Steve Morton dissects Cougar offensive line

WHEN IT COMES to the offensive line at Washington State, don't get caught up in the depth chart. That much becomes clear early on when talking with Steve Morton, the Cougs' offensive line mastermind who enters his 37th year of coaching this fall in Pullman.

Steve Morton is going to put his best guys out there on the field, and he coaches his players to be versatile. Someone listed as a tackle, guard or center might not always line up at that spot given certain circumstances.

"It's my responsibility to put the five best out there -- why would you have your sixth best player sitting on the bench and the 7th or 8th best guy out there playing? Your second team right tackle might be your third best (overall) guard, your left guard might be your third best tackle," said Morton.

There are exceptions, he added, the center position being one example. Some tackles and guards are quite tall, and as good an athlete as they might be, they're naturally prone to losing the leverage battle at that center spot.

There are also first year Cougars, and Morton is reluctant to throw too much at many of them in their first year playing in the Pac-12 – something he stresses is a significant leap regardless of performance at a different level. An example would be JC transfer and tackle Rico Forbes, who helped lead Navarro to the NJCAA national championship in 2010. Two guards, Tyson Pencer and Tim Hodgdon left the program this offseason. Hodgdon wasn't in the playing picture but Pencer was, leading to questions over the depth behind the OG starters. But don't count on seeing Forbes slide over to guard if and when a need should arise.

"We've got some flexibility with the people we have but Rico will be at tackle…Now I might move him side to side, I play guys left handed and right handed and see who can do it. I've flip flopped linemen many times… But (Wade) Jacobson has played all three positions, Taylor (Meighen) has played all three positions -- and is Taylor stereotype o-tackle? No, but he's a level headed, smart kid.

(Andrew) Roxas is a guy with versatility, Matt Goetz is a guy I'm very interested in seeing in camp, he's played all three positions.. and you have guys like (walk-on) Elliott Bosch, he's a guy with some flexibility at center and the inside positions. So we have some pieces to work with," said Morton.

And so, there are multiple linemen that could step to the fore should one of the starting guards, B.J. Guerra and John Fullington, get dinged up. The same holds true at tackle, and center. And maybe at times injury doesn't play a part, there may be times Morton wants to sub in to have one of his starters come and stand by him, see the game from a different angle for a while as Morton imparts some knowledge.

MORTON IS A powerful speaker, he comes across as confident and knowledgeable, but without sounding cocky. If you ever have the chance to sidle up to him at a Cougar event, plant yourself and listen to him talk football for a while.

You get the feeling his philosophy on coaching the o-line could fill up several books. Central to it, however, is this -- knowledge is power.

"If you're knowledgeable on either position next to you, that's great," he said. "And you can do all the film work and studying but there's nothing like the experience of actually doing it... Until you go out there and do it, that's when you get it, and then you understand.

"Spring is a great time to try those kinds of things, because the scoreboard is not on and we did that this spring. Some people might not have understood why certain guys were moving around but that's the perfect time to do those things."

And now comes fall camp. Morton echoed Wulff's enthusiasm at the progress made on the o-line, though like Wulff, he's also quick to add there's much more to do.

"Hard work guarantees you that chance, and our guys have the willingness to be multiple… and look, what I'm trying to do is help them be the best person, the best student they can be, and also the best football player they can be and hopefully, get them in a position where they can have a shot at the next level.

"And if you can play different positions at the next level, that's (big). In the NFL there are only eight (o-linemen) activated on game day. A so the more you know about those other positions, the better your chances," said Morton.

We'll have more from Morton in the days to come, including his four principles of coaching and more.

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