SPRING PREVIEW: Offensive Line

WITH FOUR returning starters on the offensive line, fans of play in the trenches would normally be licking their chops for the upcoming spring session. But the 2011 spring drills at Washington State, which get underway today, look to be anything but normal up front.

WSU surrendered some downright ugly sack numbers last year (48 with Tuel and 51 total) and didn't pave the way near enough to help produce an effective running game (2.62 ypc).

That means the starters shouldn't feel too comfortable. But there's also reason to believe those four might well retain their starting jobs, and for overall optimism in o-line coach Steve Morton's second season.

Tackle David Gonzales was poised to become the biggest surprise of 2010, and then he was lost in Week 7 to a broken arm. Wade Jacobson, who moved from tackle to guard last year, was another junior college transfer who was finding his way in ‘10.

Both now have a winter offseason under their belt and improvement should be noticeable.

John Fullington was undersized last year and he took his knocks, but he was good enough to start the final five games as a true freshman. His offseason gains, combined with his experience from last year, are also expected to pay large benefits in 2011.

In addition to Fullington, Gonzales and Jacobson, right guard B.J. Guerra, a senior-to-be, is also back and Paul Wulff says the expectation is for each member of that quartet to take a "big leap" forward.

Center is the wild card – whether in the end the starter will be Andrew Roxas, transfer Taylor Meighen, Tim Hodgdon or someone else. It's a question that might not be settled this spring.

INJURIES HAVE killed Washington State on the offensive line the past two seasons, just decimating lines that had precious little depth to begin with.

But the Cougars, headed into this spring, have some semblance of depth this time around, with tackles Tyson Pencer, Rico Forbes and Jake Rodgers, and guards Alex Reitnouer, Sebastian Valenzuela and Hodgdon all in the mix.

Don't forget about walk-on Elliot Bosch either, he's listed on the pre-spring depth chart as the No. 2 RG behind Guerra and ahead of Reitnouer and Valenzuela. Tackle Dan Spitz is coming off shoulder surgery and might not be fully participating in all drills and/or contact situations.

JC transfer Matt Goetz and Portland's Alex Mitchell arrive in the fall, and Mitchell might be one of those rare birds who is able to hold his own in Pac-10 play right out of high school.

Washington STATE IS not expected to suddenly produce one of the conference's best offensive lines in 2011. But noticeable, tangible improvement is the expectation from the coaching staff.

To cast a different light on the subject, in 2009, the o-line offered about protection akin to about a "one-Mississippi". Last year, it was more like a "2 ½ Mississippi."

If the Cougs can start giving Jeff Tuel more "3-4 Mississippi's" this year, while producing just a little more leg room in the running lanes, give the receivers group in place, WSU might just surprise some of the casual fans out there – and significantly so.

WSU is splitting their spring drills, with the first three practices this week, followed by spring break, and then resuming practices on March 22. Cougfan.com is following suit with our previews, with the defensive stories to come during the gap between the third and fourth practices of the 15-practice session.

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