August 12, 2008

Offensive Line the Backbone of Huskies

Finally! An area of the offense that isn't inexperienced. Not to knock the wide receivers or the running backs, as both groups are filled with tons of talent. But while you need talent to win, you also need experience. For the Huskies, sophomore quarterback Jake Locker aside, their experience comes mostly from the boys up front. Not only is Washington's offensive line experienced, it's huge!

The projected starters (including Juan Garcia at center), read 6-foot-6, 332-pounds, 6-foot-5, 321-pounds, 6-foot-3, 305-pounds, 6-foot-6, 340-pounds, and 6-foot-6, 316-pounds across the board. That's not even including 6-foot-6, 316-pound sophomore Matt Sedillo, who could fill in for Garcia at center, or 6-foot-5, 368-pound senior Jordan White-Frisbee, who has a good chance of starting at left guard. While there are many concerns for Washington fans to have about their Huskies, the offensive line shouldn't be one of them.

"I love them - I love them, and I let them know that," exclaimed Garcia of the Huskies' mammoth guards. "When I go up to the line, I'm like 'man I'm glad to be back here'. Casey Bulyca and Jordan White-Frisbee - they're big animals, they're un-human. You see the way they block people - it's pretty cool."

Garcia, who is often described as the heart and soul of the Huskies' front five, suffered a Lisfranc injury in the spring, and has since been on the road to recovery. Following his injury, many questioned whether Garcia would play another down of college football.

"It hurt. It definitely hurt a lot," expressed sophomore offensive tackle Cody Habben of losing Garcia. "He was definitely the leader of our offensive line, and that was a big blow. But at the same time, we took it as we have to pick up our game to deal with the loss of him. You've got to step it up and play a lot better, because he was a big part of our offensive line."

However, Garcia's recovery has gone well thus far, and the sixth-year senior is on track to see the field in 2008. In his absence, for the time being, Sedillo, the second-string center and sophomore Ryan Tolar, who moved over from the left guard position, have been splitting snaps at center, with Tolar still taking his fair share of reps at the guard position.

"Right now, our anticipation with Juan is pretty good that he'll be where we'll need him to be. But I think you've always got to have that plan B in effect, especially when it involves someone that hasn't done that," explained Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham. "Tolar hasn't been a center, so you want to make sure that you give him plenty of repetition at that, even as we work all the way through, because the smart thing might be to kind of rest Juan at certain points and limit his activity for a while."

"It's coming along. The farthest that I've tested was just doing individual drills. At first when I was doing that stuff, I was telling my guys 'hey, just back up a little bit and let me push you back'. Now, I'm like 'hey, just hold me as much as you can and let me see how much I can push off'," explained Garcia of his ability to participate in practice. "Last week, I couldn't move sideways. This week, I started to move sideways. I'm trying to get all of my confidence back. There might have been a play or two where I've been in there, that I just go super hard and see what happens, but not consistently - that's what I'm trying to get to right now."

Garcia feels confident in the abilities of Sedillo and Tolar, and even managed to take a playful jab at Tolar, while praising the teaching of Offensive Line Coach Mike Denbrock.

"Matt Sedillo is doing great. That's why I've said whether I come back or not, Matt is going to be a good center for us - he's going to do his job," expressed Garcia. "Tolar - this is how much credit you can give Coach Denbrock. I remember last year when they were thinking of moving him [Tolar], so he went in there and took some snaps and he looked horrible. I was like 'Coach Denbrock, he will never play center!'. Coach Denbrock has been helping him out - he looks pretty good now. He's still got little wrinkles, but he's coming along."

Neither Sedillo nor Tolar has separated himself from the other in the race for the job of starting center, though that should change soon.

"We're rotating those guys in there, just like we have been for the first week," explained Denbrock. "We'll see how it goes towards the end of this week. We may start adjusting a little bit, but right now, we're just trying to keep getting guys as many reps as we possibly can in a number of different places. Then we'll sort it out, probably starting towards the end of this week."

Denbrock feels the line had a good first week of practice.

"I think we're having a really really solid camp so far. I think the experience that the guys have gained over the past year and a half or so has really payed dividends," exclaimed Denbrock. "We're making a lot of progress every day. They're effort and they're focus has been really really good and solid. I really like the direction we're moving in."

The offensive line is one of the hardest for a true freshman to come in and earn playing time in his first season. And while the pups up front may not play in 2008, Denbrock had nothing but great things to say about the future Husky front.

"All four freshman first off are doing some pretty good things. Probably the most impressive kid, at least off the firs few days of practice, has been Mykenna Ikehara - just really strong kid, understands leverage, smart - doing a really good job," said Denbrock. "Right up and down the line, Drew Schaefer - very very good football player. He's going to play a lot of football here before he's done. Terence Thomas is working his tail off and getting better every day. Allen Carroll has all of the physical tools that you'd ever want in an offensive lineman. We've got a really good batch of young guys there that I think are really going to show up here in the next year."

White-Frisbee shared in Denbrock's sentiments, noting the tenacity of the true freshman.

"The thing I like about them, is that they might not know what they're doing, but they just want to hit somebody," explained White-Frisbee. "They're not out there being tentative at all. They're a bunch of big bullies - I like them. They're doing very well and they're going to be very successful here."

White-Frisbee came to Montlake with intentions of playing on the defensive line, where he did his freshman season. Since then though, nagging injuries have forced him to switch to the offensive line, back to the defensive line and finally back to the offensive line for his final season with the Huskies. Lately though, White-Frisbee has been playing extremely well, working his name into discussions of starting linemen.

"Jordan White-Frisbee has done very well. He has been, at times, very impressive," expressed Willingham. "The power that he brings to that position is just amazing. He really has some impact there and can move people and do some things. He's still learning a great deal and improving, but he has been pretty good.

"I'd probably say more involved with injury as much as anything else, and that's been kind of a stubborn, painful one over his career that really hasn't allowed him to progress the way that you'd like him to," responded Willingham when asked why White-Frisbee hasn't played more during his career. "But this is probably as good of a stretch as he's had, kind of being semi-healthy. The combination of being semi-healthy and having an opportunity to get into one position is, I think, allowing him to surge."

White-Frisbee had a simple answer when asked why he has been able to persevere through injuries and position changes.

"I just love the game," he said. "I'm not really good at much else. Just dominating another human being, that's about it. I like dominating people."

If the Huskies are to have a successful season, the offensive linemen will need to take charge and act as leaders - something they are quite aware of.

"Any offensive line that's worth anything has to sort of be the leader on the offense," explained Bulyca. "Nobody really recognizes us much for anything that we do, but that's fine with me as long as we go out and do our job. All of the guys on the team know that we're out there working hard. We have to lead the way, because we're in the trenches, and games are won and lost there."

Denbrock knows his line, especially with the youth at the skill positions, must step up and give it their all, each and every game.

"I think it's everything. That's our role that we've kind of taken upon ourselves. It's something we're taking a great deal of pride in," expressed Denbrock of taking a leadership role. "I think for our offense to be successful, we've got to be playing at our best all of the time. We need to take pressure off the younger guys on our offense by what we do and how we do our work. We're taking that to heart, and the kids are focused on that and doing a good job with it."

Like his position coach, Garcia spoke of helping out the younger players.

"We know that the strength of our team is the offensive line. Our best defense is us right now. We know when we take the field, we've got to open those holes," said Garcia. "We've got to take the majority of the pressure off the quarterback and the young guys. They've just got to contribute as much as they can, whatever it is, and the rest is on us. We've accepted that challenge and we're going to take it on."

When its all said and done, the offensive line must work as one unit to be successful. However, when you really break it down, it's the left tackle position that is often considered to be the most important on the entire line. Junior Ben Ossai loves being given the responsibility of covering Locker's blind side.

"It's nice saying you play left tackle, and it's even better when you back it up. I've been going against some of the best players since my redshirt freshman season, and a lot of them are now in the league [NFL]," explained Ossai. "I like saying that I've gone against these guys and held my own when I was a smaller guy. Now, being one of the bigger guys, stronger guys on the offensive line, it's nice knowing I can go up against anybody."

If the 2008 Huskies succeed, it will largely be because of the play of the front five.

"That's what the life of a lineman is all about. It's about putting the load on your back - you've just got to bare it," said Willingham. "You've got to take it and you've got to run with it. You're basically carrying the load for the whole team."

Will Washington's front five carry the load? Time will tell.

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