Line Dancing: Taking Another Look at the Husky Depth Up Front

Three starting spots have remained untouched throughout three weeks of spring practice.
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Heaviest Husky offensive line ever.

First in six decades to return all five starters.

Jaxson Kirkland and Luke Wattenberg, considered among the nation's best.

You don't mess with a group of players like this, right?

Oh contraire, you tinker away, remind these guys that size and history don't guarantee anything in the Pac-12, that the University of Washington once had a reputation for unparalleled toughness up front, that Jimmy Lake wants them to put that stamp back on his football program.

"I love the offensive line, this is my favorite position group and I'm not afraid to say that," Lake said. "Those guys are physical, nasty, smart. I'm sure we have the biggest offensive line in our conference. They're everything we want every one of our position groups to be like."

When Husky spring football practice began three weeks ago, the returning starters were, from left tackle to right tackle, Kirkland, Ulumoo Ale, Wattenberg, Henry Bainivalu and Victor Curne. 

With just four workouts remaining, the 6-foot-7, 315-pound Kirkland, 6-foot-5, 300-pound Wattenberg and 6-foot-6, 340-pound Bainivalu have been untouchable. They're either fifth- or sixth-year seniors. They've shared first-unit snaps with almost no one else behind them.

Junior left guard Ulumoo Ale was the first to be challenged to hold onto his spot. He's a huge human being at 6-foot-6 and 365 pounds. He's also the only one of these five veterans who last season didn't receive some sort of All-Pac-12 accolades, which is honorable mention or better.

It's clear the Huskies are pushing Ale to be better. They didn't say smaller, though he's up 13 pounds since last season. With his ability to run as a big man, he should be a pancake machine.

For a couple of weeks now, sophomore Nate Kalepo, who goes 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds, same as Bainivalu, has forced Ale to come out at times and alternate scrimmage series. 

Curne, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound junior from Houston, was the next to give up his position at right tackle more than a week ago and become a spectator. He's dealing with some sort of injury, which appears more nagging than serious.

This has enabled 6-foot-5, 300-pound junior Matteo Mele and 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior Corey Luciano to take scrimmage turns at right tackle in place of Curne and run with the ones.

Mele is the only Husky lineman outside of the returning starting five to pull a regular-season start, opening at center against Arizona in 2019. Luciano is athletic enough that he put in a lot of time at tight end last season and can step in at every position across the line.

"Our second O-line and even into our third O-line could be starters at other programs," Lake reminded. "We're going to have to do a good job of rotating those other guys in because they're earning the right to more reps."

On Saturday, the Huskies opened with a second unit, from left to right, of sophomore Troy Fautanu, Kalepo, Luciano then at center, sophomore Julius Buelow and Roger Rosengarten.

A left tackle waiting for Kirkland to graduate, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Fautanu played in all four games during the pandemic season, largely as a special-teamer. At back-up right guard, Buelow is the tallest UW lineman, packing 330 pounds on a 6-foot-8 frame.

At second-unit right tackle, the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Rosengarten has been the first of five touted redshirt freshmen to move up the depth chart after these guys previously had been kept together. 

"He's already played some football for us and he's going to play a lot more moving forward," Lake said of a Colorado native who appeared in one regular-season game in 2020.

Samuel Peacock, another redshirt freshman packing dimensions of 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, at times ran with the No. 2 offense at left guard.

A third-unit line, from left to right, offered up walk-on junior Gabe Harty, redshirt freshmen Gaard Memmelaar and Geirean Hatchett, walk-on junior Noah Hellyer and Peacock then at right tackle.

Myles Murao, an offensive guard and center, and maybe the most-publicized and highest-ranked recruit of the current class of redshirt freshmen, didn't take part in Saturday's scrimmage for reasons unknown.

For these Husky linemen, spring practice is mostly about monotonous drills in technique and position experimentation. No long drives, no really flexing their muscles. Just when they've broken a sweat in these situational snaps, the coaches send in a new unit. 

Dominance, it is hoped, appears in the fall.

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven

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