Fall Camp Preview: Guards and Centers

Dexter Charles (USA Today)

In this installment of our Fall Camp Previews, we take a look at the interior players along Washington's offensive line. There should be plenty of competition heading into the season to find the right players who will keep Keith Price upright while also opening holes for the running game...

The Players:

Guards
Dexter Charles (RS So., 6-4, 292) - Charles spent a lot of his second year with the Huskies learning the hard way, by facing off against some of the top interior pass-rushers in the conference, most notably Utah's Starlite Lotulelei, and he more than held his own although there were times when he struggled as well. Charles is widely regarded as Washington's most promising offensive line prospect since Khalif Barnes was holding things down several years ago. He has outstanding athleticism and he plays with a nasty streak. His technique is improving, but it still needs some work. It is expected that he will be a one of the team-leaders this coming fall due to not only his play, but also his experience.

Colin Tanigawa (RS Jr., 6-3, 281) - Before suffering a knee injury mid-way through the 2011 season, Tanigawa was thought of very highly. Like Charles, he too likes to get after it and plays with a chip on his shoulder and he had enough athleticism and quickness to get to the next level when blocking for the run. Now, nearly two years later (he missed all of the 2012 season due to another knee injury), word is that Tanigawa is back and ready to go for camp. If he can get back to where he was before he was injured, which is not a given, Washington will have two solid starters at the guard spots.

James Atoe (RS Jr., 6-6, 335) - Last year could prove to be invaluable for Atoe as he started six games (three at right guard and three at right tackle) and saw playing time in the other seven contests. He is Washington's biggest offensive lineman, but he has reshaped his body since he first arrived, weighing in at close to 380 pounds. Atoe will need to fend off challenges to keep his starting right guard spot, the position he held all through spring, but the coaches have been happy with how he's responded to every challenge thus far, so he seems to have their confidence.

G/T Erik Kohler (RS JR., 6-4, 299) - Kohler has the ability to play either guard or tackle, but his best position is probably inside. He's played a lot of football for the Huskies, but last season he dealt with a dislocated knee that forced him to miss all but two games. He's trimmed down quite a bit and during the spring proclaimed himself to be in "the best shape of his life". The hope is he will be one of the leaders along the offensive front.

Shane Brostek (So., 6-4, 280) - Brostek played much too early last year and definitely was over-matched. He even moved over to defense to add to the depth there, but this spring he moved back over to offense where he again appears to be a ways away from challenging for playing time. Offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto told Dawgman.com that the second-year player from Hawaii needs to stop being afraid of making a mistake and just play. He'll need to progress a lot this fall in order to earn some playing time, but don't be surprised if he winds up redshirting.

G/C Cory Fuavai (RS Fr., 6-3, 310) - Fuavai had a decent spring, but he's still at least a year or two away from challenging for playing time. He can play both guard and center, but he'll spend most of his time at guard.

Michael Kneip (RS Fr., 6-4, 299) - Word was that Kneip, a walk-on, was one of the most impressive looking freshmen offensive lineman in last year's class. That isn't an indictment of the rest of the 2012 class, but more of a statement about what he brings to the table. He's a grinder and he's smart. If he continues to progress he could wind up on scholarship sooner rather than later and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him in the depth chart at some point in the near future.

Center
Mike Criste (RS Jr., 6-5, 295) - Criste was one of the most impressive players, regardless of position, in the spring. Head coach Steve Sarkisian has noted several times that Criste's battles with Danny Shelton during the spring were epic and will go a long way in helping him get to where he needs to be.

Siosifa Tufunga (RS So., 6-2, 307) - So far, Tufunga hasn't made much noise and Cozzetto has noted he needs to see more from him. He can play guard or center, but during the spring he saw most of his time in the pivot.

Dane Crane (Fr., 6-3, 304) - Crane is one of the best looking offensive line prospects to come to Montlake in a long time. He's aggressive, he's smart and he's super-strong and he loves to get after it. Crane has the talent to push for playing time this fall, but the ideal situation would be for him to redshirt, add strength and get ready to see playing time in 2014 instead.


The Battles: The coaches encourage competition every day, but, unless something strange happens, both Criste and Charles will be starters when they take the field against Boise State on August 31st.

Now, the right guard spot on the other hand will definitely be up for grabs with the likes of Atoe, who enters camp as the starter, Tanigawa and Kohler battling it out. Atoe has the size while Tanigawa has the nastiness and ability and Kohler possesses the experience and probably more raw athleticism than his counterparts.


The Depth: As noted, Charles will likely wind up being the starter at the left guard spot with one of the losers in the battle for the right guard spot backing him up.

At the right guard spot, you would have to expect Atoe to have the inside track since that is the spot he played all through the spring and, while he wasn't dominating, he held his own. However, the coaches would love to see Tanigawa back to where he was before his injury and if that happens, you'd have to consider him the odds-on-favorite to start.

At this point in time, I'm going to go with Charles as the starter at left guard, backed up by Kohler and Tanigawa the starter on the right side with Atoe backing him up. Those are two experienced backups behind arguably the two best lineman on the team.

At center, Criste is the clear leader, but the coaches will give both Tufunga and Crane reps to see where they fit into the mix. Again, the hope is they can redshirt Crane, so you will also see Kohler and even Charles take some reps in the pivot too.


The Future: Washington has done well recruiting inside players and, after this season, Charles will still have two more years to start. Behind the top four, you have Brostek who likely will redshirt this season and will have three years left and Fuavai will also have three years after this season.

At center, following this season, Criste will have one more year, Tufunga two and Crane, hopefully, will have four years.

Cozzetto likes his players to be versatile, so you could see any number of players move to play guard or center if the need arises. From both a numbers and a talent/experience standpoint, Washington looks to be in great shape at both guard and center and they will bring in at least one guard/center prospect in the 2014 class and possibly two.

Camas' (Wa.) Drew Clarkson got offered by the Huskies as a center prospect and the Dawgs have been in hot pursuit of St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Ca.) OL Damien Mama, the top guard in the nation, as well as Natrell Curtis from Mountain Pointe (Phoenix, Az.) who could trip to Washington this fall.

Viane Talamaivao from Corona (Ca.) Centennial and Kammy Delp from Diamond Ranch (Pamona, Ca.) are other prospects who the Huskies may get visits out of this fall and both are being heavily recruited, Talamaivao is a commit to Alabama, by schools across the country.

Another local name to keep an eye on is Bellevue's Morgan Richey who doesn't have an offer yet, but impressed the coaches enough during the Rising Stars camp that, with a good start to his season, he could earn an offer as well. Richey's teammate, Marcus Griffin, was also offered recently and, while he's being recruited on both sides of the ball, it's our feeling that he fits better on the offensive side of the ball at a guard spot.

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