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Guard Eduardo Middleton’s work ethic pays dividends for Cougars

Offensive Lineman Eduardo Middleton, right, blocks WSU teammate Cody O'Connell during a drill. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Offensive Lineman Eduardo Middleton, right, blocks WSU teammate Cody O'Connell during a drill. (Tyler Tjomsland)
LEWISTON – The Washington State Cougars wrapped a short football practice on Saturday afternoon, but Eduardo Middleton, his face flecked with blood from a deep cut on his nose, continued to train for a position he doesn’t play long after the rest of his teammates had departed the Sacajawea Junior High practice fields. Middleton, who started every game at right guard for the Cougars last season, was practicing his snaps, just in case WSU ever needs a center in a pinch. That the 6-foot-5, 310-pound junior was putting in the additional work surprised nobody who frequents the offensive line meetings at WSU. “Not at all,” said offensive line coach Clay McGuire. “Since he’s been here he’s just been one of those blue-collar, bring-your-lunch-pail-and-your-hard-hat- to-work guys. There’s nothing flashy about him, but he’s tougher than heck and he’s smart.” Middleton overtook Jacob Seydel on the depth chart shortly before the start of the 2014 season. While the left side of WSU’s offensive line is the strength – Gunnar Eklund has 32 career starts and Joe Dahl is an NFL prospect – Middleton and right tackle Cole Madison have quietly formed a staunch pair in their own right. Madison has the athletic ability, but Middleton is frequently listed among the Cougars who have improved the most in the offseason, and now coach Mike Leach calls him, “definitely one of our best offensive linemen.” “He had a really good season last year,” McGuire said. “I think he was kind of an unsung hero. Going into camp it was unknown whether he’d win that job or not and he just got better, and better, and better.” The interior linemen like Middleton figure to play an even more important role for the Cougars in 2015. The Air Raid will no longer be an exclusively shotgun offense, meaning the quarterback will be closer to the defensive tackles bearing down on him. Furthermore, indications in practice are that the Cougars will run the ball significantly more than they have in the past, particularly if Luke Falk is named the starting quarterback. Falk checks into more run plays than quarterback Peyton Bender does, a tendency for which he has been praised by Leach. A commitment to running the ball more often would not only play to Middleton’s positional responsibilities, but it would engage a player who is most often described for his aggressive qualities. When polled on Middleton’s strengths, his teammates and coaches most frequently cite his effort and the edge he plays with, qualities that are more likely to show up when a lineman is attacking the defense on a run play. “Even if he messes up a play he’ll give 100 percent effort on that play,” Madison said. “He tries hard and everyone on the team loves Ed. He’s one of those guys that will die for you.” Middleton acknowledges that “Pass-blocking is cool, but run-blocking you’re coming off the ball and just hitting a guy. There’s a lot of fun in that.” The anticipated improvement of WSU’s offensive line, which returns all five starters from last season and every primary backup, is the biggest reason for optimism heading into the 2015 season. Whether Bender or Falk starts, the Cougars will have an inexperienced quarterback who will have enough to think about without needing to flee from a defender shortly after the ball is snapped on every play. Much is expected from Dahl and Eklund, but those players excelled last season. If WSU’s offensive line is to propel the team to a better record, it will be because of the other members, like Middleton. “Obviously, as a team last year it didn’t go like we wanted it to,” Middleton said. “I thought I did OK but definitely not to the standards I have and where I want to be. It should be a better year for me, and the team as well.” Notes Charleston White did not practice on Saturday, so freshman Darrien Molton started at cornerback opposite Marcellus Pippins. … The Cougars will hold their only scrimmage of preseason camp today at 2:30 p.m. at Sacajawea Junior High.
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