Over the past decade, Kyle Benn has been surly on many Saturdays in the fall. That's the result of seeing his Washington Huskies mired in mediocre or sometimes even atrocious football. From ten years of averaging 4 wins a season.
Last year, he watched and winced as Washington's porous pass blocking led to quarterback Keith Price often running for his life, much like a bull runner in the cobblestoned streets of Pamplona.
Given Benn's history, feeble football is hard to accept. His era was during Washington's last gasp of glory -- the 2000 team. Those Huskies went 11-1, won the Rose Bowl, and finished ranked #3 in the nation.
As Washington prepares to open this season in a beautifully refurbished stadium, Benn is banking on some happier weekends ahead. As a salty ol' lineman, he's firmly of the belief that victory starts in the grimy trenches.
"Looking at the starters and some of the two deeps, there's some talent there and I'm excited about that," Benn said. "There are guys with a fair amount of experience under their belts. Ben Riva, Dexter Charles, Colin Tanigawa, Mike Criste, and Micah Hatchie. Guys that were either cemented starters or were forced into service the last couple of years and have really grown up. I'm excited by what the product on the field is going to be."
But often when Benn and I talk, I raise my concerns over the lukewarm recruiting of linemen by UW coach Steve Sarkisian. I wanted to hear Benn's current thoughts.
"I do agree that the recruiting hasn't always been there," he said. "We've talked in the past that the O-line is a place where you've got to go out and get five guys a year. Because you need that depth of guys where you can roll guys in and out. That's the weakness I see. Not the talent that's going to be out there for the first snap against Boise State. But what happens if we run into the same situation as last year, where guys start going down?
"That's really where I see the shortcoming, is the depth." he continued. "But I am pleased with the guys that are out there and they're going to do some great things. Fingers crossed that they stay healthy. Although that's not the way you want to go into a season, with your fingers crossed that one or two guys won't get hurt."
But what of Sark's seeming neglect of the offensive line in favor of flashier recruits like four star wide receivers? Benn fielded the question by drawing upon his experience as a graduate assistant as well as a former player.
"Sitting on the other side of it, having played and then sitting in the coaches room when they're talking about recruiting players and trying to put a class together every year, I've never heard a coach that didn't understand that offensive linemen and defensive linemen were a staple of the team," he said. "You need to get the right guys and you need to get a lot of them.
"The thing that happens, and what the public doesn't see, and it's never for public consumption, is that sometimes you need to fill other positions. You need a wide receiver, or you need to replenish the whole linebacking corps, etc. And then secondly, you put your eggs in a bucket, and you go after a certain number of O-linemen, and it starts coming down to the end (toward Signing Day), especially in the last 10 years with us, where the linemen start getting snatched up by higher profile programs. Or they're not able to get into school. There are a lot of extenuating circumstances that occur.
"In past years I've been on one side of it," he said. "I ask, `How do we only give one or two guys a scholarship on the O-line?' But then I've seen the other side, where come the eleventh hour where you have to make game time decisions (on which recruits to sign), or some players make game time decisions, and you're left holding the bag with not enough guys.
"So I don't put it on a coach saying they don't put emphasis on the offensive line," he said. "I just wish come hell or high water they would set a benchmark and say we're going to come in with five guys, even if we think two of those guys can't play -- because we need the bodies."
Offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto has come under criticism for the offensive line's play. But Benn has seen Cozzetto coach up close and supports him. He insists that the fiery assistant coach shouldn't be blamed for any possible lack of depth. He adds that he would have loved to play for him back in the day.
Looking forward, Benn is optimistic and says the standard at Washington should be to expect to return to the Rose Bowl soon.
"Based on the (up tempo) scheme we have set up, I like what we've got with (running back) Bishop Sankey, (QB) Keith Price, and (tight end) Austin Seferian-Jenkins, if he's healthy and not suspended," he said. "There are a lot of tools out there to get the ball out of Keith Price's hands fast and with the no-huddle offense. It's just going to destroy defenses conditioning-wise and stamina throughout a game, which makes it easier for an O-line to gain momentum and start beating the crap out of people.
"They're definitely positioned with the system to be successful this year and really drive the success for the rest of the team," he said. "Specifically keeping people off Keith Price. If everything goes right they can be a very good group.
"Now, like we saw last year, that's where I get skeptical," he said. "Like a house of cards, if one or two guys fall (to injury), we automatically revert back to Keith Price running for his life making bad decisions, and the games not going the way we'd like."