For Jimmy Lake, nothing epitomizes his program like the offensive line.

“That’s my favorite position group, and I don’t mind saying that,” UW’s second-year coach said with a smile April 21, following the Huskies’ ninth practice of the spring. “Those guys are tough, nasty, smart. I’m sure we have the biggest offensive line in our conference. They’re physical. They’re everything we want every one of our position groups to be like — just physical, brutal, tough guys, and also smart.

“I’m extremely excited about that group. I think our second o-line and even into our third o-line could be starters at other programs. So we’re going to have to do a good job of rotating those guys in, because they’re earning the right to have more reps.”

Tough. Nasty. Smart. Physical.

These are the tenets upon which Lake is hoping to chisel a championship team.

But do the statistics support his laudatory assessment?

In its first two games last fall, Washington laid waste to Oregon State and Arizona, rushing for an average of 250 yards with 5.2 yards per carry and seven total touchdowns. In the two games that followed — a 24-21 comeback win over Utah and a 31-26 loss to Stanford — those numbers plummeted, to the tune of 102.5 yards per game with 3.42 yards per carry and four rushing scores. But UW’s 0.25 sacks allowed per game (one total) also finished first in the Pac-12 and second in the nation.

Head coach Jimmy Lake fist bumps a player while the team stretches during spring practice at the east practice field on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times)
Post-spring position breakdowns

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All things considered, with an admittedly microscopic sample size, offensive line coach Scott Huff said his unit “played at a fairly high level. Do we want more? Yeah, absolutely. We set the standard and the expectation extremely high. I did like overall what they were able to do, and we have a lot of work still to do. We’ve got young guys that are pushing some of those older guys for positions.”

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The good news: There’s a lot of older guys. UW brings back all five of its offensive line starters in left tackle Jaxson Kirkland, left guard Ulumoo “M.J.” Ale, center Luke Wattenberg, right guard Henry Bainivalu and right tackle Victor Curne.

But, like Huff alluded to, could a less experienced option surpass an incumbent? And can that o-line ultimately live up to Lake’s lofty words?

As UW wraps up 15 spring practices, let’s dig into the depth chart on the offensive line.

Left tackle

Jaxson Kirkland, senior, 6-7, 310, Portland

Troy Fautanu, sophomore, 6-4, 315, Henderson, Nev.

Roger Rosengarten, redshirt freshman, 6-6, 275, Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Left guard

Ulumoo “M.J.” Ale, junior, 6-6, 365, Tacoma

Nate Kalepo, sophomore, 6-6, 340, Renton

Gaard Memmelaar, redshirt freshman, 6-4, 310, Caldwell, Idaho

Center

Luke Wattenberg, senior, 6-5, 295, Trabuco Canyon, Calif.

Corey Luciano, senior, 6-4, 290, Danville, Calif.

Geirean Hatchett, redshirt freshman, 6-4, 300, Ferndale

Right guard

Henry Bainivalu, senior, 6-6, 340, Sammamish

Julius Buelow, sophomore, 6-8, 330, Kapolei, Hawaii

Myles Murao, redshirt freshman, 6-3, 335, Torrance, Calif.

Right tackle

Victor Curne, junior, 6-3, 320, Houston

Matteo Mele, junior, 6-5, 300, Tucson, Ariz.

Roger Rosengarten, redshirt freshman, 6-6, 275, Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Samuel Peacock, redshirt freshman, 6-6, 275, Gig Harbor

***

To provide an immediate answer, it’s unlikely — barring injury — that UW’s five starters up front are displaced this fall. And the left tackle spot manned by fifth-year senior Jaxson Kirkland — a first-team All-Pac-12 performer who opted to return rather than declare for the 2021 NFL draft — is especially cemented.

Still, the 6-foot-7, 310-pounder from Portland has room to improve.

“For me it’s just settling in and building confidence and getting really comfortable there,” said Kirkland, who moved to left tackle last season after starting 25 games the previous two seasons at right guard. “At the end of spring ball I was feeling great. But to me it’s still a new position, because I only had four games last fall.

“So I kind of see myself still settling in there, and I’m definitely learning my craft as I go, learning new things, trying to pick brains from other guys who have played it. It’s a constant battle each day, just getting better at it, and I think it’s going nicely.”

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The same can be said of sixth-year senior Luke Wattenberg, who made a seamless transition to center last season after having previously played left guard and left tackle.

“I think I like him the most at center,” Huff said. “So I feel good about him, and he’s making improvements every day. It’s tough to find someone that’s worked harder going all the way back to the beginning of this pandemic. I think his dad got him an in-home gym way back when (during quarantine), and he hasn’t gone home on breaks (since coming back to school). He’s stayed here and trained, assuming we were allowed to.

“So he’s got the right mindset, and I do like him there. I’m hoping that he continues to improve.”

Huff is also hoping for continual improvement from Curne, Bainivalu and Ale — each of whom served as full-time starters for the first time last fall. The 6-3, 320-pound Curne missed much of the spring with what appeared to be a foot injury, and junior Matteo Mele took the first-team reps at left tackle in his place. Sophomore Renton product Nate Kalepo also supplanted Ale at left guard for a single April practice, but the massive 365-pound Ale otherwise held down the starting spot.

Should a starter stumble this summer or fall, Mele, Kalepo and senior Corey Luciano are the most likely candidates to assume a starting spot. Mele — a 6-5, 300-pound junior from Tucson — impressed in an emergency start at center against Arizona in 2019, and has the positional versatility to play essentially any spot. Luciano, too, saw the field in all four games last season as an extra tackle, before sliding inside to center this spring (though he surprisingly struggled with shotgun snaps in the Purple vs. Gold game).

Kalepo, meanwhile, has turned heads while waiting his turn on the interior.

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“Nate’s another guy that could be a starter for us just like that, at any point, and we wouldn’t flinch one bit,” Lake said. “He’s just got to continue to learn the protections and know who to block and do it at a high level, and that’s why we go out there and practice every single day. But we’re all excited about Nate. That’s another young man that’s going to be a great Husky for us.”

As for long-term prospects, redshirt freshman and former four-star recruit Roger Rosengarten appears to be the eventual answer at left tackle.

“Roger’s extremely athletic. We could really move him up and down the line,” Lake said. “He’s still a young puppy. Eventually if we wanted to we could move him inside. He’s that smart. He’s that athletic. He has a bright future around here. He’s already played some football for us, and he’s going to play a lot more football for us here moving forward.”

Until then, it’s up to Washington’s five returning starters to prove they’re as tough, nasty, smart and physical as their coach says.

Up next: defensive line