SEATTLE -- If there is one thing that comes up each week, if not every day, it is the offensive line.
There are questions about the linemen Washington is recruiting. There are questions about the program’s development of linemen. There are questions about the injuries that have plagued the unit and how far the Huskies have to go before the line can be looked at as a position of strength.
If there is one unit Washington fans are desperate to see improvement from, it’s the offensive line. But, as the Huskies prepare to play No. 11 USC at 4 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field, the one thing that has hampered the line more than anything else is injuries.
Heading into the spring coach Steve Sarkisian expected to have a starting lineup that included Colin Porter, Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa. After Porter was forced to give up the game due to shoulder issues, Sarkisian still liked the look of his line heading into the fall.
But, injuries to Tanigawa, Kohler and Ben Riva have forced young backups into starting roles. The Huskies’ depth has been tested, but the program is starting to see growth from players like redshirt freshman Dexter Charles and true freshman Shane Brostek.
There is progress being made along the line -- both through recruiting and on the field -- but the development at that position has been derailed by injuries.
The line gets another tough test against the Trojans and, as Washington prepares for this week’s matchup, it’s time to tackle the mailbag.
Here is this week’s HuskyNation mailbag:
Joe, Everett, Wash.: Why can't we seem to gain interest from, let alone sign, elite OL? We have not signed a four-star OL since 2010, and we haven't even been on the radar for these types of hosses the last two years.
A: Let’s start with this year’s group of linemen. I really like the prospects the Huskies have landed so far. Center Dane Crane (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita) is a four-star recruit, rated the No. 5 player at his position in the country. I also like three-star prospect Sean Harlow (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente). Andrew Kirkland (Portland, Ore./Jesuit) also has plenty of potential.
Now, a good group can become even better if Washington can add commitments from junior college lineman Nic Purcell (Huntington Beach, Calif./Golden West College) or Crane’s teammate at Santa Margarita, Riley Sorenson.
When people point to the Huskies’ struggles with prominent linemen, it is easy to focus on Joshua Garnett (Puyallup, Wash./Puyallup) and Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes), who signed with Stanford and USC, respectively, in 2012.
Garnett talked about being turned off by message board posts regarding good friend and fellow Division I lineman Walker Williams’ decision to commit to Wisconsin, coupled with being drawn to the academic and football opportunities Stanford presented. And Banner decided the best fit for him was at USC.
While Washington missed on its top in-state offensive line targets, the Huskies still landed three three-star local products in Jake Eldrenkamp (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue), Cory Fuavai (Auburn, Wash./Auburn) and Nathan Dean (Kirkland, Wash./Juanita).
In addition to those three, I think the Huskies landed a sleeper in walk-on Michael Kneip (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue). And that’s not even mentioning Brostek, who is starting as a freshman.
It definitely hurts to miss on four-star in-state linemen, but the Huskies have done a good job of filling the position with three-star prospects. A perfect example is Riva, who has matured into a very capable Pac-12 lineman.
Joe, Everett, Wash.: What happened between 2010 and 2011 in state? Is there a disconnect between the UW staff and Washington high school programs? There has to be some sort of logical explanation for such a noticeable drop off.
A: There were times during the 2011 high school football season where there did seem to be a growing disconnect between the Huskies and in-state recruits. After locking up Washington in back-to-back recruiting classes in 2010 and 2011, some big names left the state.
However, it is clear the program has made a commitment to firming up its presence in its home state by making a move with local recruits recently. The coaching staff made sure to let Bellevue (Wash.) teammates Myles Jack and Bishard “Budda” Baker feel wanted. The Huskies have extended offers to 2014 prospects in offensive lineman Kaleb McGary (Fife, Wash./Fife) and running back Devante Downs (Mountlake Terrace, Wash./Mountlake Terrace). They offered 2015 running back Chico McClatcher (Federal Way, Wash./Federal Way).
If the Huskies finish strong with Jack and, possibly, Notre Dame linebacker commit Danny Mattingly (Spokane, Wash./Mead) in 2013 and, if they carry that momentum into the next two classes, it seems like the 2012 in-state struggles will be looked at as an anomaly more than a trend.
Nate, Seattle, Wash.: As this is a big recruiting weekend with USC in town, should we expect any surprise guests? Priest Willis cancelled his trip out to Notre Dame. Could we expect him at CenturyLink this weekend?
A: I wrote about the expectations for the Huskies’ recruiting weekend Thursday. Click here for that story. I haven’t heard of any surprise players rumored to be making unofficial visits. The only confirmed official visitor will be linebacker commit Caleb Tucker (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish), but that doesn’t diminish the importance of the weekend with unofficial visitors like Harlow and defensive line commit Elijah Qualls (Petaluma, Calif./Casa Grande) expected to attend the game.