COUNTDOWN TO 2013: Cougars O-Line Preview

PULLMAN – Perhaps no position is as paramount to the Cougs' success in 2013 than is the offensive line. Still largely unproven, there are however a number of hosses that do lend optimism for the upcoming season. But will the redshirt freshmen and new guys be able to contribute at the level desired -- and to provide the depth needed for a stable herd of Wazzu road graders this season?

While the Cougs appear sturdier up front, questions remain as to how much of a step forward the Wazzu offensive line is ready to take in 2013. Yes, the Cougs will be better than they were in 2012, but will it turn out to be a good-sized and needed climb up the ladder, or will it end up being only a slight improvement?

We won't know for sure until the games begin but fall camp should still give us a good general idea.

The level of play and depth up front has certainly increased based on what I saw over 15 spring practices, but it just wasn't clear post-spring if the Cougs have the talent to take a real step forward and reclaim the trenches in 2013.

Having allowed an FBS worst 57 sacks in 2012, the o-line has nowhere to go but up. The middle of the line looks solid, headed by a former walk-on, senior Elliott Bosch.

On a team that went 3-9 last year and featured a sieve-like offensive line, Bosch still gained recognition as Pac-12 honorable mention. That says quite a bit. Hands down, Bosch was the most consistent performer on the WSU offensive line and he's your bell cow here heading into fall camp.

From my point of view, sitting atop the depth chart at the left guard position is third-year sophomore Joe Dahl. To his left will be fellow third-year sophomore Gunnar Eklund, who performed admirably for a redshirt freshman in 2012.

In my book, the left side of the line looks strong.

Dahl is approaching 300 pounds and Eklund is at 305. For their size have good feet and maneuverability to man the quarterback's blindside.

Behind those two, fifth-year senior Matt Goetz and redshirt freshman Eduardo Middleton provide decent depth that, should an injury occur, won't cripple the system. Middleton could be a good one in the years to come, but in the short term he might need another year of seasoning in 2013.

THE RIGHT SIDE on the other hand has questions. Fifth-year seniors Rico Forbes and Zach Brevick look to be the favorites to land the starting right tackle job and right guard spots respectively.

Brevick had a good year last season in limit action, but does he have the bulk at 275 pounds to get it done for an entire Pac-12 campaign?

Forbes on the other hand does not lack size and strength, but rather experience. Having not played a single Pac-12 down -- he tore his ACL in 2012 -- Forbes will need to adjust to competition rapidly this season. But Forbes was going to start in 2012 had he not gotten injured. And he turned in an impressive spring.

Forbes (6-6, 304) has the feet to excel in the Air Raid. And he used his arms and strength deftly against rushers off the edge this spring.

Best case scenario? Facing off against Washington State's defensive line on a regular basis in fall camp further prepares Forbes for Pac-12 action and he staples down his starting spot early in camp.

Behind Brevick and Forbes, senior John Fullington and transfer Jacob Seydel again provide sturdy depth that in the case of an injury would fill-in nicely.

That being said, expect each and every offensive lineman to push for a starting gig this fall.

WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION of the center position, not one single spot should be considered a closed book. Fullington and Middleton both made strong cases this spring, and should continue to push the men ahead of them this fall.

Seydel had a difficult transition to Pac-12 play this spring, but with his size and feet should be a worthy contender this fall.

Goetz started almost every game last season. But listed at just 259 pounds, Goetz has struggled keeping up with some of the bigger guys on the line.

BEYOND THOSE nine, redshirt freshmen Denzell Dotson and Pierson Villarrubia wait in the wings.

At 6-foot-4, 284 pounds, Villarrubia is approaching the size needed to play at the Pac-12 level. He'll be a guy vying for time at both the left and right tackle positions.

Dotson struggled with a broken hand through much of the spring but should be healthy and good to go this fall. It remains to be seen whether Dotson will end up at the guard or center position but after a few fall camp practices, things should sort themselves out.

AND THE CROP of incoming freshmen at Washington State is impressive.

Cody O'Connell, Cole Madison, Matt Meyer and Riley Sorenson headline a class full of size and potential.

Most freshman o-linemen redshirt in order to make the physical transition to the Pac-12 level -- but four of the six newcomers top the 290 pound mark, and five of the six are 6-foot-5 or taller.

The 2013 group will still be making the transition to the Pac-12 level, however -- plus the starting five have yet to see the field together in a game situation.

From a very basic fundamentals standpoint, the spring game saw far too many times where the Coug o-linemen failed to properly establish their base and were bowled over or torn asunder. That can't happen nearly as much when the games count for real in 2013 or it's going to be a long year.

Final thoughts and intangibles:
  • With some experience on the left side and little on the right, a more-than-normal shifting of players during fall camp could be in the cards -- expect the 1's and 2's to look different as the days go on. By the time the Cougs are a few weeks in, the offensive line could look much different than on Day 1.

  • For the offense to be able to throw the ball downfield, run the ball efficiently and pick up good gains on screens, (all staples of the Air Raid,) the WSU o-line is going to have to perform as a cohesive unit. Chemistry and consistency will be the No. 1 priority for offensive line coach Clay McGuire and his stable of beef in August.

  • The o-line is still kicking the tires with a new system in 2013, as well as mastering the wide splits, but Leach's offense appeared to be coming more naturally to most of the guys this spring. That alone should yield better results in 2013. The veterans should also be able to help the younger guys adjust and furthermore, perform at a Pac-12 level.

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