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August 8, 2009

Versatility key for offensive line

No position on the Husky roster had more turnover from last season then the offensive line. Gone is team leader Juan Garcia, now with the Minnesota Vikings. Gone are intimidating figures Casey Bulyca and Jordan White-Frisbee. But with roster spots up for grabs in spring, leaders began to emerge and so did a theme for the unit -- versatility.

Before new offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto settles on a seven or eight man rotation and eventually a starting five for LSU, he hopes to experiment with different combinations up front. The ultimate goal -- create more depth with less bodies.

"We have plenty of options," Cozzetto said while meeting with the media to preview the upcoming fall practices.

Cozzetto knows about options, having coached some impressive players throughout his career. Names like Todd Steussie, Marvel Smith, Levi Jones, and Washington's own Khalif Barnes immediately jump out. But he's also had to rebuild an offensive front.

"I dealt with it at Cal in 89 and 90 and when I came here in 03 it was kind of like this also," he said. "They didn't recruit any offensive lineman and I believe took seven receivers one year. We had guys at different positions and we did a lot of moving players around. But this is probably the most drastic situation, having to really take a look at players and juggle positions around."

Cozzetto warned fans to not be surprised when Drew Schaefer is lined up at left tackle instead of right. Don't jump to conclusions if Ben Ossai lines up outside again, or if a now healthy Sklyer Fancher moves inside.

"I don't think it's a negative at all. When you travel you don't have the luxury of taking 10 guys so you need position flexibility." Cozzetto explained. "It forces them to learn the game and they will be juggled around quite a bit. We just want to create some quality back-ups in case the what if happens.

"Ryan Tolar has moved around, Cody Habben has moved, Ben Ossai has moved around, but the fact of the matter is these guys have to learn a lot of positions. It's easy to move Ben back to left tackle, it's easy to move Cody over the right, Drew Schaefer is going to have to learn left tackle and Ryan already knows both guard positions."

Even with all of the juggling, Cozzetto expects the starting five to begin the same way it ended in spring. Habben at left tackle, Ossai at left guard, Tolar at center, Senio Kelemete at right guard, and Schaefer at right tackle. The biggest questions mark will be figuring out the depth.

"I think the biggest question is our back up center," said Cozzetto. "Mykenna Ikehara can play, but he just has to get bigger and get a little bit more of a load on him so he can hold up in the pocket. I hope Mykenna can just get bigger so he can really be a force in the middle and take the pressure off us if Tolar has to go play guard.

"I'm a big fan of Mykenna, because he works so hard and the game means so much to him," he continued. "I just don't want to put him into a position that he's not going to have success. It's not an assignment deal, it's not an effort deal, heck if you look at his weight lifting scores he's as strong as a bull, we just need him to add some weight."

While Ikehara tries to add weight, another player who will be looked upon for depth is working hard to shed it. Morgan Rosborough, now a senior, has battled weight problems since arriving on campus. But when in shape, he has the skills to be a key contributor for the Huskies this season.

"Morgan is down to 370-pounds and has lost a lot of excess pounds," explained Cozzetto. "He's a smart man and can go in and do a quality job of getting us out of a ball game. I told him we will need a heck of a summer and he's going to have to show me he can play with his feet apart, can be a good knee bender, and just do that things I ask him to do. But he's making a commitment and I think it's rubbed off on everyone else."

The commitment was evident at spring practices when the unit lost a combined 200 pounds. It's no secret that weight and conditioning problems were the leading contributors to last season's struggles up front. Cozzetto also knew this and with the help of new strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis they have worked tirelessly to fix it.

"As a group we needed to get stronger and thank god Ivan Lewis came here," Cozzetto explained. "He's got the same mindset that I do and we've gone back to old school cleaning, benching and squatting. We also had to improve their athleticism, because they have to be able to run. There are very few 370-pound offensive lineman in the NFL and if you know my track record, I want athletes.

"But they have really worked hard this summer and improved. I give Ivan so much credit for taking the helm and getting them motivated. I also credit the kids for their commitment to do it. I really appreciate all of their hard work in the weight room. They also spent a lot of time studying film. I think because of that we are going to be further ahead in fall."

The progress of the offensive line is the biggest question mark on offense heading into fall camp. With Jake Locker at the helm and a number of quality weapons at his disposal, the men upfront hold the key to success.


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