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Cougars know it’s all on the line

WSU’s fortures on offense depend on OL

David Gonzales, left, is one of four seniors on the starting offensive line. (Dan Pelle)
David Gonzales, left, is one of four seniors on the starting offensive line. (Dan Pelle)

This is the first of eight position previews of Washington State University’s 2011 football team. Today: Offensive line. Sunday: Quarterbacks.

PULLMAN – There is a lot of truth to the old saw that an offense starts up front, with the linemen.

But the converse is also true in college football.

If the line isn’t doing its job, the offense stops.

For the past three years, Washington State’s offensive line hasn’t got the job done. No one connected to the program will argue differently. But they also believe that streak is about to end.

“I feel like guys are stepping up every day,” said senior right guard B.J. Guerra, a three-year starter from Moses Lake. “There are tweaks that have to be made here and there, and everyone has to get better, but we have plenty of time to get better.”

The alternative is too ugly to imagine.

“We will be in the same place we were last year,” Guerra said Friday following the Cougars’ first two-a-day session of the preseason camp.

Last year WSU rushers averaged a miserable 2.6 yards per carry. The quarterbacks were sacked 51 times. Fairly or unfairly, those numbers are laid at the linemen’s feet.

“There’s a lot of factors that have to do with the sacks, but when all is said and done, the offensive line is the one to blame for it,” Guerra said. “For us as an offensive line, we have to take things very, very personal.

“That means we have to be top-notch in our film work, (that) we understand what the defense is going to run. They tell stories, they show what they’re going to do. It’s up to us to see that stuff coming.”

The starting group, featuring four seniors and heralded sophomore John Fullington, seems to be set. The only battle going on was at center, and fifth-year senior Andrew Roxas has taken nearly every first-team snap – backed up by JC transfer Taylor Meighen.

And that five is getting closer to line coach Steve Morton’s goals, which can be boiled down to consistency, technique, a physical nature and perfect pre-snap reads.

To get there, the offensive linemen were challenged by Morton to improve their summer work ethic. The goal each day was to push an old, heavy wooden blocking sled 1,000 yards. They did. And it seems to have paid off.

“I’m happy with the growth and process they’ve been going through,” Morton said of his starting five. “The big part for me (in camp) is just getting off the ball, cohesiveness, working together, indentifying, get things communicated and get going.”

But it’s a rare college team that gets through a season using just five linemen. There has to be depth. And that’s what this camp has been for, finding insurance.

Morton wants to have three guards, three tackles and two centers that can be counted on for the opener against Idaho State on Sept. 3. Then he hopes to keep building more depth from there.

So how close are the Cougars to reaching their goals?

“Three hundred sixty five days ago those goals were the same,” Morton said. “I think the goals are closer. I’m closer to having answers after the first scrimmage this year then I was last year.”

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