PRIMER: Offensive line

FOR THE FIRST time in quite a while, Washington State headed into the 2011 season has something on the offensive line that they've been without.


There was definite improvement up front this spring for the Cougars, providing some answers in an area that held a lot of questions headed in. Pass protection was notably better, and the blocking lanes were wider and deeper.

The Cougs still have a ways to go. It's unrealistic to think they can in one year become the conference's gold standard after where they've been. They'd also like to see a few more guys make strides. But the differences from last year to now remain striking.

Perhaps the biggest thing to take away from the 1s on the line this spring? His first two seasons, head man Paul Wulff spent a lot of time during practices with the offensive line, working with them and trying to coach them up. A lot of time. Nothing against former o-line coach Harold Etheridge but Wulff hasn't done that since the highly respected Steve Morton came on board. And this spring, both Morton and Wulff seemed very pleased with what the group was able to accomplish.

At left tackle, David Gonzales is arguably the line's steadiest performer. He was solid in both pass protection and in the running game and he really got after it every day this spring. Moving over to left guard from right tackle, John Fullington has great hands and great, great footwork. He's still awfully young, he will be a second year sophomore this season. But it's easy to see why the coaches are high on him, he has the chance to be special.

I've seen just about every practice the last few years and Andrew Roxas, along with Gonzales, impressed me the most this spring. Roxas came in at the best shape of his life this spring, and that looks to have made all the difference when comparing the 2010 version of Roxas to now. He's quicker, stronger and leading the charge, both literally and figuratively. Kenny Alfred during his playing days was the guy in drills who was sprinting out and leading the charge, now its Roxas who is doing those kinds of things. small thing but he's ready to take that next step.

B.J. Guerra didn't shine as brightly in 2010 as many thought he might. He looked like he was making up for lost time this spring. He's improved his fitness and it showed, and he's become one of the leaders on this team. He's playing more consistently, and he has a chance this season to earn some recognition from wider circles.

Wade Jacobson looked the part when he was at guard but by his own admission he clearly feels more comfortable at tackle. After moving to the RT spot this spring, he excelled in pass protection, and his run blocking was on an upswing as well.

One reason the Cougs will be better in 2011 is because they have something they haven't had for a while, a reasonable degree of depth. The drop between the 1s and 2s has narrowed significantly. Indeed, the top battle this spring at any position was arguably at center.

Taylor Meighen and Roxas went back and forth all spring long. Roxas came out on top on the post spring depth chart but if Roxas were to turn an ankle, WSU really shouldn't expect to miss a step with Meighen. More importantly, they won't need to alter what they do. Meighen snaps the ball smartly and he really gets his head up quick --he's in position and ready to block in less time than most centers.

Morton also had the o-line switching positions throughout spring and still playing at a decent level. WSU should, if they need to, still be able to move guys around a good amount and not see much drop-off.

Among those also in the mix -- Tyson Pencer and Jake Rodgers. Pencer has great hands, be he has been injury plagued throughout his WSU career. He didn't get a lot of turns with 1s, ran mostly with 2s, but he was most consistent of the backup group. Because of his athleticism, Pencer is also versatile. He's listed at guard, but can also play tackle.

Rodgers saw all his all action with 2s. He's still young and developing, and he needs to put on more weight but he held his own a lot of the time. He's a quick study, he just needs more reps and work in the offseason.

Alex Reitnouer and Tim Hodgdon are also in the mix. Others appeared to make greater strides this spring, however. Dan Spitz (shoulder) could end up being a significant piece to the puzzle, but he missed the spring and his impact won't be known until the fall.

Rico Forbes is perhaps this season's o-line wildcard. Sometimes he looked solid, others he struggled – about what one might expect from a JUCO o-line transfer. His technique in pass protection needs work but the talent is there. If the Cougs are able to redshirt him, that might be the best solution in order for him to reach a consistent level. Whether they would have that luxury is the question.

Morton seemed more pleased as the spring went along. There were times things were uneven, and he let his feelings be known. But Morton's passion for football and o-line play is pronounced, and it's been contagious. The Cougs will be improved up front. Whether that's a little or a lot is what remains to be decided.

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