Ben Riva knows the opportunity to start for the Huskies lies within reach of his long arms. At 6-foot-6, he has the look and build of the starting right tackle he hopes to be.
And the chance is there for him to grab that spot and make it his own. From the first day of spring football, the Huskies have used the O’Dea standout at that spot on the first-team offensive line to build his confidence and learn if he’s ready to be the starter come fall.
Offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto made it clear to Riva that there was a job to win before spring practice started, and that he would get his chances.
“Coach has gotten me ready all throughout the whole winter,” Riva said. “He told me to keep working hard and (do) what I’m doing and come out and perform.”
How has he performed? Up and down, which is to be expected. There are hints of his power and his athleticism. But there are times when he can be a little overwhelmed.
His performance is not surprising to coach Steve Sarkisian. He expected some highs and lows.
“He’s a physical guy, a guy that is willing, cares, plays hard,” Sarkisian said. “I think Ben, when he gets in trouble, he loses the discipline of the fundamentals and the techniques provided, and that’s when he struggles.”
Those struggles have come against speed rushers such as Josh Shirley, who, to be fair, has tormented other tackles as well.
“Josh, he’s a freak,” Riva said. “He’s fast and he can run off the edge. He’s my biggest challenge. I look forward to going against him every day and he makes me better. I don’t really like him much in between the lines out there, but I know I need him.”
Sarkisian hopes Riva relies on his fundamentals when Shirley is there instead of panicking.
“That’s the challenge for Ben to consistently play with those proper fundamentals and techniques,” Sarkisian said. “It’s not about want-to with Ben, he’s an extremely willing kid. He plays hard and physical. It’s about doing things right consecutively down after down after down.’’
Riva knows consistency is important.
“I feel like that’s my biggest thing,” he said. “There are plays that I do really well, and there are plays where I turn a little thing into a big thing, and I can’t do that.”
If he can find that consistency, he could be starting at right tackle for the next three seasons.
“It’s a dream come true,” Riva said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve watched the UW offensive line just roll guys, and now I’m one of them. I need to embody that and I need to take that to heart. Coach has said … to bring it every day and show that, because if I don’t do that, I’m doing the guys that came before me a disservice.”
SPRING GAME PREVIEW
Saturday’s spring game at CenturyLink Field won’t necessarily be in the same format that veteran observers are used to. It will have the look and feel of a controlled scrimmage. Because of depleted numbers on the offensive line, the scrimmage will be offense versus defense instead of splitting the squad into two teams.
“We are going to do an offense-defense, points-scoring system,” Sarkisian said. “Is that ideal? No. I wish we could split up into two teams like we have in the past. But just because of injuries and where we’ve gotten to we’ll play offense-defense. We’ve got a good scoring system in place. It should be competitive.”
How will that scoring system go?
Scoring for the offense will be the same as in any game. But for the defense to get on the board, a defensive stop – meaning a forced punt or stop on fourth down – will result in three points. A forced turnover will be worth five points. And any defensive touchdown will be worth seven points.
Defensive end Talia Crichton, who has been trying to recover from a knee sprain, was carted off the field midway through practice Wednesday. The Huskies were thankful his problem was that he was feeling a little run down from a bout with the flu. Sarkisian said a flu bug has been going around the team. Outside linebackers Taz Stevenson and Jermaine Kearse have both had it. … Center Drew Schaefer was a full-go at practice and Sarkisian said he will likely participate in Saturday’s spring game. … Reserve offensive guard Siosifa Tufunga will have surgery on his broken right hand. The procedure is expected to keep him out of workouts for a month or more. … Wide receiver James Johnson, who missed the past few practices with a head injury, returned. He wore a red no-contact jersey, but participated in 11-on-11 drills.
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