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Originally published Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 6:21 PM

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UW's offensive line solidifies

As Washington finished the first week of spring practice Saturday, one unabashedly stated goal is to settle on a lineup and rotation on the offensive line more quickly.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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There were times last season, Washington offensive-line coach Dan Cozzetto said, when he was willing to try just about anything to find the right combination up front for the Huskies.

"It was a lot of prayers, a lot of rosaries, to make sure I got a line out there that could take care of the thing," he said.

In 13 games, the Huskies started seven different combinations up front, never going longer than two consecutive games with the same fivesome. The changes were necessitated by injuries, illness and ineffectiveness, and helped contribute to the fact the Huskies never really found a consistent running game until the end of the season, when the line began to solidify.

As UW finished the first week of spring practice Saturday, however, one unabashedly stated goal is to settle on a lineup and rotation more quickly.

"It would make my life a lot easier, everybody's life a lot easier," Cozzetto said. "And we'll play a lot better, especially with a new quarterback being more familiar with the guys who are in front of him, and especially with the running backs."

Helping that process is that four of the five starters appear set, all of whom had significant starting experience last season — Senio Kelemete at left tackle, Colin Porter at guard, Drew Schaefer at center and Erik Kohler at either guard or tackle.

The big question is, how do the Huskies fill the right tackle spot vacated by the graduation of Cody Habben?

One option is to use redshirt freshman Ben Riva there, putting Kohler — who started four games last season — at left guard. Another is using redshirt freshman Colin Tanigawa at left guard and putting Kohler at right tackle.

Cozzetto said if the season started today, he'd probably opt for the alignment featuring Riva, a nod to the quick progression of the O'Dea High grad who was a Seattle Times All-State pick in 2009.

"He's a lot further ahead (than a year ago), and I think it's just a matter of maturing," Cozzetto said. "He's carrying 300 pounds like it's 250 and he's running really well."

Said UW coach Steve Sarkisian of Riva: "He's doing a nice job. He's earned it. He has kind of a nasty mean streak to his game. He works at it, not only on the field but in the weight room and in the film room..He's got a real passion about him, and it's paying off. He's playing well."

No matter the alignment, Kelemete at left tackle, Schaefer at center and Porter at guard appear set.

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And Cozzetto said having experience at left tackle and center — each is now in their third year starting — should help the line come together more quickly than a year ago.

"You want to make sure you maintain your center and your left tackle all the time," he said. "Those are critical spots, but you can do some rotations at the right tackle and the guard spots. Hopefully we will get to that."

The Huskies, though, remain a little depth-challenged. The loss of Mykenna Ikehara, who retired due to knee issues, and Nick Wood — out for the spring after having hip surgery — means UW has just 12 healthy linemen available. That number includes one walk-on and one former walk-on.

It also includes all seven of the linemen signed in 2010, a group headed by Porter and Kohler, who each saw significant time last season. The rest redshirted, including Riva and Tanigawa. The others are tackle Micah Hatchie and guards James Atoe and Mike Criste, all working with the second unit.

The group has been dubbed the "Cascade Front," and Cozzetto said all have made strides, appearing to set a good foundation for UW's front line for several years.

But setting a starting five, or least a set rotation, would also be ideal. With UW starting over at quarterback this season with Jake Locker off to the NFL, the Huskies may try to continue the path set toward the end of last season of leading with a power running game. Consistency up front will be needed to make that work.

Of trying to establish a set rotation earlier this year, Sarkisian said, "We're going to try to. Not that once we make that decision (it's completely set) — I like the ongoing competition and guys fighting for spots and continually working at it. But ideally to find that continuity of the same five guys being able to play, realistically not many teams can go 13 games with the same five guys — things occur, injuries occur. But if we can keep that continuity and guys not having to bounce around as much, we should be better off for it."

NOTE

• UW will get into full pads for the first time Tuesday at a 4 p.m. practice at Husky Stadium that is open to the public.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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