2008: Where we were…or: where were we?
The game is won or lost in the trenches.
In a properly run program, most O-line starters are upperclassmen because, of O-line candidate starters, they are or should be the strongest and most competent.
In 2008, were the offensive line upperclassmen truly upper class or common canaille? As evidenced by the weights of the upper class offensive linemen, unfortunately, more time was spent eating than training, and there were no U of W linemen in any post-season, Pac-10 court of honor. In 2008, fat and flab were ubiquitous. The offensive line may as well have been coached by an aging Henry VIII.
Junior Ben Ossai, 330 lbs. Junior Nick Scott, 340 lbs. Senior Casey Bulyca, 350 lbs. Senior Jordan White-Frisbee, 370 lbs. Junior Morgan Roseborough, 390 lbs.
While they knew what they should do, unlike hamburgers, self-discipline was in short supply. At the beginning of the previous 2007 season, several O-line starters were demoted because they arrived at fall camp overweight and out of shape, having made little effort to work out during the summer. One husky fan commented at the time: “If that’s how little they care, why do they bother?” Scholarships, perhaps.
Individual mental videos come to mind. Casey Bulyca standing on the sidelines in street clothes during the 2008 spring game watching plays unfold, and someone nearby quietly asking someone else why Bulyca was so ovate. Was he sick?
Washington v. Oregon, 2008. An Oregon defensive end, outweighed by 120 lbs., jumped offside, slamming into White-Frisbee who fell over backwards, not because of the impact but because White-Frisbee was too heavy to catch his balance.
Uncharacteristically, the Oregon defensive linemen broke into laughter. The prototypical fat guy. What Oregon players thought of the Washington O-line was obvious. Final score: 44 – 10, Oregon, and for Washington it could not have been worse.
The game is won or lost in the trenches, and Washington will miss
Jake Locker, but if enough improvement is made at the point of attack, Washington won’t miss him as much as they might otherwise.
Over his four-season career, Locker ran for a lot of yards because he had to. Fortunately, he was exceptional as a runner. A more memorable run against Arizona in 2009 showcased Locker’s ability but also the O-line’s disability. Focusing only on the offensive line at the beginning of the play shows confusion, tepid execution, and relative physical inferiority, a formula for instant chaos.
Out of the chaos, Locker scored. Fortunately, he played for Washington. Washington didn’t score. Locker scored. But it counted for Washington.
Washington had gradually become embarrassingly weak in the trenches and, consequently, just embarrassing. Coach Sarkisian et al would not be able to change things overnight but he had a plan and winning attitude that would gradually overcome the weaknesses inherited, weaknesses of which he was well-aware from having scouted Washington while at USC.
Unsurprisingly, the first thing Sarkisian did when hired in January 2009 was to bring in strength and conditioning Coach Ivan Lewis who instituted rigid workout and conditioning guidelines. Washington’s O-line was so far out of shape. It took a while but the Washington O-line began to show some of the traditional fire and physical domination during the last half of the 2010 season.
While far from where they should already be or will be, Washington’s 2011 O-line should continue to improve and, consequently, so should the won-loss record because the games are won in the trenches.
Sophomore Eric Kohler is a gem. He can play well at either guard or either tackle position, so he can play where Washington most needs someone. Some sports writers have speculated he’ll wind up at guard but it appears Washington doesn’t need him at guard because during spring ball, two players, both named Colin – sophomore Colin Porter and redshirt freshman Colin Tanigawa – established themselves at the guard position.
Porter came as no surprise considering his performance in 2010 as a true freshman. Tanigawa, even though he was named game-day captain twice while redshirting on the scout team, seemed to come as a surprise to many, however. Tanigawa and Porter are probably the two toughest guys on the O-line, and both give 100% consistently. For these reasons, replacing Tanigawa with someone else, say, Kohler or Nick Wood, is unlikely. Tanigawa is tenacious and it’s this tenacity that will make it difficult to keep Tanigawa off the field. It should be noted that, although unintentional, the quiet Tanigawa leads by example, an example that infects the rest of the O-line. Justifiably, no one else wants to be outplayed by the redshirt freshman.
Again, starting O-linemen should be upperclassmen but the talent level at Washington declined and, consequently, sophomores and freshmen will play a great deal. While an undesirable situation in 2011, Colin and Colin could be All-Pac 12 in two years.
Tanigawa and Porter are backed up by mammoth redshirt freshman James Atoe and possibly Kohler, if he’s needed, or possibly junior Dan Kanczugowski if redshirt freshman Michael Criste can impress at center where Criste practiced considerably last year. At the end of spring ball, however, Sarkisian was experimenting with Kanczugowski backing up Drew Schaefer at center, and Criste was at guard behind Tanigawa. Kanczugowski, from O’Dea High by way of Edmonds, has quick feet enabling him to play tight end in 2010 when the supply of tight ends dwindled down to a precious few. Kanczugowki’s more natural position is guard, and the reasons for experimenting with him at center may be twofold: 1) increasing effective center position depth and 2) sending a message to the cerebral Criste. Of Atoe, Kanczugowski, and Criste, Kanczugowski is most likely to first see the field as a back-up because of his experience but it’s uncertain at which position.
Atoe should see game time because 1) he is huge, 2) he is expected to become a future starter and needs the experience, 3) he has increased his physical strength and stamina considerably since arriving at Washington last season, and 4) he has good explosiveness; he gets off the ball well. Although Atoe redshirted last season, he suited up, as did Tanigawa. At one point during the ASU game, the two stood side-by-side on the sideline with Colin Porter, shoulder pads touching, watching the defensive play on the field. The combined width of the three contiguous shoulder pads probably exceeded 12 feet. As widely mentioned when Atoe was recruited, in Coach Sarkisian’s opinion Atoe will have first round NFL draft potential by the 2014 season, a year when Washington’s weak 2008 O-line will have been completely forgotten.
Presently the man at weakside tackle is last year’s starter, senior Senio Kelemete. Having undergone surgery, Kelemete is on track for total recovery by next fall and, in Coach Sarkisian’s opinion, has potential for All-Pac 12 honors.
Based on relative talent levels and the emergence of Colin Tanigawa at guard, the starting strongside tackle will most likely be Erik Kohler who should also garner post-season honors.
During spring ball, Sarkisian also complemented Ben Riva who came in as a freshman looking like a tight end. Riva was listed at 275 lbs. but was probably not that heavy. According to Sarkisian, Riva is presently close to 300 lbs. but still runs like he did at a lesser weight. Some believe Riva could be the starter at strongside tackle, with Kohler at weakside guard, but that would require displacing Colin Tanigawa which, again, is unlikely to happen. Riva will more likely be a backup to Kohler at strongside tackle unless someone is injured and Kohler needs to slip into one of the other O-line positions. Again, Kohler is a gem.
Other backups are redshirt freshman Micah Hatchie (behind Kelemete at the end of spring ball) and senior Skylar Fancher who came to Washington with some fanfare but, apart from chasing down a purse snatcher after a sprint of several blocks in the U-district, has not seen action due to injury. Hopefully Fancher’s senior year will see him getting an opportunity to show what he can do in spite of the pins in his feet. At the end of spring ball, Fancher was behind Kohler and Riva at strongside tackle.
Since 2008, in addition to player talent improvement, there has obviously been improvement in coaching. The guard and tackle positions are still a work in progress but the more-talented O-line players have numerous helpers when working toward improved conditioning, strength and blocking efficacy, as opposed to 2008 when the word “helper” better described what was used to prepare hamburger.
Washington has Dexter Charles and Siosifa Tufunga coming in. Charles is a good athlete. Tufunga, from Long Beach Jordan High, the same high school as present Washington linebackers John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono, is reasonably athletic but very tough. Like Timu and Fuimaono (think “the eye of the tiger”), Tufunga brings an attitude.
Juanita High tackle Nathan Dean is the sole O-line commitment so far this recruiting season. Some of the uncommitted guards or tackles being pursued by Washington make husky fans salivate, however. Hawai’i’s Shane Brostek obviously has ties to Washington. Jordan Simmons, Kyle Murphy and Lacey Westbrook all have future NFL potential, a characteristic former Washington coach Don James looked for when evaluating high school talent. Watching the video of 6’ 5” 321 lb. Jeremiah Poutasi is interesting. A tackle, he plays with an attitude and looks better than some higher rated prospects but like most high school lineman, he’s raw. The potential is there, however.
And there’s the highly-hyped local triumvirate: Joshua Garnett, Zach Banner and Walker Williams. Garnett is a bull with great feet. Williams is underrated because he plays for a very small high school but he is an athlete and a very large one. Loquacious, 6’ 9” (and possibly still growing) Zach Banner has explained that, because of his height, whatever a normal-sized O-lineman must do, Banner has to do more of it, e.g., get proportionately lower when attaining leverage. When listening to Banner, one appreciates that Banner is very determined.
As an aside, Williams can be a very funny guy off the field, and a future comedy duo of the effervescent Banner and the comedian Williams, ala Abbott and Costello, Rowan and Martin, or Penn and Teller, is not out of the question. In any event, if Washington gets these three, cigar sales will spike as husky fans light up.
The wait will be worth it
Again, games are won in the trenches and with continual improvement along the O-line, the probability of Washington returning to national prominence – rising from the 2008 ashes as it were – increases. The best is yet to come but probably not until 2013 or 2014. But, beginning in 2009, the wait will be worth it.