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Originally published Friday, April 13, 2012 at 10:01 PM

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Coach Dan Cozzetto continues to reshuffle Huskies' decimated offensive line

Washington offensive-line coach Dan Cozzetto is optimistic despite a series of injuries and ailments.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Dan Cozzetto could have been excused for looking out at his offensive linemen at Friday's practice and wondering just what he'd done to make the football gods so mad.

As the Washington Huskies lined up, an offensive line that was projected to have four starters returning for the 2012 season instead had none working with the first unit because of ailments ranging from minor to career-ending.

Still, Cozzetto told reporters he's optimistic it will still work out. He prefers to look at the bright side — that the injuries are allowing a lot of younger players to get unexpected work with the starting unit.

"It's a challenge," he said of the afflictions that have hit the UW line since November. "But it gives some other guys an opportunity to get a lot of reps and move some players around."

The latest casualty was fifth-year senior center Drew Schaefer, who suffered a knee injury in practice Wednesday. The injury was described as "minor" and no one appears to be worried that his status for next season will be jeopardized, though it's uncertain how much he will be available for the rest of the spring.

Already out are guard Colin Porter, who it was announced this week will give up the final two years of his college football career due to shoulder injuries, and guard Colin Tanigawa, who suffered a knee injury last November at Oregon State. And continuing to work with the second team is junior Erik Kohler, who was the starting right tackle a year ago but is continuing to recover from an offseason staph infection.

Kohler has been working primarily as a guard with the second team through the first six spring practices.

"I want to make sure that he works on getting his strength back and getting in the best possible shape he can," Cozzetto said.

Cozzetto said he expects that Tanigawa also will make it back in time for the season and that Kohler will eventually be back to full strength, as well.

Still, Porter's sudden retirement means Cozzetto must reshape a line that already had to replace graduated left tackle Senio Kelemete.

"We are trying to build continuity and find the best five players that are going to play together and mold that unit," he said.

Until Schaefer's injury, the No. 1 line has been constant through spring practices. Sophomore Micah Hatchie was at left tackle, redshirt freshman Dexter Charles at left guard, Schaefer at center, sophomore James Atoe at right guard and sophomore Ben Riva at right tackle.

With Schaefer out, sophomore Mike Criste moved in with the starters at center Friday.

Tanigawa started last year at left guard until being injured and would likely return to one of the two guard spots once healthy.

A bigger question is what to do with Kohler, who has started at both guard and tackle during his UW career, including all 13 games last season at right tackle.

Cozzetto said getting Kohler back to normal and situated on the line is that much more vital with Porter's retirement.

"Really important," he said. "Colin, that's a big loss for us."

Because Kohler has played just about everywhere on the line except center, his return to full strength would give the line more versatility.

"Kohler is kind of the swing guy. He's played it all," Cozzetto said.

For now, Cozzetto is working on getting the younger guys ready. He's been impressed by the play of Hatchie as the apparent successor to Kelemete.

"It's his position to lose," Cozzetto said.

And he called the spring play of Charles, a graduate of Stanwood High School, "a big surprise."What has impressed him most is "his demeanor coming in here, his attitude — he's not afraid of anything."

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, meanwhile, called Atoe a spring standout earlier in the week, and Cozzetto said Atoe could be used at tackle, if needed.

After the news came that Schaefer would be out for a few practices, Cozzetto held a meeting with Criste.

"A guy that's in a backup role is always one snap away from being a starter, and you've got to understand the importance in that," he told Criste, who is from Mission Viejo, Calif.

Recently, Cozzetto has been reminded of that reality more often than he would like.

NOTES

• The Huskies practiced in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts for roughly two hours at UW.

• Cornerback Greg Ducre sat out with a concussion termed "minor," and safety Sean Parker remained limited with a groin injury. Linebacker Jamaal Kearse, who sat out Monday and Wednesday with the flu, was back.

• The Huskies are expected to scrimmage Saturday, though the practice is closed to the public. A UW practice at Memorial Stadium at 11 a.m. April 21 and the Spring Game at CenturyLink Field at 1 p.m. April 28 are the only spring workouts open to the public.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @bcondotta

Change of plans
The Huskies have been hit hard by injuries on the offensive line this spring. Four returning starters on the line — center Drew Schaefer, guards Colin Porter and Colin Tanigawa and tackle Erik Kohler — are out with injuries. All but Porter, who was forced to retire, are expected to be ready for the season. In the meantime, spring practices have required a lot of shuffling on the line:
Pos. Projected starter Current starter
LT Micah Hatchie Hatchie
LG Colin Tanigawa Dexter Charles
C Drew Schaefer Mike Criste
RG Colin Porter James Atoe
RT Erik Kohler Ben Riva

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