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WSU OL coach Clay McGuire says 2 young OL look ready to rock, lots of insights on Cougar o-line in this Q&A

WASHINGTON STATE returns three of five starting offensive linemen in 2017 but also will be replacing two longtime fixtures among the starting five. The 15 spring football practices, Clay McGuire tells CF.C, is going to tell him a lot. The Cougar o-line coach shared lots of o-line insights in this Q&A with Cougfan.com.

Cougfan.com: Before we talk about 2017, this past season’s offensive line got a lot of attention in the media and on the awards circuit, you had a unanimous All-American in Cody O'Connell – how good was the 2016 WSU o-line in your mind?

Clay McGuire: I’d have to put them as the best one we’ve had in the five years here at Washington State. We ran the ball better than it’s ever been run in this offense – that was something I was proud of. And we gave up the least amount of sacks that we’ve had in the last five years, we averaged more points than we have the last five years … so that’s all a good thing.

The one thing I was disappointed in was that late in the season: I felt like pass protection-wise, while we didn’t necessarily get beat a whole lot, we gave up so much push. We were pretty soft, we lost our physicality up front, and that led to some bad pocket integrity there towards the end.

Cougfan.com: Was that due to fatigue at the end of season?

McGuire: No, our strength and conditioning staff do a great job of preparing our guys to play a season so I don’t think it was necessarily because of fatigue. I just think it was something that you don’t really see at the current moment but you go back after being out of it for a month and look back at the cut-ups and it’s something you don’t realize was such a big problem until after the fact. And I don’t think I did a very good job of self-scouting during the season and getting it fixed during the season.

Cougfan.com: You return three-fifths of your starters up front in LT Andre Dillard, LG Cody O'Connell and RT Cole Madison, how good can the OL unit be in 2017?

McGuire: The goal is obviously to be better than we were in 2016. And I definitely think we have the talent to be better. I think we’ll replace experience with talent ... And the guys returning should be a year better if we do our job within a program, they should be a year better.  We’re planning on being better than we were last year … We’ve got a great bunch coming back, I’m excited to see the progress they make this spring.

Cougfan.com: Not that those three returnees’ starting jobs are ever locks by any stretch. But on paper, headed into spring, who are some of the top candidates to compete to replace two longtime fixture in C Riley Sorenson and LG Eduardo Middleton?

McGuire: Right now, on paper, I would say Noah Osur-Myers (pictured above) and Frederick Mauigoa will be competing for that center spot. At right guard, you’ve got Robert Valencia, B.J. Salmonson, Noah Myers as well, you’ve got Keenen King also – there’s a whole slew of names you could possibly throw in there.

We’re going to play our five best guys. So if our backup left tackle is good enough to be the starting right guard, that’s who we’ll play. We’ve got a bunch of good bodies developing in the program where it’s getting time for them to play. I think over 15 spring practices we’ll be able to figure out who’s going to be ‘that guy.’

Cougfan.com: Talk a little more about Mauigoa, who got some experience as a true freshman at center and what you’re seeing in Midnight Maneuvers from some of those guys you mentioned.

McGuire: Fred got the most experience of any of those guys last year. So Fred is obviously a little bit ahead, great athleticism, shows a lot of promise for a young player. Up to this point this offseason, Noah Myers has really come on strong and done some really good things as far as athleticism, changing his body and his mental approach in trying to become a starter. And obviously we recruited Robert Valencia for a reason, we didn’t recruit a JC guy to come in and sit. So we’ll see how it goes, it’s going to be a good battle amongst a bunch of people.

Cougfan.com: Is Cedric Bigge-Duren in the mix?

McGuire: He could be. He was injured all last season, he came back a little rusty during bowl practice. But we’ll see how he does. He’s obviously a guy we were high on coming out of high school, we were high on him going into camp last year before he got hurt. There are just a lot of unknowns with him having missed so much time.

Cougfan.com: What are your top three goals this spring?

McGuire: The No. 1 goal is to get the entire unit better top to bottom, from our starters to our backups to our young guys – all of them. And then it would be to start to identify a top 10. And then to start solidifying a continuity amongst the new o-linemen who are going to play this year.

Cougfan.com: How do you balance recruiting your territory and recruiting to your position?

McGuire: The minute we offer an (OL) I immediately start trying to build a relationship with the kid regardless of whether he’s in my area or not. No matter what, you should have a relationship with that guy, you can’t just start trying to form that relationship in December or January. That’s the way we do it here, so there’s really no transition when you hit those months before Signing Day.

Cougfan.com: You once joked with CF.C you are a “gas station stop kind of guy” when it comes to eating on the recruiting trail. What was the worst thing you ate on the recruiting trail this cycle?

Every time I go out recruiting with Coach (Eric) Mele, he has a knack for great food. And he has Portland (recruiting territory) which has some of the best food anywhere. Every time we go recruiting to Portland, he always takes me to some amazing place I’ve never been before. This time he took me to a Vietnamese place  in Portland and ... I had duck legs. And let me tell you, they were not very good. Duck legs and fish sauce. That was pretty bad.

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