Washington’s approach to developing offensive linemen has benefited players like Andrew Kirkland and could soon assist Luke Wattenberg.
Kirkland, a senior, can play multiple positions across the line after spending years learning his craft. Wattenberg, a redshirt freshman, has used his time on campus to try to capitalize on his potential.
The past 10 days, however, have been quite intense for Kirkland and Wattenberg. The Huskies (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) are without star junior left tackle Trey Adams for the rest of the season. Adams suffered a knee injury in UW’s last game on Oct. 14 against Arizona State. Since then, the Huskies have used practices and film sessions to find Adams’ replacement for their 12:30 p.m. Saturday game against UCLA (4-3, 2-2) at Husky Stadium.
“The first thing (after Adams’ injury) is you’re like, ‘Oh man. That sucks,’ ” Kirkland said. “But it’s kinda the ‘next man up’ mentality and you really focus on if someone goes down, the next person, doesn’t really have too much time to reflect on it.”
Whoever gets the starting nod at left tackle between Kirkland and Wattenberg will be charged with a few tasks.
Protecting quarterback Jake Browning is at the top of the list. At his best, Browning is an accurate passer with menacing legs who can be a pain for opposing defenses.
But as ASU showed, constant pressure can make life difficult for Browning. He completed just 56.7 percent of his passes for 139 yards, zero touchdowns and minus-24 rushing yards.
There’s also a matter of clearing running lanes for tailback Myles Gaskin. He’s rushed 104 times for 626 yards and eight touchdowns but was held without a score against the Sun Devils.
Given the Bruins are the nation’s worst defense against the run, it would be imperative to provide Browning or Gaskin space to operate.
“Mostly this week we’ve been focusing on our mental game and really trying to get the technique and the details really dialed down,” said Kirkland, who filled in for Adams against ASU. “(UW coach Chris Petersen) was talking to us all week about, ‘details, details, details’ and we’ve got good depth on the O-Line.”
Huskies offensive line coach Scott Huff said Wednesday the team used the bye week to fix mistakes along the line. The time off also gave Huff and the line a chance to create stronger cohesion while finding Adams’ replacement.
“Every year is a challenge and part of the challenge of that position is next man up,” Huff said. “It’s part of football. We want to certainly correct some of the things we’ve made mistakes on but it’s just been going right back to work and trusting your fundamentals and bringing energy and a mentality.”
The Kirkland-versus-Wattenberg debate presents its own bit of intrigue.
Kirkland, who is 6-foot-4 and 321 pounds, is a former three-star prospect who signed with the Huskies in 2013. The former Portland (Ore.) Jesuit lineman has an edge when it comes to experience. He’s made 12 career starts and has played in 35 games since the 2014 season, according to his official bio.
Wattenberg lacks experience but he does have a tremendous amount of upside. He was rated by Rivals as a four-star recruit and, in 2016, was viewed as the No. 18 offensive tackle in the nation.
Wattenberg was given a redshirt last season and has played in four games this year. Like Kirkland, he stands at 6-4 but is 26 pounds lighter.
It now comes down to who Huff and Petersen feel can be most effective.
Is it the proven veteran? Or do they make a move for the future and trot out the redshirt freshman?
“I think (Wattenberg) has done a nice job,” Petersen said Thursday. “I think both those guys (Kirkland and Wattenberg), you know, those guys are getting great quality (reps). They’ve gotten good reps before but now, they’re a little more meaningful. I think you turn up the intensity. You don’t have to say anything. They just know. It’s been a good week and we’re anxious to go play.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark