This is the third of eight position previews of Washington State University’s 2012 football team. Today: offensive line. Friday: defensive line.
PULLMAN – Washington State still hasn’t announced publicly who its starting quarterback will be this season.
But the guy calling the shots for the group of men tasked with protecting that quarter- back – the starting center, or the “quarterback of the offensive line,” as offensive line coach Clay McGuire calls it – appears well-established.
Perhaps the biggest change up front from a year ago is the transition of walk-on junior Elliott Bosch from Ferris High School to the starting center position, where he’s taken nearly all of the snaps with the No. 1 offense during camp.
Paul Wulff and his former coaching staff thought about using Bosch at center for a time, but moved him back to guard because of a lack of reps.
But once coach Mike Leach arrived with his staff, the plan changed. Bosch still played guard during the spring, but that’s when the idea was installed – Bosch was going to be a center.
“They knew I needed to get more work and they wanted me to have the summer to work on it,” he said after practice Tuesday. “Just numbers-wise, it worked out better when I played guard in the spring, but I think the idea was the whole time for me to play center.”
McGuire said that’s because of Bosch’s demeanor and personality, also citing the desire to find a way to play the team’s five best offensive linemen at once.
That meant moving Matt Goetz, the team’s most experienced returning center, to left guard.
“I felt like he was a reliable, trustworthy type of kid, somebody that the game meant a lot to,” McGuire said of Bosch, who has bulked up to 6-foot-4, 271 pounds. “The center for us is the quarterback of the O-line. He’s got to make a lot of calls and a lot of adjustments that we put on him.”
There was an adjustment to be made for the entire unit, of course. Leach’s offense calls for wider splits along the offensive line, and along with simply learning all of the new offensive sets, there was a bit of a learning curve.
And there would have been work to do, anyway – WSU again ranked last in the Pac-12 last season in sacks allowed, yielding 38.
Extra conditioning should help.
“Last summer we barely ran at all,” said junior left tackle John Fullington, the group’s anchor. “It was all just lifting, and I think that definitely set us back. The first day of practice (this season) we came out, we pretty much flew through it, weren’t that tired. We’ve been through some stuff together now and we’re in way better shape. Come the fourth quarter, we’re going to be fresh and going while other teams are probably more worn out.”
Fullington is joined on the left side of the line by Goetz, who started WSU’s final nine games at center last season. On Bosch’s right side will likely be redshirt senior Wade Jacobson, who was awarded a sixth year of eligibility after undergoing back surgery last season.
Jake Rodgers and Dan Spitz have both seen time at right tackle with the No. 1 unit. Rico Forbes played there for much of the spring, but has been on crutches with his right leg in a cast since injuring himself early in camp.
Junior college transfer Niu Sale, senior Taylor Meighen and walk-on redshirt freshman Gunnar Eklund will help fill out the two-deep.
“They’re pretty athletic guys up front,” McGuire said. “At (Texas) Tech we had guys a little bigger than they are, but these guys are pretty quick.”
They learned quickly, too.
“They’ve gotten a lot better. There were a lot of points of emphasis coming out of spring that we weren’t very good at,” McGuire said. “The kids have focused on those through summer and their own offseason workouts, but they’ve done a great job and I feel a lot better now than they were.”
• Online: Want more information on WSU football? Check out our SportsLink blog to see video of Mike Leach, highlights from Wednesday’s practice and a recap of Christian Caple’s live chat at www.spokesman.com/sportslink.