Sturdy: O-line's best work came in scrimmages

EVERY POSITION IS a priority in the spring and offseason. But for WSU, getting significantly better play from the offensive line is at the top of the list. Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy talks about some of those who took big steps forward during spring drills, fundamentally what the Cougar o-line needs to improve upon most and more.

Todd Sturdy was reluctant to name the starters coming out of spring drills, saying hard work over the summer and fall camp performances will determine how the depth chart shakes out.

CF.C's take was that inside positions were the more easily definable as to starters coming out of spring drills, with Zack Williams at right guard, Andrew Roxas at center and B.J. Guerra at left guard. Tackle was a different story, due to the impressive play from the two junior college transfers, Wade Jacobson and David Gonzales. Both figure to push incumbent right tackle Micah Hannam, with Tyson Pencer and Alex Reitnouer also vying for jobs.

"We've got two JC tackles who are going to be in the mix -- I thought they did a great job, I was really, really pleased with both those kids," said Sturdy.

Many thought Jacobson would challenge this spring, but the early read on Gonzales when he arrived in January was that he might be best served with a redshirt development year. That was before he hit the WSU weight room, and then hit the field this spring.

"David did a great job. Being in the weight room did wonders for him in the short time since he's been here, he's put on some good weight. He's got a big frame and he's a big, strong kid. He just kind of took off this spring. He did some great things," said Sturdy.

KEEP A CLOSE eye on Zack Williams. His first year at WSU was marked by injuries but when he was out there, and when he was reasonably healthy, as poor as the Cougs' line executed last season, Williams at times was frequently pushing guys around.

"He's a good football player -- and he has the ability to be a great football player," said Sturdy. "He did some really nice things this spring. He's a guy that should line up on the ball and do great things for us."

OPPOSITE WILLIAMS over on the left side, B.J. Guerra, who now checks in at a robust 315 pounds spread across his 6-foot-3 frame, made his mark when the action went live.

"I thought B.J. took some big steps this spring. His level of play has improved, he's starting to show a lot of consistency. I thought he made some big, big steps in those last couple of scrimmages," said Sturdy.

AT CENTER, Andre Roxas missed a good chunk of the spring after turning an ankle. While he turned in his share of good performances, the consistency wasn't quite there in the nine practices he had before he was injured, said Sturdy.

"Andrew at that center position, he still needs to work on his snapping and some of those things there. Andrew's one of those guys that when he gets his pad level down, he plays well and shows a lot of improvement," he said.

AND THEREIN LIES the key. If they are to become a solid, producing o-line -- from a consistency standpoint, the Cougs most need to, up front, get down.

"Overall, up front, fundamentally our kids play too high," said Sturdy. "That's a focus we have as coaches.. and we've got to get our pad level down.

"But I'm pleased with we're at and I'm excited about where we're going. I saw some really positive things in the scrimmages. I want the kids to have some urgency about them this offseason and have a great summer."

ONE INTERESTING O-LINE DEVELOPMENT towards the end of the spring came when Elliot Bosch and Tim Hodgdon both saw time at second team center after Roxas was injured, with Chris Prummer filling in with the 1's. Bosch is listed as a tight end, Hodgdon a guard. Sturdy said the Cougs are looking to build some depth at center and will try out some guys to see if they have a knack for snapping and playing the position, and so it remains to be seen if those moves are permanent.

Sebastian Valenzuela did some good things this spring when he wasn't sidelined with injury, said Sturdy. If he has a great summer, he might make some noise in fall camp. Pencer has played through injuries much of his short WSU-career and needs to play with a more consistent pad level. But the WSU coaches think he's going to be a good one.

"He's very talented, he's going to be in the mix," said Sturdy. "And what you're going to see is a lot more competition up front, with guys like Zack Williams, Roxas, Pencer , Micah Hannam, Gonzales and Jacobson. We've got a lot more competition now."

WSU GOT A little dinged up on the offensive line towards the end of spring. None were serious or long term, but on the last day of practice, Roxas, Jacobson and Williams were all on the sidelines.

And that hurts up front when you're a team like WSU, and in the process of building quality o-line depth back up to Pac-10 levels. But injuries are trending towards the lesser as strength gains have risen, and Sturdy is confident in the direction WSU is heading on the o-line under new coach Steve Morton.

"We've just got to stay the course. We've got a good plan. The kids believe in it. The coaches believe in it," said Sturdy.

A number of fans are also believers, and others are not. But if the o-line Saturdays this fall takes a big step forward, even the most pessimistic of fans from the past two seasons will start to believe, too.

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