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August 14, 2011With the season opener still three weeks away, Dan Cozzetto isn't sure who is going to start on the offensive line for the Washington Huskies.
But the Huskies offensive line coach is certain of one thing. His linemen will be able to play more than one position.
"The biggest question is the what-if situation," Cozzetto said. "You're only as good as your backups. Who are you going to play if this guy goes down?"
So, in addition to deciding who's going to start, Cozzetto is figuring out who is going to back up where.
"You're always going to face injuries," the Huskies line coach said. "You've got to be prepared."
Cozzetto is the master juggler.
Washington returns three starters on the offensive line - Senio Kelemete at left tackle, Drew Schaefer at center and Colin Porter at right guard. Kelemete, a 6-foot-4, 301-pound tackle from Seattle, is the only senior in the starting lineup.
The Huskies are young in the offensive line. In the current starting lineup, there's one senior, one junior, two sophomores and a freshman. Of the 13 players listed in the Huskies' depth chart, five are freshmen and three are sophomores.
While Schaefer, a 6-4, 301-pound junior from Sammamish, Wash., is a returning starter at center, Cozzetto said he's not penciled him in at that position. He might start at tackle. Cozzetto wants Colin Tanigawa, a redshirt freshman who is playing guard, to get some snaps at center.
"If you've followed my career, you'd know that I like my players to know more than one position," Cozzetto said.
Schaefer has that versatility that Cozzetto wants as he started at tackle and center last season, including the season-ending wins against Washington State and Nebraska.
Erik Kohler, a 298-pound sophomore from Camarillo, Calf, was starting at right tackle this week in practice. But Cozzetto made it clear that he wasn't ready to announce that Kohler was in the opening day starting lineup.
"I haven't decided what I want to do with him yet," Cozzetto said. "He's played so many positions."
Cozzetto was even considering moving Kohler to left guard and replace Colin Tanigawa.
"The left guard has to step it up," Cozzetto said. "I'm going to have to put Kohler in there if Colin doesn't get better. These next couple of weeks are critical. These guys have got to rise up and take responsibility to be able to back up positions and play other positions."
Cozzetto has the challenge of rebuilding the tradition of Washington having a powerful offensive line. The Huskies haven't had an all-conference lineman since 2001. Kyle Benn was named All-Pac-10 that year. In 2000, the season Washington won the Rose Bowl, the Huskies had two players - Elliott Silvers and Chad Ward - make all-conference.
Ben Riva, a 6-6, 300-pound freshman from Seattle, has impressed Cozzetto in recent practices and has moved up the depth chart at right tackle.
"Ben has shown that he's getting better all the time," Cozzetto said.
So it goes with Cozzetto and his search for the starting five and a pack of backups in the offensive line.