WSU FOOTBALL PREVIEWS 2010: Offensive Line

Part five in an eight-part series previewing the WSU football 2010 offensive and defensive units.

MONDAY: Linebackers
TUESDAY: 
Running Backs

WEDNESDAY: Defensive Backs
FRIDAY: Quarterbacks


Overview

If you're a player, it's never good if your head coach calls your unit's performance the past two years the biggest disappointment of his coaching career. The issues with the offensive line have been well documented around these parts, but two moments stand out above all others as the not-so-shining examples of just how bad these guys have collectively been:

  • 2008: We lose two quarterbacks in the same game -- one with a fractured neck, the other with a fractured back -- thanks to missed assignments ... against an FBS school.
  • 2009: We start a 250-pound true freshman left tackle ... at Oregon.

Yup, that's the way things have gone for the past two years. Quarterbacks have had about 1.5 seconds to throw before bailing out of the pocket -- or turtling up on the turf -- and running backs haven't had any holes to run through. For all the questioning we've done of offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy's seemingly unimaginative schemes, even the most cynical Coug fan would have to admit the offensive line woes have made it nearly impossible to evaluate most everyone else on offense.

If linemen weren't screwing up mentally, they were dropping like flies to injury. The former cost Harold Etheridge his job as coach of the offensive line; the latter ... well, what can you really do about that? There were a lot of theories as to why these guys were so injury prone the last two years, the most prominent centering around the idea that the guys just weren't physically ready to handle playing in the Pac-10, whether it was upperclassmen who were lax in the weight room under the previous regime or young guys who hadn't yet matured.

If you buy that explanation, then you should also believe this unit will be vastly improved this year. Yes, it loses Kenny Alfred, but everyone else (save for a few reserves who left the team for various mostly injury-related reasons) is a year older, a year wiser, and -- perhaps most importantly -- a year stronger. Junior college imports Wade Jacobson and David Gonzales should start immediately. Etheridge has been replaced by venerable Steve Morton, and old-school coach whose mentality is exactly what Wulff wants to project onto his players. He should know -- Morton was his line coach at WSU.

Projected Depth Chart For Sept. 4

# = Has used redshirt. This is our best guess based on the preseason depth chart and published reports.

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Starter David Gonzales (6-6, 275, Jr.) Wade Jacobson (6-6, 304, Jr.) Zack Williams (6-4, 298, #Sr.) B.J. Guerra (6-3, 315, #Jr.) Micah Hannam (6-4, 283, #Sr.)
Backup Alex Reitnouer (6-5, 270, So.) Tyson Pencer (6-8, 330, #So.) Andrew Roxas (6-2, 303, #Jr.) Andrew Roxas (6-2, 303, #Jr.) John Fullington (6-5, 268, Fr.)

Two things to take note of on the depth chart.

First, the heaviest -- and by all accounts, most powerful -- guys are in the middle. That's not what you typically see on an offensive line. However, it does jive with Wulff's stated desire to be more physical up front if the smaller guys on the edges can hold their own in pass protection. One thing the Cougar quarterbacks last year had to constantly deal with was pressure up the middle collapsing the pocket. If Jacobson, Williams and Guerra can be stout, then that frees up running backs and tight ends to provide pass protection help on the edges when need be.

Second, you do read that right: A true freshman is a the backup at right tackle. And don't be surprised if he's starting at some point this year. Will it be time for panic? Hardly. He's the player Wulff singled out repeatedly for praise on last year's signing day. He believes he's going to be something special, and he's already making an impact in camp.

Key Player

Zack Williams. For as much as we all love Alfred -- and rightfully so -- I think it was pretty apparent that Williams was the team's most physically gifted offensive lineman last year. He's powerful, and he's got a bit of a mean streak. Unfortunately, he's also proven to be a little bit brittle. He sprained his ankle against Hawaii, and was never the same. He then suffered a different injury in the spring. Williams has been pegged to fill Alfred's considerable shoes after playing guard last year; can he stay healthy enough and pick up enough of the nuances of the center to be the anchor this line needs? All you need to know is that the staff felt compelled to move Williams after seeing what Roxas could do after missing last year. This team needs a healthy and effective WIlliams.

Biggest Question Mark

Health. As usual. The drop off from first team to second team doesn't figure to be as severe as the last two years, but it's still pretty clear who the most talented five guys are. Believe it or not, it is possible for five guys to start all 12 games; if that happens, I feel comfortable predicting that this team will pull a stunning upset somewhere along the line. If it doesn't -- and haven't we come to expect the worst (especially if your'e also a Seahawks fan)? -- this team could have lots more games this year where it's simply not competitive.

Best Case Scenario

The same five guys start all 12 games. They gel as the season goes along, allowing the talent around them to morph into an average Pac-10 unit. Jeff Tuel throws for 2,500 yards and 18 TDs, while James Montgomery rushes for 1,100 yards. Makes us wonder what might have been the past two years if only we had been stronger up front.

Worst Case Scenario

Everyone stays healthy, but it turns out these guys just aren't very good. We look at the linemen waiting in the wings, and it's clear there just isn't a lot of help on the way. Cougar fans drop into a state of deep depression. (Trust me, this is way, way worse than craploads of injuries. At least with injuries, there's hope.)

Likely Scenario

These guys are clearly talented enough to be a league-average unit, but injuries here and there still take their toll -- as they do for most every football team. The team is once again mixing and matching throughout the season, and it's evident that the depth just isn't there yet. Like most every other part of the team, these guys are clearly improved, but still a year or two away from being a top-half-of-the-conference unit.

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