A new day on o-line in 2013 for Cougs

PULLMAN – Arguably, no players struggled to learn Washington State's new offense more than the big hosses up front last season. The 2013 campaign, offensive line coach Clay McGuire and the players say, will be different.

"I think we slowed them down mentally as far as giving them too many coaching points last year," said McGuire, who goes out of his way to accept part of the blame. "I think they were thinking about too many things at the line of scrimmage (instead of), ‘Hey, let's get off the ball and make something happen.'"

Right guard John Fullington made no mention of coaches when analyzing the line's problems in 2012.

"It was a combination of things," said Fullington, bidding to become a rare four-year starter on the O-line. "The (wider) gaps, the sets, the offense – all different. We had to learn it. It is a simple offense compared to a lot, but still, when you first get it, it's tough. You just can't pick it up right away. A lot of times, it takes time and reps.

"And then," he added, "obviously, we were passing the ball frickin' something like 70 times a game or something crazy. They (pass rushers) were teeing off on us."

Actually, the Cougars "only" passed the ball a nation-leading 52 times per game. WSU's 2.1 rushing attempts ranked last nationally, and that number dropped to 1.6 if sacks were excluded.

"I think we're going to have a bit more balanced game," Fullington said, "so I think we'll be successful when we're running or the pass.

"They won't be able to tee off us on us. Also, that extra year under our belts of pass sets and the offense has helped us a lot."

IT ALSO HELPS, Fullington points out, to have fifth-year senior Rico Forbes at right tackle.

Forbes, a former junior college standout, hasn't played in a game since 2010 after requiring surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament last year and redshirting his first season at WSU.

"He brings a lot," Fullington said. "Hopefully, we finally get him to play this year."

"Rico has steadily improved," coach Mike Leach said. "He's gotten in shape."

Forbes said adjusting to Leach's offense "had a big part" in the O-line's struggles last year, but he added, "At times, there wasn't enough communication (between linemen). I feel we have that this year, which means when things get tough on us, instead of getting apart and having our differences, we just come together and focus on the next play."

McGUIRE, WHO PLAYED and coached under Leach at Texas Tech, had never been an offensive line coach before last season. He likes to think he and his players have improved, largely because they're more experienced, and the O- line is bigger, stronger and deeper.

"We know what we did last year, and we know what we had to improve on," McGuire said. "We came out focused on what we've got to do to get better opposed to what we did last year. That's what led to a lot of the problems last year: We focused on more of the negative and not the positives.

"I think we've done a pretty good job at camp focused on, ‘Hey, let's get better today and not worry about what happened yesterday.'"

McGUIRE DESCRIBED EACH of the projected O-line starters for the season opener Aug. 31 at Auburn, Ala. (4 p.m., ESPNU):

Left tackle Gunnar Eklund, 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, redshirt sophomore, Lake Stevens, Wash.: "A very tough kid. Very competitive. He's made himself into a very good football player."

Left guard Joe Dahl, 6-4, 290, redshirt sophomore, Spokane: "Very consistent. He's always in that happy medium zone. He's never too up, never too down. He doesn't really make mistakes."

Center Elliott Bosch, 6-4, 280, redshirt senior, Spokane: "That blue-collar, tough, gritty kid. Very smart."

Right guard John Fullington, 6-5, 301, senior, Belfair, Wash.: "Very talented. The biggest thing for him was not putting too much on his plate. Before the snap, let's simplify it up. Let him know what he's doing, play fast and get it done."

Right tackle Rico Forbes, 6-6, 300, redshirt senior, Houston, Texas: "Really talented. He needs to work on a few things lower body-wise. When he's up and going, he's a pretty good player."

LEACH SAYS the offensive line has improved faster than he expected, but the coach still longs for the type of depth and giant bodies he had at Texas Tech. Fullington, Bosch and Eklund are returning starters, but Forbes hasn't played in a game in three years.

Also, Eklund and Bosch are former walk-ons. Dahl is still a walk-on due to an NCAA rule that forbids him from receiving a scholarship at WSU for two years because he had one at Montana (where he redshirted in 2011 before transferring in January 2012).

Regardless, quarterback Connor Halliday says the offensive line has been "playing great" this fall, and the big boys are eager to play for real after a long, hard preseason.

"They've done a good job," McGuire said, "but they've got to be ready to go against somebody else."

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