O-line improvement a continued emphasis

PULLMAN -- Continuity. That is what offensive line coach Clay McGuire is looking to develop within a unit that constantly was in flux early in the season, but will feature the same group of starters for a fourth consecutive week when Washington State travels to Stanford this week. McGuire talked about the progress of the offensive line after Thursday night's practice.

The Cougars came out padless Thursday night, focusing on the fundamentals in individual drills. Senior quarterback Jeff Tuel continued to take the first-team snaps and will start this Saturday.

Protecting Tuel Saturday will be a familiar set of faces, something McGuire said is crucial if the group hopes to maintain the success they've been having.

"I think our last game against Cal was our best game upfront as far as passing goes," McGuire said. "It's taken a little bit longer than we wanted it to, but hopefully this group can stay together for the rest of the year and keep growing together."

The offensive line has kept the quarterback on his feet this season, something that hasn't occurred in Pullman for quite some time. Still, that isn't enough for McGuire.

"We've got to start pushing guys off the line and opening up holes," McGuire said. "We have to sustain the blocks for just a second longer."

If that can happen, the run game may be able to flourish. A sustainable run game could do wonders for a team still trying to find its offensive stride. The opposing safeties would have to play more in the box, the opposition wouldn't be allowed to drop back eight at a time, the Cougars would face more third-and-shorts rather than unmanageable plays.

One guy potentially hitting those holes in the near future would be junior Bennett Bontemps. The Puyallup native began taking snaps at the running back position yesterday and made quite an impression Thursday.

When the pads went on for scrimmaging, Bontemps, a bulldog-type player, showed a very good burst out of the backfield and fought for every yard. Bontemps was always a favorite of the former coaching staff for his work ethic and tenacity and the same seems to be occurring under the new regime.

On the defensive side, freshman linebacker Feddie Davey made yet another strong impression Thursday night. The undersized linebacker tallied one sack and one interception in roughly 20 minutes of scrimmaging. Despite being small, his instincts and ruthless mentality will make it hard to keep the Miami, Fla., native off the field for too much longer. Davey has already burnt his redshirt this season, so playing him at this stage of the season bears no consequences.

While the defense stood out, the offense had its share of issues. The extremely young offensive line struggled to keep defenders away from quarterbacks, and because of that, quarterbacks struggled throughout the evening.

Freshman Austin Apodaca threw two interceptions Thursday evening, both with pressure bearing down on him. Apodaca has been a consistent option all season during Thursday Night Football, but this week was not his best effort.

One bright spot on the offensive line was freshman Eduardo Middleton. The 6-foot-5, 294-pound Middleton has drawn plenty of praise from coaches in recent weeks and Thursday was no different.

"He's done a great job," McGuire said. "He's only a 17-year-old kid out there -- a tough kid. When we start working with him outside of the scout team he'll really develop and continue to improve."

Notable Notes: The Cougars again were without freshman running back Teondray Caldwell who hasn't practiced all week. Caldwell would appear doubtful to travel with the team to Stanford. Also missing tonight's practice was sophomore receiver Isiah Myers. Coach Mike Leach said he didn't know if Myers would travel with the team this week. WSU has not provided any information on Myers' absence. Junior running back Leon Brooks also missed tonight's action, still sporting boot on his right leg.

The 1s
Running with the 1s for the scrimmage:

OFFENSE
LT- Gunnar Eklund (Brevick got some time)
LG- John Fullington (Goetz got some time)
C- Elliott Bosch
RG- Jake Rodgers (Goetz got some time)
RT- Wade Jacobson (Brevick got some time)
QB – Jeff Tuel (Connor Halliday got quite a few snaps as well)
RB –Marcus Mason/Carl Winston/Bennett Bontemps
X-WR – Marquess Wilson and Dominique Williams split reps
Y-WR – Brett Bartolone (Gino Simone got a lot of reps)
Z-WR – Gabe Marks (Kristoff Williams got some time)
H-WR – Gino Simone, Bobby Ratliff

DEFENSE
LT- Matthew Bock
NT- Xavier Cooper
RT- Ioane Gauta (Steven Hoffart got some snaps)
BUCK- Travis Long (Logan Mayes got some time)
SAM- Cyrus Coen
MIKE- Darryl Monroe
WILL- Justin Sagote
CB- Anthony Carpenter
CB –Daniel Simmons
FS- Casey Locker and Tyree Toomer
SS- Deone Bucannon

SPECIAL TEAMS
LS - Alex Den Bleyker
P - Mike Bowlin
KO – Bowlin
FG - Andrew Furney
KR - Gino Simone, Rahmel Dockery, and Brett Bartolone
PR - Brett Bartolone, Rahmel Dockery and Marcus Mason

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