Huskies’ offensive line hopes battle scars prepare them for better season
Three starters lost to injury for parts of last season are back. Washington was able to play plenty of young linemen and hopes the experience leads to better depth and cohesion.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The pink scar stretching down the middle of Ben Riva’s left forearm serves as a symbolic reminder of the patchwork offensive line Washington put on the field for much of the 2012 season.
The scar is about eight inches long, and it’s in the shape of a crooked smile that a toddler might scribble on a picture of a funny-looking character. Underneath the scar are six screws and a plate that reconnected Riva’s bone together after it broke when he was tripped up in the 2012 opener against San Diego State.
Riva missed five games with the injury, but he says there are no lingering issues as he enters his junior season as the Huskies’ new left tackle. The arm, he insists, is solid now.
Similarly, Riva and the Huskies are confident their line is solidly connected again entering a season of heightened expectations for them and the revved-up offense.
“We all know that the success of the team and the offense starts with us,” said Riva, a junior from O’Dea High School. “If we don’t get it done, then the offense won’t produce. That’s definitely been our sole focus: getting the offense to where it was in 2011 and having Keith (Price) be comfortable.”
The Huskies’ shift to a no-huddle, up-tempo attack has forced the linemen to communicate better, said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who is pleased with the results after the first week of training camp.
“This group is a very tight-knit group,” Sarkisian said. “They’re very together; it’s almost like they’re in a pack, in a sense. And that’s a great thing. They’re looking out for one another on the field, off the field. And that’s how you want them to be.”
In large part because of injuries to starters Riva, Colin Tanigawa and Erik Kohler, five other young linemen — Micah Hatchie, Dexter Charles, James Atoe, Mike Criste and Shane Brostek — made their starting debuts for UW last season. The results were mixed: Bishop Sankey rushed for more than 1,400 yards, but the line allowed 38 sacks in 13 games, more than all but 10 teams in the country.
The goal entering training camp this month was to establish some cohesion up front, and Sarkisian believes that is happening with a No. 1 line featuring Riva at left tackle, Charles at left guard, Criste at center, Tanigawa at right guard and Hatchie at right tackle.
“This group’s got some nastiness to them now. … Four of those five guys are about as nasty as you’re going to find — and that’s a great thing,” Sarkisian said.
Kohler is expected to attend his first practice of camp on Monday to continue his rehab from a foot injury, but he’s still “a few weeks” away from returning to the field, Sarkisian said. Brostek, a sophomore, is also working his way back from a foot injury, though he appears much closer to returning than Kohler.
Tanigawa, a junior, has easing his way back from a torn ACL, sharing the starting right-guard job with fellow junior Atoe so far in camp.
“That’s a deep group with a lot of experience, and they play the game like you want an offensive line to play the game, which is encouraging to us,” Sarkisian said.
On Saturday, the offense was consistently snapping the ball about 10 or 15 seconds after the previous play ended, and Sarkisian has been pushing the pace even more recently. Much of that falls on Criste, who has solidified his place as the new starting center.
“It all starts with me on a bunch of the plays, and if I make the wrong call, the whole line messes up,” Criste said.
• The Huskies did not practice Sunday. They took a team-building cruise around Puget Sound.
• Redshirt freshman tailback Dwayne Washington, held out Saturday after taking a hard hit to the head on Friday, is expected to return Monday.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.