SEATTLE -- When Erik Kohler walked into practice Tuesday he was greeted by Sheena, a 300-pound Bengal tiger.
When he takes the Tiger Stadium turf Saturday in Baton Rouge, La., the 6-foot-4, 299-pound offensive lineman will be greeted by two more Tigers -- dynamic defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
“It’s definitely kind of shock and awe when you first see it,” Kohler said.
The junior was talking about the caged tiger that spent the afternoon chewing on its black plastic water bowl, but he just as easily could have been talking about the Tigers he will be trying to keep away from quarterback Keith Price this weekend.
“They’re athletic,” senior center Drew Schaefer said. “They’re big. They’re fast. Those guys are some of the best recruits in the country coming out of high school. They’ve got a lot of speed out there and we’ve just got to communicate, hold onto our blocks and keep Keith healthy."
The Huskies went into their season opener feeling good about the line. Things went well early against San Diego State, until right tackle Ben Riva suffered a forearm fracture that will sideline him for some time.
Washington’s ability to shuffle its linemen and hopefully keep Mingo and Montgomery away from Price will go a long way toward determining how well the Huskies hang with the nation’s third-ranked program.
“What we’ve seen is that they’re an amazing team,” Kohler said. “They’re a really good team. We have a lot of respect for them. It’s going to be an exciting challenge to go to Baton Rouge and play them.”
“At tackle, you’re on an island more than anything,” Kohler said. “You’re out there by yourself. You don’t have a whole lot of help. When you're down at guard, there’s a lot more stuff going on, you have the center with you, sometimes you have the tackle helping with you, so it’s more of a physical difference and a little bit of a mental difference than being down inside.”
Kohler started all 13 games at tackle as a junior, so this isn’t a sudden shift. In fact, throughout the fall Washington coach Steve Sarkisian praised the line’s versatility, which will be tested against the Tigers.
“That’s good for us, because we’re going to need those guys during the season and we need depth,” Schaefer said. “As the season goes on, you never know what you can predict or what injuries do come up. The fact that guys can step in and pick up where other guys left off is really good for us.
“I don’t think there’s a sense of panic at all for us right now.”
Kohler agreed with the line’s senior leader. When asked if there was any reason for Washington’s fan base to be worried about the line, Kohler laughed.
“A lot of us are very versatile,” Kohler said. “A lot of us know multiple positions and all of us can excel at those positions. We’re college football players.”
Whether it’s Sheena, Mingo or Montgomery, Kohler isn’t concerned about “shock and awe.”