense, tallying just 74 yards on 35 carries.
That’s an ongoing concern; through three games, the Huskies rank 114th nationally in yards per carry at 3.45. Those are particularly discouraging numbers for a team that wants to rely upon its power running game to open up downfield passing opportunities.
“Obviously, we take a lot of pride in running the ball,” Strausser said, “so the fact that we’re not doing it as consistently as we’d like to and need to, nobody’s happy with that.”
But he was encouraged by the way UW’s young offensive line handled itself.
“I thought all those guys did some good things, and I think all those guys would like to have a few plays back here and there,” Strausser said. “So just as long as all those young guys get better like they’re capable of, I think it was a good first step.”
SATURDAY: California (3-0) at Washington (2-1), 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network, 1000-AM, 97.7-FM