If one position group symbolized the recent struggles of the WSU football program, it was the offensive line. There was very little the offensive line did well from 2008 to 2012. Cougar quarterbacks were lucky to get a second to throw before being hit. That was after they were forced to pick the ball off the ground because the snaps were so low. At one point WSU started a 250-pound true freshman at left tackle. It was ugly.
After five seasons of being an unmitigated disaster, WSU made major strides along the offensive line last season. WSU allowed 32 sacks last season -- the 95th-most in the country -- but that was twenty five fewer than the 57 the Cougars allowed in 2012. WSU also threw the ball more than anyone, leading to more sacks. The Cougars allowed a sack on 4.3 percent of pass plays, the 27th best mark in the country. Considering they allowed a sack on 7.8 percent of pass plays -- 101st in the country -- in 2012, that is a serious improvement.
The depth, at least in terms of numbers, is better than ever. There will likely be three new starters in 2014 and the competition for spots figures to be intense. WSU will add even more depth on signing day. Let's take a look at where things stand.
Projected scholarship athletes: Jacob Seydel (RSJR), Devonte McClain (RSJR), Gunnar Eklund (RSJR), Joe Dahl (RSJR), Pierson Villarrubia (RSSO), Sam Flor (RSSO), Eduardo Middleton (RSSO), Riley Sorenson (RSSO), Carlos Freeman (RSFR), B.J. Salmonson (RSFR), Cody O'Connell (RSFR), Cole Madison (RSFR)
Projected walk-ons: Andy Agen (RSFR), Austin Kanouse (RSFR)
Projected depth chart:
Left tackle - Joe Dahl, Pierson Villarrubia, Cody O'Connell
Left guard - Gunnar Eklund, Cole Madison, Eduardo Middleton
Center - Carlos Freeman, Sam Flor
Right guard - Riley Sorenson, Cole Madison, Eduardo Middleton
Right tackle - Jacob Seydel, Cody O'Connell, Devonte McClain
It's hard to project the depth chart at this point, because nearly all of WSU's offensive linemen play multiple spots. From everything I can gather, the coaching staff is very high on Sorenson, Seydel, Madison and O'Connell, thus their higher ranking on the projected depth chart. Middleton is another player to keep an eye on.
You might be wondering why Dahl is listed at left tackle and Eklund at left guard. Eklund started 19 games at left tackle dating back to 2012, while Dahl started the first 12 games at left guard last season. The coaching staff flipped the two for the bowl game, however, and Mike Leach said it was a move they would have made earlier had they had the time. You'd have to think that move was made with the future in mind, so for now, Dahl starts at left tackle and Eklund kicks inside.
WSU will have new starters at center, right guard and right tackle next season. Freeman was recruited as a center and with Denzell Dotson no longer on the team, is really the only true center on the roster. Sorenson played as a true freshman last season, although only a few snaps. While it was probably a mistake to burn his redshirt, it did show he was ahead of the redshirt freshman. He's probably going to win one of the five spots. Seydel is a junior college transfer, who signed last year. He may have started at right tackle, or at least played some, had he not suffered an injury. Assuming he is fully recovered, he's penciled in at right tackle, for now.
Spring football should help sort things out.
Andre Dillard, Woodinville, Wash., Brandon Evers, Redding, Calif., Sean Krepsz, Riverside, Calif., Nick Begg, Santa Margarita, Calif.
It was an interesting recruiting cycle for offensive linemen. At various points, seven different offensive linemen have been verbally committed. Braden Eggert flipped to Oregon, Miguel Machado flipped to Purdue and Jordan Rose had his offer pulled.
None of the four currently committed are likely to play next season. Begg and Krepsz, both signed and enrolled in January. The Cougars listed Begg as an offensive linemen, although it wouldn't be a surprise to see him land at defensive end. Krepsz has the best chance to play, considering he'll go through spring practice, but it's still unlikely. Dillard is more of a project. He is an outstanding athlete, but needs to add size. He might take a couple of years of seasoning before he's ready to contribute. Evers is likely destined for tackle, and the Cougars have decent depth there already.
4-star Kaleb McGary, 3-star Miguel Machado
McGary is one of the top prospects in Washington. He's narrowed his choices to Washington, WSU and Wisconsin. He'll reportedly make his decision today, so we'll know sooner, rather than later. Machado recently flipped from WSU to Purdue. His recruitment has been all over the map, so at this point it wouldn't surprise me if he flipped again.
Edit: McGary picked Washington on Monday.
If Dahl and Eklund return to the starting lineup, WSU will have three new starters on the offensive line. None of the new faces are going to have very much, if any experience. There will be some growing pains, but the good news for the Cougars is the incoming players are all very talented. The Cougars have recruited the offensive line heavily under Leach and eventually that will pay off. It might get a little worse before it gets better, especially with so much youth and inexperience, but the Cougars are on the right track.