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WSU’s offense tries to hit benchmarks


COUGARS

No practice today but we still went forward with our interview of offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy for a look at the offense in the spring. Heck, we promised you a story and we had to deliver. Without practice, however, we weren’t able to get with an offensive player or two to supplement the story. Still you can read our unedited story on the link, along with a few web-only notes. Read on.

••••••••••

• Here’s our story for tomorrow’s S-R …

PULLMAN – Fifty three times last season Washington State University quarterbacks went back to pass and never had the chance. That’s the number of sacks the Cougars’ offensive front gave up in the 1-11 season, the second-worst total in the nation.

In WSU’s most recent scrimmage, facing a defensive group that was bent on getting to the quarterback, whether he be sophomore starter Jeff Tuel or junior Marshall Lobbestael, the Cougars ran 76 plays.

The quarterbacks weren’t sacked once.

Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy sees that as a huge sign of progress.

“We went a whole scrimmage and didn’t take a sack,” Sturdy said, “and we didn’t have all of our offensive line healthy.

“Now a lot of things goes into that, it’s not just the O-line,” Sturdy continued, talking in his office Tuesday after the Cougars’ practice was postponed until next week. “Those four (scholarship) receivers’ knowledge and experience has grown, our quarterbacks are further along than we’ve been, our O-line is fundamentally further along than we’ve been.

“I’m pleased with where we’re at. I know we’ve got to get better, but I’m pleased.”

Last year’s woes of a battered offensive line – 10 players started, with the same group starting no more than two consecutive games – contributed mightily to the offense’s struggles, as WSU averaged just 7.4 points a game in Pac-10 play. Those struggles also cost line coach Harold Etheridge his job, replaced by veteran Steve Morton.

The voice may have changed, but the line’s progress has been handicapped again, with two starters – guard Zack Williams (6-foot-4, 304-pounds) and center Andrew Roxas (6-2, 304) – missing most of spring with injuries and other key pieces – tackles-turned-guards Micah Hannam (6-4, 285) and Tyson Pencer (6-7, 317) – limited by academic commitments.

Still, the line play has improved, if only through the addition of junior college transfers David Gonzales (6-6, 281) and Wade Jacobson (6-6, 307) at tackle and the emergence of some young backups.

With the Cougars expecting the defense to take strides this fall, the offensive emphasis is on playing smarter. The four accentuated areas: avoiding turnovers, limiting negative plays, execution before and after the whistle (no dumb penalties), and producing on first down.

“We’ve reached some benchmarks,” Sturdy said of the scrimmage statistics, “and our kids are seeing that, they are experiencing it. That’s encouraging.”

If the WSU approach sounds a little more conservative, don’t try to sell that to Sturdy.

“I don’t think it’s conservative, I think it’s a smart approach to who we are and what we want to get accomplished,” he said. “We’re going to be extremely aggressive in everything we do. I don’t think there’s a conservative thing about what we’re doing offensively.”

But who will be running that offense at quarterback is still a matter of competition, Sturdy said, between Tuel and Lobbestael. Throughout the spring, however, it was Tuel who received the majority of the first-unit snaps.

The receiving and running back groups may need some bolstering in the fall and help seems to be on the way. After two years with an emphasis on defensive recruits, WSU signed 14 offensive players in its most recent class.

Newcomers like junior college receiver Isiah Barton, freshman wideouts Kristoff Williams, Bobby Ratliff and Marquess Wilson and running back Rickey Galvin will be given opportunities.

“If it’s those four guys running with the ones at receiver come Oklahoma State, so be it,” Sturdy said of the Sept. 4 opener, pointing out just one position. “If somebody comes in and beats some of those guys out, hey, cream needs to rise to the top, right? We need an environment where guys need to be challenged from a competitive standpoint.”

•••

• As we mentioned earlier in the day, the Cougars decided to cancel today’s scheduled practice, putting it off until 6 a.m. next Monday. With a lot of players banged up or sick and a televised scrimmage scheduled for Saturday night, the thought seemed to be it was time for a rest. WSU will practice as scheduled Thursday, scrimmage at 5:30 Saturday and finish the spring with the early Monday workout. … With Carl Winston, Marcus Richmond and James Montgomery missing either all or most of the spring, the running back position seems a little unsettled, though Chantz Staden and Logwone Mitz – both missed some time as well – have had some productive moments. But Montgomery seems to be the wild-card in the deal. “James Montgomery is back in the weeds,” Sturdy said. “He’s back there with the potential to play again, we’re excited about that. … We’ve got a handful of guys who haven’t been the guy, so to speak. But we have some competition there and that’s encouraging.” … In talking with Sturdy, he seemed to echo something co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball told me the day before. The staff seems to be trying to tailor the defensive and offensive philosophies to the talents of the players, not trying to shove the players into a one-size-fits-all scheme. “That’s any coach’s job to evaluate your personnel and evaluate where you’re at,” Sturdy said. “I think we’ve taken some big steps this spring, that’s pretty evident. Our kids feel it. My deal with our kids is ‘ya, it’s evident, but there has to be urgency here. We need to continue to take steps.’ ” …

• I talked a while today with new athletic director Bill Moos, who signed his contract and began work last Friday. Moos has been spending much of his time observing and evaluating as he gets ready to put his stamp on the WSU athletic department. … Looking over Moos’ contract today (received in response to a records request), the seven-year deal is exactly as painted when he was hired. Moos will receive $350,000 in yearly base pay, $55,000 in collateral compensation and $50,000 in a retention incentive within 30 days of each May 1. There are also bonuses – based on academics, fund-raising and on-field success (like making a bowl game in football or NCAAs in men’s or women’s basketball) – that could add up to nearly another $80,000. Former athletic director Jim Sterk was in line to make $265,000 in base pay and collateral compensation in 2010, up to $50,000 in deferred compensation and could have received as much as $30,000 in bonuses.

•••••

• That’s all for this evening. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …


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