Two-year starter Erik Kohler return last week from a foot injury to make his 2013 debut, at left guard. His experience and versatility came in handy then – and it will Saturday against Will Sutton and ASU’s stout defensive front.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -- When Bishop Sankey got call to run the ball on fourth and 1 last week in the third quarter against Oregon, the Ducks blitzed into the hole for which Sankey was destined.
And Erik Kohler reacted like a two-year starter should.
Kohler was making his 2013 debut after a lingering foot injury, because left guard Dexter Charles injured his shoulder earlier in last weekend’s game. At the fourth-down snap, Kohler ignored his assigned block. He picked up Oregon’s inside blitz through the guard gap instead. That move freed Sankey for a stunning, 60-yard touchdown and pulled Washington within seven points of the second-ranked Ducks.
"The experience showed up (there)," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said following Wednesday morning’s practice at the Dempsey Indoor facility. “A guy with experience can see those things and react to those things maybe more quickly than a less-experienced player.”
That was what Sarkisian and line coach Dan Cozzetto had in mind while Kohler recovered from a foot injury he sustained in June: to have the versatile veteran ready to back up any of the three line positions, and for him to perform immediately.
"That’s what every O-lineman is trained to do, go in at any time, at a moment’s notice," Kohler said. "It felt good. It felt good to play again."
He’s got way more time to prepare this week. With Charles still limited, Kohler has been practicing at left guard. He is likely to start Saturday at 3 p.m. when the 20th-ranked Huskies (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) play at Arizona State (4-2, 2-1) on Pac-12 Networks television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive game chat with free, streaming audio of Bob Rondeau’s UW radio call.
It would be the first change this season to the Huskies’ starting five offensive linemen; last season they used eight starters in the first three games alone. That is a huge reason why Keith Price is completing 70 percent of his passes this season.
It would also Kohler’s first start since he was at right tackle Sept. 8, 2012, at Louisiana State. In the first half that night, he tore a knee ligament and his quadriceps muscle. He missed the final 11 games of 2012. He was back in April at in spring practice, and it looked like he might be the Huskies’ starting center this season.
Then in June, he injured his foot. He was in a walking boot through August, while Mike Criste rapidly improved into the starting center.
"I mean, getting injured is getting injured. There’s nothing you can really do about it," Kohler said Wednesday. "The biggest thing about it is being able to come back just as strong, just as fast, and being able to get over that adversity and just fighting through it."
He laughed that his return means the hard-driving Cozzetto can get back at him full throttle.
"Oh, yeah," Kohler said through a hearty, knowing chuckle. "He can yell at me a little bit more."
The 6-foot-4, 299 (plus)-pound Kohler maintained his conditioning for months on treadmills — both conventional ones and on the Husky football’s new, underwater one in the new training room in the football operations center. Yet he knows game shape can only come from, well, games.
This week’s is a good time for conditioning and experience. Kohler will sometimes be head up or shading to a side by Will Sutton, Arizona State’s standout senior defensive tackle.
"We need to know where he is," Sarkisian said. "He’s a very good pass rusher. He’s excellent in one-on-one scenarios."
Incidentally, Price has been friends with Sutton since the two redshirt seniors both took their official visits to UW more than five years ago. Price says he’s looking forward to finally facing Sutton. Washington and ASU haven’t played since 2010, when Price was in his last season backing up Jake Locker.
"He’s one of the most outstanding defensive linemen in the country," Price said of Sutton.
After two consecutive weeks facing the three-man fronts of Stanford and Oregon, Washington’s offensive line is facing the Sun Devils’ four-man front. That means two defensive tackles, each shaded over the guards.
Kohler’s all for that.
"I like guard. It’s fun. You get to take shots. You get to hit people. That’s where all the grind work is," Kohler said. "At tackle it’s usually a lot of one on one. But at guard you are inside. You’ve got the big guys right there. They are ready to go. It’s fun."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: The Huskies again scrimmaged “goods on goods,” the first-team offense against the first-team defense. Sarkisian said the position coaches “love” the arrangement because it brings out the best in their players each day. But, no, the Dawgs aren’t abandoning scout teams. The coach said his starters still need to get more specific looks at the opponents’ plays in practices. … Sarkisian continues to be pleased with freshman Darrell Daniels’ conversion from wide receiver to tight end. “He’s not doing bad,” the coach said, noting Daniels’ strength is of course in his pass catching and that his interior blocking needs some work. Coaches believe the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Daniels will be able to add weight during his Huskies career. If he develops at the position he could become a long-term option there after junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ UW career ends.