University of Washington

Center shuffle? Huskies trying to clean up shotgun snap issues

An inability to consistently snap the ball properly into the quarterback’s hands might lead to a shakeup on the Washington Huskies’ offensive line.

Or it might not.

Fifth-year senior Mike Criste, who started the Huskies’ past two games at right guard, said Wednesday that he’s been practicing this week at center, with Colin Tanigawa sliding over to play guard.

“I think I’ll be at center, (Tanigawa) at guard and James (Atoe) at tackle,” Criste said. “That’s what we’ve been practicing.”

But Huskies offensive line coach Chris Strausser was more uncertain in his assessment of how UW’s starting front might look against Oregon State on Saturday.

“I’m not really sure about that,” Strausser said of the center position. “He’s (Criste) gotten reps in practice doing that, but we’re still working our way through that. Still, (Tanigawa) has a great chance to play center for us this week.”

Criste started every game at center in 2013, but was beaten out for the position by Tanigawa during camp. He spent most of this season as a backup, but stepped into the starting lineup at right guard after Atoe moved to right tackle in place of Coleman Shelton, who was starting in place of the injured Ben Riva.

Coaches have praised Tanigawa, a fifth-year senior, as one of the Huskies’ most consistent offensive linemen all season. But some of his shotgun snaps to quarterback Cyler Miles have been inaccurate the past few weeks, particularly during Saturday’s loss at Arizona.

The most egregious was a snap that Miles couldn’t catch. After the ball got past him, Miles had to chase it down, and he eventually fumbled as he tried to evade oncoming defenders.

“That’s a game-killer,” Strausser said.

UW coach Chris Petersen said after the game they had tweaked Tanigawa’s snapping technique during the week, and he wondered if that had an impact on some of the misfires.

“We tampered probably a little too late in the week, trying to change some things,” Strausser said. “... You never know why these things happen. He’s gone the first eight games of the season having zero issues with snaps, and all of a sudden we go to Colorado and something triggers in the mind, and he’s not throwing it back there as accurate as he needs to.”

It helps that Tanigawa can play guard, too, so the Huskies can leave him in the starting lineup even if he’s not lining up at center.

“Colin, he’s done a heck of a job in there blocking and doing some really good things, but he can play guard,” Petersen said. “We’ve got other guys who can play center. We’ll maybe shuffle some things around there, because that’s hard to deal with as well when the snaps aren’t right on the money.”

It sounds as if they’re looking at Criste as a possible solution. He said switching from guard back to center this week has been “a little odd, going back to the balance of it all, and the footwork,” but that otherwise it’s all about muscle memory.

“I had problems when I started doing center back in freshman year for the scout team. I couldn't snap for crap,” Criste said. “But you learn to get into a rhythm and just consistency ... I remember back in the days I was doing 25 to 30 snaps after practice, and now it's just kind of muscle memory. Just get it back to his chest."

That’s proved to be easier said than done.