SEATTLE — Protect a school-record-setting quarterback. Clear holes for a record-holding tailback. Achieve these two tasks and a Pac-12 Championship — and possibly a College Football Playoff semifinal berth — could be in Washington’s future.
It all seems simple enough to junior Nick Harris and senior Kaleb McGary. The Huskies’ offensive line, as is every collection of centers, guards and tackles, is always subject to examination. This is a group that was able to thrive without left tackle Trey Adams last season and advance to the Fiesta Bowl.
Adams, who is a senior, is back from a knee injury. Harris, McGary and promising redshirt sophomore Luke Wattenberg return as well. Throw in venerable senior Matt James and it’s a group that checks a lot of boxes in terms of experience, talent and size. Perhaps its greatest trait is knowing how to adjust to changing positions and situations.
“Everybody knows what they’re doing,” McGary said of the line’s adaptability. “The guys that haven’t moved, we’ve tried to help the guys that are moving around. Help them make sure they know everything they’re supposed to do and get used to it. That’s really the only thing, is, everyone getting used to it.”
Grab a snack because this could take a bit to explain how all the parts fit.
McGary, who starred at Fife High School, is still UW’s starting right tackle. Harris, who was the team’s starting right guard last season, moves inside to center. James, who is 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, was a three-star tackle in high school is now the team’s newest right guard alongside McGary.
Adams is being held out this spring as he continues to recovery from a knee injury he suffered last October at Arizona State. Once healthy, he will start at left tackle. He’ll be next to Wattenberg. After Adams went down, the Huskies turned to Wattenberg, a four-star prospect, to play at tackle. Now, they’re moving him to guard.
Imagine a left side of the line of Adams, who is 6-8 and 331 pounds, and the 6-5 and 306-pound Wattenberg. That should help senior quarterback Jake Browning’s confidence and open holes for Myles Gaksin, too.
Then there’s Harris (6-1, 297 pounds) anchoring the interior line and making the calls. On the right side there’s McGary a 6-8, 325-pound All-Pac-12 first teamer who has more than two years of starting experience pairing with Adams.
“I feel like you gotta look forward to what we can do as a group,” Harris said of the line’s potential. “We’ve got a lot of experience at this point. Kaleb starting for a couple years. Me playing a couple games. Luke getting experience and having Trey back will be huge. Having that experience on the line, you can’t help but look and go, ‘Damn. We can have something good here.’ ”
UW will know more about its first-team line in fall camp when Adams is healthy and everyone’s had a summer to make improvements.
For now, however, that’s why there’s a premium on what takes place in spring camp. It’s extra reps for Wattenberg at left guard while providing James and McGary more time to get a feel for their developing partnership.
As for Harris, it gives him time to learn and feel a bit of comfort, too.
“It’s natural. I mean, I played one quarter of center in high school,” Harris said. “But it is pretty natural being that guy in the middle. I feel like my personality suits making calls and making sure everyone is on the same page. I’m a pretty talkative guy. I’m not shy. I’ll tell you how it is.”
What it is for the Huskies is an offense that has to let the play-makers do their thing. And that’s why it’s important for the line to concentrate on being good and then getting better.
“The hardest thing after you have a certain amount of experience is really finding ways to get better,” McGary said. “Not that any of us are the coup de grace or anything. At some point, there’s a lot of things you can say been there done that about that. Challenge is find ways to improve and being exceptionally hard on yourself about little things that are going to help elevate your game.”