The strength of a chain is proportionate to it's weakest link. And so it goes with team sports.
Stating the obvious, Washington State football sank to record setting depths last season in large part because the offense was grossly undermanned.
That was then. This is now.
Coach Paul Wulff isn't boasting of Pac-10 championships this season, but is quietly confident that his team is moving toward that goal.
Coach Wulff did manage a smile on the sidelines one time last season, coming after an overtime victory in the Apple Cup.
Though there isn't an official stat to verify it, Coach Todd Sturdy didn't match the smile total expressed by the WSU head coach.
When Coach Wulff took over the football program at Washington State last year, it was with the expectation the Cougs would change their offensive attack to the no huddle style. Wulff enjoyed success at Eastern Washington with the no huddle. His offensive coordinator at Eastern in 2007 was none other than Coach Sturdy. The Eagles set school records for pass completions and touchdown passes (36), finishing the year ranked fifth nationally in total offense.
As offensive coordinator for the Cougs last season, Coach Sturdy witnessed his modest stock of experienced players diminish by injury attrition week after week.
There was good reason to assert the weakest link on the WSU football team in 2008 was the entire offensive unit.
Put your broad brushes away critics. You won't find things this year as easy as mocking a team trying to shift gears without either a clutch or automatic transmission.
Enough about the past. That was then. This is now.
Fall practice has suggested there will be some significant improvement in stats for WSU offense this year. You can put "Coach Sturdy Smiles" at the top of those stats.
It's safe to say that as the offense goes, so goes the fortunes for Cougar football this year.
Taking that a step further, as the offensive line goes, so goes the fortunes of Cougar football in 2009.
There are three reasons why Washington State will get vastly improved play from the OL unit this year:
- Size, strength and speed
The OL is anchored by the best center in the Pac-10, fifth-year senior Kenny Alfred. There may have been a debate over who's the best last week, but no longer. USC center Kristofer O'Dowd was thought by many to be the best in the conference prior to the Trojan scrimmage Monday night. Unfortunately O'Dowd went down with a dislocated right kneecap. He will be out at least four weeks and possibly longer.
As the true leader of the OL, Alfred has three years of experience. He shed a few pounds in the off season and is even quicker as a result. Make no mistake, his 32 games of experience at center is invaluable to the entire unit. The fact Alfred is even quicker this fall is just another plus. As witness to his importance to this team, Alfred is front and 'center' on the 2009 Cougar Football media guide.
Coach Wulff hasn't named the OL starting unit as of yet, but here's the likely lineup.
B. J. Guerra will be back at the right guard position. The red shirt sophomore started four games last year. At 6'3" and 311 pounds, Guerra has the potential for a pancake on every play. Pancake refers to flattening a defensive lineman...not the International House of... The young man is large, but football 'large' not bowling 'large'.
The left guard starting slot is probably going to junior college transfer Zack Williams. Williams used his red shirt season last year and is raring to play some Pac-10 football. He has the potential to be a big contributor this fall. We're not talking size here, though Williams is 6'3" and 295 pounds. Williams was such a force at Glendale College he was the team offensive MVP in 2007. That's right. An offensive lineman who was offensive MVP. He was a JC Gridwire honorable mention All-America center that year along with a host of regional honors.
Looking at the depth chart at right tackle will put a smile on offensive line Coach Harold Etheridge. There are three solid football players with good size and a wealth of experience.
|Micah Hannum||6'4"||285||Junior||2 yr Varsity|
|Joe Eppele||6'8"||306||Junior||2 yr Varsity|
|Reed Lesuma||6'4"||311||Senior||1 gm 2008|
It's likely that all three of these student/athletes will see playing time on the OL this year.
Perhaps the most critical position on the offensive line is left tackle. They protect the blind side on an oncoming rusher for a right handed quarterback. In case you're wondering, the top quarterbacks for the Cougs are right handed.
Steven Ayers returns for his sophomore campaign as the likely starter. The 6'4" 315 pound young man started 5 games last season and saw action in 11. Ayers is being pushed in fall camp by red shirt freshman Tyson Pencer. Both players will see plenty of playing time this fall.
Right behind those players are a number of student/athletes poised to contribute to the offensive unit this fall.
Brian Danaher, Chris Prummer, and Michael Spears all saw action on the field last year. Danaher can play either guard position. Prummer and Spears are both listed at center, but can play anywhere needed along the line. Spears transferred from Western Washington after they dropped their football program at the end of last season. He played in all 11 of their games including a start in the Dixie Rotary Bowl.
Here's Coach Wulff's take on the offensive line:
"We only lose one player from last year and seven players return who started games last season, led by all-conference candidate Kenny Alfred. Kenny is where it starts. He has the most game experience and is a very good football player. He's going to need his guys around him and we have some experience returning. Micah Hannam at right tackle returns and is a player who has started every game his first two years and brings a lot of experience. B. J. Guerra, Brian Danaher, Andrew Roxas and Steven Ayers all started games last year. The you add Zach Williams, a junior college transfer who we redshirted last year, along with Joe Eppele, who needs to step up and play well. Those are the guys who can help this football team and wee need those guys to continue to develop and mature. Another name to watch is Tyson Pencer, a redshirt freshman who could help us as well." - WSU Coach Paul Wulff on the offensive line
There is one wild card in the mix of the OL unit.
Andrew Roxas had an outstanding spring practice but has been sidelined all this fall camp. After playing left guard last season, Roxas filled in for Kenny Alfred this spring. Alfred sat out while recovering from off season surgery. The reps he took at center make Roxas a well rounded lineman. His presence on the team strengthens a solid OL, giving Coach Etheridge more flexibility.
There has yet to be official word on what has sidelined Roxas.
"He has an illness and medical staff are continuing to monitor him." - Bill Stevens, WSU Sports Information Director
With Roxas in the offensive line mix, the unit is much stronger. Though Cougar Nation should be anxious to see him back in uniform, a speedy recovery is first in order for the young student/athlete from Sun Valley, CA.
Next, we'll take a look at who will be running with the football for Washington State this year.