ANDRE DILLARD (Cougfan.com/Commons)

Coug DL Mata'afa and Oguayo say they had a tough time going against left tackle Andre Dillard this spring

PULLMAN — Washington State “probably had the best O-line in the Pac-12 last year,” according to someone who knows a thing or two about getting around blockers, star junior d-lineman Hercules Mata’afa. But how will WSU fare in 2017 up front after losing two experienced starters? Just fine, says Mata'afa, as long as Washington State has this guy out there swapping paint in the trenches.

Mata'afa is referring to junior left tackle Andre Dillard (6-5, 310).

“He’s well-balanced and he’s tough to get around. He’s got really long arms, long body and he usually gets good sets off the ball, especially with me,” said Mata’afa, adding that getting around Dillard in 11-on-11 was the hardest thing he was asked to do in spring practice.

Sophomore defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo (6-3, 229) agrees.

“Dillard has that strength, so it makes it harder to get around him. The only way I can beat him is to use my speed,” said Oguayo.

As for Dillard himself, he’s confident in his technique, but he has a new role this year as one of the leaders of the WSU pass protection.

From a leadership standpoint, Dillard told CF.C the most important thing is to “have energy in my step so that they younger guys see that.”  Because he’s a veteran with a starting job, the younger linemen will look to him to get a sense of what’s expected from the coaching staff.

Of course, judging by offensive line coach Clay McGuire at practice, you might have gotten the impression that Dillard is one of the worst Cougar lineman, instead of one of its stars.  But what McGuire was doing, in part, was to express displeasure with his top o-linemen when they make mistakes to show lesser players that every individual is held to the same standard. 

There's also the fact that the more Dillard improves, the more elite he can become. And the best players are also generally more likely to take a high-volume critique in stride, or at least Dillard is.

“I definitely think that it’s a good thing that he chews us out,” said the Dillard. “I think I’d be a little bit worried if he wasn’t ... he wants the best out of us and for us to be the best players we can be, and to do that he can’t let off on what we’re doing wrong.”

Senior B.J. Salmonson (6-4, 300) started and ended the spring as the No. 1 right guard, with junior college transfer Robert Valencia (6-6, 295) behind him. Salmonson's play this spring didn't surprise Dillard.

“I’m sure that that was the plan (for Valencia to climb up to No. 1),” Dillard said. “He’s still getting acquainted with what we’re teaching him here. It’s different than what he’s used to. I think B.J. is gonna hold it down for next season cause he’s got so much experience.”

As far as the battle at center, between frontrunner Frederick Mauigoa (6-3, 305) and Noah Osur-Myers (6-4, 307), both sophomores, Dillard doesn’t think the snapping issues this spring will continue.

“I’m not sure I’d be able to give them much snapping advice but I guess I would just keep working with them and giving them (other technical aspects of blocking) advice," Dillard said.

The snaps seemed to be corrected towards the end of the spring, and there were none in the spring game when Cougar centers employed the "dead snap" technique of grasping the ball by the cone.

“Last fall, they seemed just fine with the snaps ... it’s more of a mental thing more than anything. They’re definitely both battling their hearts out for the spot,” Dillard said, before adding his reading of the tea leaves was that probably, “as it stands right now that Fred is gonna hold on.”

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