A first for the WSU o-line under Leach?

PULLMAN-Each year since his arrival to WSU, it seems like offensive line coach Clay McGuire has had a difficult task ahead of him. This spring he needs to replace three starters. But size is no longer the issue it once was. Across the board, McGuire tells CF.C his hosses packed on the bulk this offseason. And that could allow him to do something this fall for the first time since he's been at WSU.

Cougar football followers hear it every year. Player X is bigger and stronger, and so is Player Y. But when you take you take a look at the Cougar offensive line this spring, the scale doesn't lie.

The Cougs are big up front.

"When we first got here, we were small," Clay McGuire said. "During our first year I think our heaviest guy was 285. That's not very big this day and age in college football."

McGuire said the Cougs can attain a program-first in the Leach era this season.

"I think if we put out a starting five out there right now, I think we can put up a 300-pound unit, which we haven't done yet. It's just one of those things where the bigger, faster and stronger you are, the more effective you're going to be."

Players generally tend to be their heaviest at this time of year, they're coming off a winter of lifting. The o-linemen will indeed "lean up" between now and the end of fall camp as more conditioning is added. That said, the Cougs are clearly bigger up front this April than in Leach's previous two springs. Looking at the two-deeps on 2014 spring depth chart, only three of the 10 offensive linemen weigh less than 300 pounds, the lightest of which checks in at 294-pounds.

The average weight of the offensive line two-deep on the spring chart is 307-pounds.

"I think they're bigger and more athletic, but we need to pack as much experience into them as quickly as we can," Mike Leach said.

THAT EXPERIENCE is indeed lacking ahead of the '14 season. Following December's Gildan New Mexico Bowl, the Cougs said goodbye to three senior starters -- center Elliott Bosch, right guard Matt Goetz and right tackle John Fullington.

Fullington was a four-year starter at Washington State, starting 43 consecutive games, which is tied for the longest streak in program history. Meanwhile Bosch started 25 games over his final two seasons in Pullman and was dubbed one of the hardest workers Leach had ever coached following the 2013 season.

But McGuire said he and his guys can't look back, only ahead. The third-year Cougar assistant added that the rebuild for the offensive line began in earnest back in December.

"The important thing was we got bowl practice this year and we got a ton of work done during that time," McGuire said. "Our bowl practices before the game was geared around our young kids.

"It wasn't just the starters that we lost, though, but we also lost some backups who had a lot of experience playing for us as well. Right now, it's a matter of getting out there and getting as many reps as possible with these guys."

ONE YOUNG PLAYER who has been inserted into the starting unit early on is right tackle Cole Madison. The Burien product has been running with the 1s through the first three practices and said he's felt more comfortable with each day. The big thing for Madison, though, was joining his teammates in the offseason in consuming protein shakes and eating right.

"I'm at 295 right now, which is a big number for me," Madison said. "When I got here to Washington State, I was right around 250. I ate a ton this offseason and drank a lot of water. I wasn't eating bad stuff, though. It was a lot of chicken and other healthy foods.

"Our strength coach (Jason Loscalzo) has been really beneficial for me. He sets you up with the right nutrition plan and makes sure you're on top of everything."

Although he's packed on nearly 50 pounds over the past year, the redshirt freshman said one key component of his game wasn't affected.

"My quickness is probably my biggest strength right now," Madison said. "The big thing for me is that I was able to put on all of that weight, but still retained my speed. That's going to help me out a lot this season.

"At first I felt a little jittery this spring, but after that I've felt good out here. All the older guys have helped me out with stuff and Coach McGuire has been great to work with."

McGuire said the feeling has been mutual over the winter and into the early spring, but added that Madison needs to keep climbing.

"I understand he's going to have to work harder in the film room," McGuire said. "He's a young freshman in the starting unit right now, but he needs to prepare himself kind of like how a senior would. If he's able to do that, the sky is the limit for this kid. He has the potential to be a really good offensive lineman for us for the next few years."

MADISON ISN'T THE ONLY youngster to run with the 1s early on in spring. Second-year sophomore Riley Sorenson, out of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., has also seen a lot of time with the starting unit at center, switching in and out with redshirt-sophomore Sam Flor.

That position battle between Sorenson (6-4, 315) and Flor (6-4, 307) will be one to watch this spring and in the fall, McGuire said.

"They're in there getting after it," McGuire said. "There's some good competition out there and we're just excited to see what happens. We've established a starting point and looking forward to see where we can go from there."

As for what he needs to see for one of the two to separates themselves from one another?

"A command of the huddle," McGuire said. "The center in our offense is very important. They make a lot of calls out there for us. I'd like to see a guy who is basically like Elliott Bosch. He was here and studied more film than anyone. Every intangible you could have, he had. We need a guy to separate himself from one another and I'm excited to see how both of them develop."

MCGUIRE ADDED THAT the biggest thing that will help his young guys this spring is the head-to-head battles in the trenches against the Cougar defensive line. Veterans Xavier Cooper (6-3, 300) and Toni Pole (6-1, 290) are among the guys both McGuire and Madison both mentioned when asked who on the defensive front provides some nastiness, day in and day out.

"That helps us get better that much quicker," McGuire said. "Going up against them, it's a little ugly at first, but if forces our guys to concentrate on their technique and perfect that. It also teaches them to play against good competition. This conference has really talented defensive lines in it, so when our guys go up against our own guys, it helps."

And that means the o-line is a work in progress, McGuire added.

"We're nowhere near where we need to be," he said. "In our offense, you're asked to go out there and pass protect 60 times per game sometimes. We have to keep the QB upright and when we can give him a good pocket and protect him.

"There are so many examples of what we can do with the football. We've got a long ways to go, but I'm excited about what our kids have shown so far."

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