Aug. 16, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The Huskies aren't calling Colin Tanigawa "Panda" that much anymore.
They need his Grizzly-like power and ruthlessness too much now.
The sophomore starter is back growling and clawing at left guard this week, returning for the first time since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at Oregon State last November in his 11th college start. The quiet , 6-foot-3, 281-pound bear with the cuddy - and misleading -- nickname given last year by his teammates had reconstructive knee surgery eight months ago.
His return is reviving the ultra-important offensive line and its protection for record-setting quarterback Keith Price.
"He is a blue-collar, hard-nosed offensive lineman. That's why we love him so much," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said, describing anything but a Panda bear. "He doesn't mind getting a little dirt under his nails, digging in there and getting after it. He provides a great deal of attitude to our offensive line, but he's very bright. He's very smart. He's got a great deal of experience for us after playing last year.
"It's great to have him back in there."
Tanigawa's return means two-thirds of Washington's returning blockers are on track to start the Sept. 1 opener against San Diego State. Senior center Drew Schaefer is again next to Tanigawa.
Junior Erik Kohler, a starter at tackle and guard over his first two UW seasons, remains out indefinitely with a sprained knee he sustained in the first preseason practice Aug. 6.
Now that Tanigawa is back, his coaches are being cautious in pacing him. The Huskies, of course, don't need him primed for August but for September, October and beyond.
How valuable is Tanigawa's health for Washington's regular season? Irascible, veteran offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto, who'd usually rather cut his own skin than a lineman some slack, is taking Tanigawa out of some practice repetitions to preserve him. Dexter Charles has been getting time at left guard in those instances. And on days the Huskies practice twice this month, Sarkisian is giving Tanigawa most of the mornings off.
"We've been throwing him in there quite a bit. We're just trying to build him up for that first game," Sarkisian said. "I don't need him in the best shape he's ever been in this Saturday. I need him 2½ weeks from now. So we will just continue to build."
The conventional recovery and rehabilitation time for most ACL tears is roughly 12 months, give or take some weeks.
Tanigawa, who had a lateral tear of his knee ligament plus a torn meniscus, is making it look almost easy by cutting that recovery time by one-fourth.
Consider that Tanigawa tore his ACL yet is likely to miss just two games -- last November's Apple Cup and December's Alamo Bowl.
He smiled at that.
"It wasn't, like, that easy," he said, recalling the seemingly endless hours grinding and painfully flexing his knee inside UW's athletic training room. "It was rehab, every day.
"I'm just glad I only had to miss two games and I'm back here competing, playing football. They told me that might be around this time. And that was long enough. It's been eight months."
After a couple of weeks taken for the knee's swelling to subside, Tanigawa had surgery in early December. He was on crutches entirely for the first week and a half, his knee straight and immovable.
His father Marty flew up from their hometown of Pasadena, Calif., to help Colin with the basics of eating and getting to the bathroom and bed.
"That was helpful," the younger Tanigawa deadpanned, characteristically. "I'm pretty sure everyone has someone there to help them (following reconstructive knee surgery), because it's pretty hard the first couple days."
By Christmas, he was bending his knee and walking some. He traveled with the Huskies to San Antonio for the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl, and during UW's practice week in Texas team trainers Rob Scheidegger and Daren Nystrom began working on increasing the range of motion in Tanigawa's knee.
"The whole time I felt pretty good," Tanigawa said. "Rob and Darin are pretty good trainers, and they were great for me. They kept me positive throughout the whole thing. It was pretty nice."
Sarkisian thinks the recovery has been pretty nice, too - just in time for a season to begin for a line that is seeking continuity, experience and consistency.
"He's put in the time and been diligent," Sarkisian said. "Some guys just rehab a little bit better than others. Their bodies are the way they are. And his body has responded very well."
So has his characteristic nastiness - the one that makes that old "Panda" nickname a misnomer.
Asked if he liked his reputation as a nasty, get-out-of-my-way dude while on the field, Tanigawa shrugged, smiled wryly and deadpanned, "Yeah, I think I like it."
He credits Senio Kelemete, his senior neighbor and mentor at left tackle last season, for reinforcing how important aggression is to run-blocking and pass protecting on the offensive line.
"I mean, I don't like to talk that much," Tanigawa said, quietly again. "Just go out there and play. Show, and lead, the way the O-line should play. Be tough."
Asked if there was any doubt he would play in the opener in two weeks, Tanigawa shrugged his bear-like shoulders again.
"That's what I'm working towards," he said, admitting he is "a little rusty. I mean, I've been off nine months. But it's working itself out.
"I'm working hard out here."
INSIDE CAMP: LB Jamaal Kearse was wearing a walking boot a day after he learned he had a stress fracture in his lower left leg, around the shin. WR James Johnson was wearing a hard wrap over his bent right arm a day after dislocating his elbow. Sarkisian said both starters will be out indefinitely, but that he hopes to have each back "sooner rather than later." Wide receiver is a position of depth and speed for UW, with this month's emergence of swift freshmen Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor. But linebacker is getting thin. Nate Fellner is on crutches with a broken foot that will likely cause him to miss the first two games. Thomas Tutogi has yet to practice this month because of injury. ... Sarkisian listed LB depth as one of his concerns - along with depth at running back and tight end, who is going to win the starting cornerback spot opposite Desmond Trufant on defense. ... That RB depth lost a member when Sarkisian announced Thursday morning that walk-on redshirt sophomore Willis Wilson and redshirt freshman H-back Joshua Perkins had been dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules. ... Sarkisian cut practice short by about a half hour, to just over 90 minutes, then led the players into neighboring Lake Washington to cool off on a 90-plus degree afternoon. The players roared when the coach announced the fun. Boaters in the bay stopped on their way into Montlake Cut to marvel at about three-quarters of the 100-man roster doing dives and flop-like dives. "I thought about it walking out here. It was HOT," Sarkisian said with a chuckle. "I wanted to jump in, regardless (if they did)." ... The Huskies practice twice on Friday, two weeks and one day before the opener against San Diego State.