DEPTH CHART: LT: R-So. Steven Ayers (6-4, 315); R-Fr. Tyson Pencer (6-6, 297); Fr. Alex Reitnouer (6-5, 240, Fr.) | RT: R-Jr. Micah Hannam (6-4, 284); R-Jr. Joe Eppele (6-8, 306); R-Sr. Reed Lesuma (6-4, 311); Fr. William Prescott (6-5, 290)
PLAYERS LOST: OT Vaughn Lesuma (10 starts last year)
INJURIES: Hannam and Pencer were held out of spring contact with each coming off shoulder surgery. Both have been participating in the offseason voluntary workouts this summer and look to be full-go for fall camp.
OVERVIEW: The Cougs are young at tackle but they do have game experience at the bookends -- Hannam has started all 25 games the last two years, Ayers had five starts at tackle and guard in '08 and Eppele logged two starts at tackle last season.
And Pencer, while he underwent shoulder surgery early on in '08 and redshirted, wasn't sitting around. He posted earlier this spring the Cougs' biggest offseason gain to that point, adding 27 pounds to his frame from his listed playing weight back in the fall.
A former 230-pound high school TE/DE, Pencer has athleticism coming out of his shoes. If he stays healthy over the next four years, his ceiling is sky high as a left tackle, the spot where the best pass protector resides in order to protect the QB's blind side. And he might be ready to challenge for a starting job as early as this year.
Hannam isn't the most most naturally gifted offensive lineman out there -- but his smarts, toughness and drive have combined to turn back any and all challengers to his starting position throughout the last two seasons.
If he continues to improve on his strength and foot quickness, he'll take it to the next level. He improved as last year went along in sealing the edge on the stretch play, and any redshirt freshman who earns a starting gig on a college o-line has some game to begin with..
Ayers got a ton of first-unit reps with Hannam and Pencer sitting out the spring and that should benefit him in fall camp, as will the five starts he made during his '08 freshman season.
A former three-sport star in high school, Ayers has all the tools to make significant strides this year, something Paul Wulff has said he and line coach Harold Etheridge are counting on from the third year player.
Eppele's Cougar career has been marked by fits and starts -- every time he appears poised to seize a starting job an injury has popped up. On another occasion or two, he just hasn't performed well enough. But he's an uber-athlete and if he can put it all together, he could quickly move from the fringes to dominating land.
He's also assumed an offseason leadership role in the weight room and on the practice field. Individually, his gains in the weight room this offseason have been significant.
Eppele and Ayers
have two main areas they need to show improvement in when fall
camp kicks off on Sunday -- consistency and physicality, especially in the run
They weren't quite as comfortable in their assignments this spring as they need to be. The success of the '09 offense could in large part depend on how fast they get there.
Lesuma, who came to the Cougs out of the junior college ranks, has been dinged up at times during his two years in Pullman. But even when healthy, he's been unable to mount a serious push for playing time.
If he wants to change that, he'll need to, beginning on Aug. 9, come out blazing with this being the senior's last year.
Reitnouer has a nice frame (6-5) but not the bulk (240). He had back surgery before he even got to Pullman in January, slowing his development out of the box. He's likely to spend this year hefting the iron and learning better technique before earning game snaps.
Prescott was at one time a likely grayshirt candidate but the Cougs are bringing him in now. It will probably require some time for Etheridge to put the polish on him but he worked out this spring and summer as if he planned on coming in this summer all along and holding his own -- He now weighs 290 pounds after checking in at 277 back in February.
AN OPTIMIST WOULD SAY: The pads were popping during spring ball out at tackle -- and across the entire offensive line -- at a volume level not heard the spring previous. The Cougars have a number of very athletic OT's headed into fall camp -- and their technique, street smarts and strength are all on the rise. Tackle atmosphere and play was decidedly up-tempo in the spring even though they were missing two key cogs, and the unit now has a much better understanding of how and what they're supposed to do and how to do it. Familiarity has increased, and that should in turn translate to better play and help the Cougs compete.
A PESSIMIST WOULD SAY: The tackles are still young and arguably aren't as deep top to bottom as are guard and center. Ultimately, the consistency wasn't quite there enough to satisfy Etheridge and Wulff. If the injury bug bites hard, a good deal of shuffling could be required. True, the tackles will almost certainly be better this year. But such a large amount of improvement is needed, coming off a year when they got their hats handed to them up and down the o-line. And it might be more realistic to expect this year and next before the Cougs get back to the level needed at tackle, given the size of the task ahead.
STAR PLAYER: Four way tie. Hannam is the mainstay here, and he comes into camp as the best Cougar o-tackle. But what will prove worth watching is to see if things have remained that way when camp ends. Pencer could prove to be a rising star, while Ayers and Eppele could also each break out. Regardless, all need to improve if WSU is to be more competitive than last year at offensive tackle.
UNIT STRENGTH: Athleticism. You can put the pounds on a player, coach 'em up, drill technique and put the polish on 'em. But they haven't figured out a way to coach athleticism yet. And the Cougs have some o-tackles who can really move their feet.
UNIT WEAKNESS: Youth. The only senior on the offensive tackle depth chart enters camp as a third stringer.
NOTABLE NOTE: Injuries bit in '08 -- by the fourth game last season, three different players had already started at left tackle. With the strength gains made this offseason, the number and duration of names on the injury list is likely to be less.
WULFF: "(Hannam) brings a lot of experience...Ayers started games last year. Then you add...Joe Eppele, who needs to step up and play well. Those are all players who can help this football team and we need those guys to continue to develop and mature. Another name to watch is Tyson Pencer, a redshirt freshman who could help us as well."