PULLMAN – There is a whiteboard in the room where Washington State’s football offensive linemen meet. And the numbers written on it might mean a little more during this year’s spring practices than last.
Its purpose is to track good and bad plays from each practice, or, as center Elliott Bosch said, “whether we’re doing our job or not.”
Before each meeting, a percentage is written on the board for each player. The higher that percentage, the better your practice. And the better chance you have of cracking the two-deep come August.
“Everything they’re doing is breeding a lot of competition,” said Bosch, a fifth-year senior. “And it’s good.”
It’s better than last year, certainly, when, as coach Mike Leach will tell anyone who asks, the Cougars were down to six healthy offensive linemen by the end of the season.
Injuries and redshirt years ate up most of WSU’s depth. In turn, competition on the offensive line was sparse, which may have instilled an attitude that Leach didn’t particularly like.
He wondered if some of those players might have thought, “well, there’s only six, therefore I’m going to play.”
If they did, that attitude won’t work now. The Cougars can at last assemble a legitimate, 10-man two-deep on the offensive line, showcasing both of those units plenty during their first full-pads practice of the spring on Tuesday.
There are new faces and old. Rico Forbes, a fifth-year senior, is back from an ACL tear and working with the No. 1 unit at right tackle. Jacob Seydel, a junior college transfer, is practicing at tackle with the second team, as are Joe Dahl and Niu Sale, transfers who sat out last season.
“It’s nice being able to have, for the most part, a functioning 10,” said offensive line coach Clay McGuire.
“Last year, hell, we were just trying to find a functioning five. It’s nice to have some bodies out there. We’re getting to develop some things.”
Forbes, who injured his knee early in preseason camp last August, said it was hard to sit at home and watch as the Cougars struggled last season.
He estimates his conditioning is at 70 or 80 percent.
“It was really frustrating, you know? I wanted to be in there with them, (and) felt like I would have been a big help. But that’s just how the ball rolls sometimes,” Forbes said. “You’ve got to deal with it. This past offseason has just been recovering and rehabbing and getting this knee stronger so I can be out there with them full-go.”
And out there competing, too.
“We didn’t have that last season,” Forbes said. “I feel like a lot of guys lost their drive off of that because it’s only them, they don’t have anybody to step up. I don’t want to say that was the biggest factor, but it sure does help to keep everybody inspired and fired up to be out there; keep their job.”
Leach called the offensive line a “work in progress,” as he does with most aspects of his team.
But they do look “a little bigger than last year. They’re a little stronger than last year, but we just need to be competitive and really embrace winning our individual battles.”
Bosch said an offseason spent working on speed has yielded results through WSU’s first three spring practices, and says he’s noticed the offensive line moving quicker during team drills.
Forbes sees more strength, another point of emphasis during the offseason.
But the biggest point of emphasis going forward is pretty obvious. Along with an “anemic” run-game last season, McGuire says, “We gave up way too many sacks (57). We’ve got to cut that in half.”
If early spring numbers are any indication, they should at least have more players with which to do that.
Pullman Police Cmdr. Chris Tennant said Tuesday that WSU receiver Mansel Simmons has been released from a Spokane hospital after being treated for head injuries following a fight early Sunday.
Tennant said police are still interviewing witnesses and gathering facts about how that night’s events unfolded. No arrests have been made.
Leach said, per usual, the matter will be handled internally.