WSU

Right guard, center could be among spring's best battles to watch this spring at Washington State

WASHINGTON STATE this spring returns talent and experience to the offensive line, including a unanimous All-American selection. The primary question mark, apart from who will emerge this spring atop the depth chart at center and right guard, centers around the depth.

WSU and o-line coach Clay McGuire didn't need to reach far into its depth last season. Center Frederick Mauigoa (6-3, 289) and B.J. Salmonson (6-4, 296) who played both right and left guard last season, came in when needed but for the most part, WSU's starting five stayed relatively healthy. 

And that was fortuitous because the Cougs didn't have a lot of proven depth beyond its starting five or at least, not enough to suit McGuire and Mike Leach.

Ideally, McGuire would like to be able to identify a top 10 by spring's end.  Left guard Cody O'Connell (6-8, 354 pictured above) was a unanimous All-American selection last season, the second in WSU history.  It goes without saying a lot of focus will come with that in 2017. He returns along with rising left tackle Andre Dillard (6-5, 295) and honors candidate right tackle Cole Madison (6-5, 318). That's a pretty stout trio to start with this spring.

The guess from this chair is Salmonson starts the spring as the No. 1 right guard, with JUCO transfer Robert Valencia (6-6, 295) battling for the top spot.  Both should get every opportunity this spring to stake their claim. 

At center, Mauigoa is the leading candidate after appearing in four games last season. But watch for Noah Osur-Myers (6-4, 312) here as well. In talking to McGuire last month, Osur-Myers has turned a corner in offseason workouts -- now it's time to see how far that translates to live action on the gridiron.   It's also possible Salmonson could factor into the starting mix at center as well.

Meanwhile, Keenen King (6-4, 324) could be ready to make some noise after a redshirt season. At the least, King filling one of the top 7-8 spots and establishing himself this spring as an o-lineman McGuire and Mike Leach can have confidence playing at a moment's notice on Saturdays is important.

Cedric Bigge-Duren (6-6, 322) remains mostly an unknown, McGuire said, having missed so much time to injury during his true freshman redshirt season.

Second-year freshman Josh Watson (6-4, 264) is a darkhorse from this chair -- is he ready to emerge this spring or does he need more seasoning before becoming a true contender.  McGuire also wants to see "what he's got" in two other freshmen who spent last year redshirting: Nilsson Gaisoa (6-5, 315) and Christian Haangana (6-4, 374).  A pair of third-year sophomores, walk on Drew Norvell (6-4, 307) and Amosa Sakaria (6-2, 313) had some flashes here and there this past season.

But whether it's an All-American like O'Connell or a Cougar rookie, the WSU o-line needs to take the next step and it starts in the spring.

The Cougar OL gave up a lot of push and were too "soft" late last season, McGuire said, when the Cougs faced off against some of the better defensive fronts. As good as the WSU line was at time last season, they need to do more if they want to contend for the Pac-12 North title. The good news, on paper, is with what they have coming back, that's within reach.

McGuire says Washington State had its best offensive line in the Mike Leach era in 2016, pointing to its lowest number of sacks in five years and a running game that produces 1,600-plus yards.  He also said the 2017 group is capable of better.

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