Aug. 10, 2006
SEATTLE - Three days into the fall camp, the Huskies practiced as a full squad Wednesday afternoon on a pleasantly cool Seattle day.
The subject of the Husky offensive line came up during Coach Tyrone Willingham's midday press briefing. Certainly, the line will continue to be a common topic during the preseason as it is, frankly, most years.
Anytime an offensive line loses a number of veterans, the inevitable preseason questions will be asked. Five players who saw significant starting time on the line on last season's team have moved on: tackles Joe Toledo, Robin Meadow and Tui Alailefaleula; guard Tusi Sa'au and center Brad Vanneman.
"I think we're all trying to do that," said Walker, a fifth-year senior from Scottsdale, Ariz. "It's not on one guy's shoulder; it's on five guys'. We do have a lot of green guys, but we're all going to try to help one another get better, including the guys backing us up."
"All the eyes are on us," Daniels said of himself and Walker. "We're the oldest guys, the most experienced. It's good to have the two of us on the line. If you look to my left, there's a freshman [second-year player Ben Ossai]. If you look to Clay's right, there's a pretty inexperienced starter [tackle Chad Macklin, who's made two career starts]. And in the middle, we have Juan [Garcia, yet to play in a game], who's inexperienced.
"But we're coming together," Daniels continued. "We're a really tight unit already, and I want everyone to get enthused about our offensive line play this year."
Obviously, good offensive lines have to perform well as a group and "team" play probably figures into the unit more so than on any part of a football team. Both Daniels and Walker agree that their success is dependent on developing trust, cohesion and camaraderie.
"No other unit needs to be as close as the offensive line," said Walker. "It's been a tradition every since I've been here that the offensive linemen hang out together and eat meals together and so forth."
"You have to be able to look at another guy and know that he has your back," Daniels, a fifth-year senior from San Diego, Calif., explained, "and he has to know you have his."
In their role as seniors, Walker and Daniels appreciate that they're expected to pass along what they've learned to the younger players, just as seniors did when they were still inexperienced.
Daniels also pointed to Barnes, now a tackle with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL, as well as former Husky center and graduate assistant coach Kyle Benn, as two of his most prominent early mentors.
Only time will tell, of course, as the countdown continues to the season opener Sept. 2 vs. San Jose State. But at least according to Walker, the o-line is off to a good start.
"I've been happy with the first few practices," Walker said. "I think we can really be a good unit. We have a big group of guys who can play right now. I think we can be solid."
"I like the energy and the determination that a lot of those guys bring," Coach Willingham commented Wednesday, giving specific mention to his two tackles. "We're not all the way there yet, but if you have those kinds of intangibles, good things are going to happen to you. I like the way that Chad Macklin likes to work. I like how focused and serious he is about playing college football and being our tackle. I like the same things from Ben Ossai. He's got that kind of toughness that may enable him to be a really fine left tackle."