SEATTLE – If it’s sympathy you’re after, Washington offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto is not your man.
He refuses to wallow. Injuries? They happen. Deal with it. Move on.
Tough times on the football field? “Nobody’s dying,” Cozzetto said.
Calling Cozzetto grizzled is like saying fire is hot. He’s been coaching for 30 years, almost as long as some of his fellow coaches have been alive. What remains of his hair is graying, and he pointed out Wednesday that this season has seemed to speed both the hair reduction and discoloration on top of his 57-year-old head.
There’s only one other time Cozzetto said he’s gone through the number of injuries Washington’s offensive line has gone through this season, and that was much earlier in his career. They are down three projected starters and start two freshmen and two sophomores. It’s a drastic change, yet leaves Cozzetto with the same demands.
“I expect to prepare them and put them in a situation to have success,” Cozzetto said. “As far as lower expectations? No way. That’s not the way I was raised by my folks; that’s not the way I’ve gone through this business. It’s my job to get those guys ready to play.”
Cozzetto, in his fourth season and second stint with Washington, has been aided by fifth-year senior Drew Schaefer remaining intact at center. He’ll ask Schaefer to teach the young guys certain aspects of the plan to help him get the point across. Even injured linemen Colin Tanigawa and Erik Kohler help.
But, that hasn’t eliminated pains in the process. The early problems from the line came to a head against Stanford. Although Washington upset the Cardinal, quarterback Keith Price was repeatedly walloped. Between that thumping and the LSU game, Price’s concern behind his line accelerated, and Cozzetto delivered a message to them.
“You’ve got to build your quarterback’s confidence,” Cozzetto said. “You can’t allow him to take the beating that he took, the hits that he took, against Stanford. He was a true warrior and competitor. You can’t do that. You better make sure you know what the heck you’re doing out there or you’re going to end up getting somebody hurt.”
UW coach Steve Sarkisian, Cozzetto and Schaefer all feel things are getting better. Each pointed to the Oregon game as the line’s best work this season. Running back Bishop Sankey has run for more than 100 yards in three consecutive games. Price said Monday that he congratulated the line following the loss to the Ducks.
Schaefer has sensed Price’s prior skepticism.
“He feels a little more rushed, but he doesn’t need to be,” said Schaefer, who calls Price their leader. “We’re going to have his back.”
Cozzetto is using James Atoe at both spots on the right side. As the line rotates time during games, he’ll send Atoe, a redshirt sophomore, hence a veteran in this group, over to guard to give freshman Shane Brostek a break.
Cozzetto said Brostek is “hard as nails.” That would please Brostek’s father, Bern, a former renowned Huskies lineman. But, Cozzetto said, the younger Brostek has much work in front of him.
“He’s just tough,” Cozzetto said. “He doesn’t do it right all the time, but he’s going to give you his best. He’s going to come after you. The biggest thing is we develop his fundamentals so he doesn’t embarrass himself.”
That, in many ways, encapsulates Cozzetto’s attitude and approach. He’s demanding yet protective. After talking about how important it is to protect Price and easily saying his players can’t “embarrass” themselves, he goes on to explain his worry about putting new guys in the proper position so they succeed.
He knows thrusting a youngster into a no-win situation can have an extrapolated effect. Washington’s offense is high volume, putting expansive mental demand on linemen. Cozzetto doesn’t want the information load or the forced playing time to pound his players into a rut.
“If they’re not having success, I don’t want to ruin them,” Cozzetto said. “I’m kind of like a parent. Our parents are always protective. That’s the job I’ve got to do for Sark, and those are my guys, those are my players, so, I’ve got to take care of them.”
That’s so they can take care of Price. While many are concerned about Price’s play, Cozzetto is busy pointing at his group with an absolute approach.
“It’s all about us,” Cozzetto said. “If we don’t get it done, nothing’s going to get done. It doesn’t matter who your quarterback is, doesn’t matter who your running back is. If we don’t get it done up front. Nothing’s going to happen.”
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