Countdown to Spring: Cougars OL Preview

PULLMAN – The Cougs return nearly everyone on the offensive line this spring. But the squad was undersized last year, clearly adjusting to a new scheme and mightily struggled to protect the quarterback and open holes for running backs. Mike Leach has promised robust competition in the trenches for 2013 -- will we see some fresh, young faces compete for immediate playing time starting on Thursday?

The Cougs now have an abundance of young, hungry bodies looking to not just compete, but also potentially start this season.

While the Cougs will lose Wade Jacobson to graduation, they will return every other player, including the aforementioned handful of redshirt holdovers that should come in and make an immediate impact.

Offensive line coach Clay McGuire had a rough gig last season. Not only did he have to coach up the few bodies he had available to him, but he had to routinely witness young kids on the scout team out-perform some of the guys playing on a weekly basis. Because of the big picture, those young kids were redshirting -- unavailable, and off-limits.

Let's begin with those promising young prospects.

Redshirt sophomores Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund, as well as redshirt freshmen Sam Flor, Eduardo Middleton, Denzell Dotson and Pierson Villarrubia lead a young cast of stud hogmollies heavily endorsed by McGuire.

McGuire, at one point or another last year, gave rave reviews to each member of the aforementioned group, occasionally stating ‘some of these guys could start right now.'

MIDDLETON MAY BE the best starting candidate of the redshirt freshman group headed into spring based on Mike Leach's comments, and Flor isn't far behind. The coaches also like Dahl's scrappiness. For Dotson, consistency will be key this spring and Villarrubia needed to add some heft this offseason before becoming Pac-12 ready.

Only Eklund played last season, albeit as a true freshman, performing admirably for his age and size. Eklund eventually missed the final few games of the season with a broken hand.

For most, a year in the weight room was needed before they could be expected to perform at a Pac-12 level. Now, a year older and a ‘meal' bigger, each man should be approaching 300 pounds, a mark Leach and company like to see across the board on the offensive line.

But they'll have some upperclassmen they'll need to unseat if they hope to get extensive time with the 1's this spring and fall.

Seniors John Fullington and Elliot Bosch, as well as junior Jake Rodgers will come in as favorites to recapture their incumbent positions.

Fullington could be a bookend offensive tackle, while Jake Rodgers true calling may end up being inside at either guard position. Bosch will presumably be the starting center for the Cougs in 2013 as he fared well at the position for the majority of last season.

Eklund will also presumably get first crack at a starting position, as he started at right tackle position for a majority of 2013.

THAT SAID, the starting five had a very difficult year in 2012, and Leach has preached competition and vowed for change this season. While the starting five may look one way following the 15 scheduled spring practices, things may end up looking very different come fall camp.

There is also junior Jacob Seydel – he arrived as a midyear transfer this January and looks to be Pac-12 ready. He will get an immediate look on the line this spring. Seydel signed with UCLA last season, but ultimately decided against it and returned to Riverside College to play out the rest of his eligibility.

Senior Rico Forbes, lost last season to a knee injury, was expected to be the starting right tackle last season. He could be the wildcard this spring, and it will be interesting to see what kind of run he gets in the next few weeks.

Redshirt junior Niu Sale may also come in this spring and compete for playing time, though he struggled with injuries last season. It will be critical for him to come into the spring in fighting trim, and put to rest any questions on his durability.

IT SEEMS AS though one walk on always exceeds expectations and competes for immediate playing time. Bosch, for example, walked-on a few short years ago and was considered the ‘most consistent' linemen of 2012 by McGuire.

Juniors Jeff Waldner and Brent Anderson, as well as redshirt sophomore Moritz Christ and freshman Matt Adamson hope to be this year's walk on Cinderella story.

Fall will bring some hogs to the Palouse, though it's unclear whether coaches would prefer to redshirt the incoming freshmen or not. Fact of the matter is, they may be too big to keep off the field, especially if their ability and technique is up to snuff.

The Cougs are high on Matt Meyer and Cole Madison from the incoming class, and B.J. Salmonson arrived in January. All of them may be around 300 pounds leading up to fall camp.

Offensive tackles Riley Sorenson and Cody O'Connell tip the scales for the incoming class, both easily eclipsing the 300-pound mark. O'Connell is 6-9, 350, though he blew out his knee in September and may be limited, if not unavailable this fall.

DEPTH WAS NOT a word thrown around in 2012 on the o-line -- at least not in the positive sense. At times, the Cougs had just six or seven able bodies. In the event of an injury, the Cougs were prepared to play defensive linemen if need be, especially to prevent burning a redshirt late in the year.

Washington State ranked last in the FBS in sacks allowed with 57, seven more than the next worst team. That's almost five sacks allowed per game.


In 5th grade, while crossing the street, Connor Halliday literally got hit by a truck. He said this season was far worse than the morning after getting hit by that truck.

Ok, none of that ever happened, but you get the point. The sacks need to stop.

Granted, the Cougs were playing catch up in a lot of games and on top of that, theirs is a pass-happy offense. The sacks are going to happen, but not at such a prolific level.

Enter 2013. Enter spring.

Final Thoughts
It will be interesting to see what each of these players weighs when fall camp comes around – although it is not known if WSU will release updated heights and weights in the spring. They didn't last year in Leach's first season. Regardless, for many in the WSU cupboard, adding good weight will be the emphasis in their progression as Pac-12 athletes.

For guys like Sale and some of the lighter bodies, being in good shape headed into camp could make or break how coaches perceive them out of the gate.

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