Monday, July 20, 2009

Who's Going to Block?

Happy Monday Coug Nation. Hope you all enjoyed a sunny, relaxing July weekend. But don't get TOO camp is coming, now just what, three+ weeks away? Time sure is flying by.

First of all, one last quickie on "lil' Romeo" Pellum. We apologize if the untrustworthy part of the headline on Friday was misinterpreted by any of you. It could be a bit misleading, or even thought of as calling the coaches out as not being trustworthy, etc. Or, it could even be taken as giving too much credence to Pellum and what he thinks of the WSU program. None of these things were the intent. And to make things worse, we heard a few things about Romeo over the weekend that, uh, let's just say him leaving Pullman is the best thing for everyone. But it's over and done with, and we all will now move on.

That said, it's still a slow time in the Coug universe. So we'll plow ahead with a peek at the O-line for '09, WSU Football Blog style.

First of all, the '08 line was, well, battered. How's that? Battered to the extent of a seemingly never-ending shuffle of linemen, in and out of the lineup. All told the offensive line started eight different combinations last year, with players in and out of the lineup on a weekly basis. The good news is that some young players got their feet wet, and, towards the end of the season anyway, things started to settle down. The last three games of the year saw the exact same starting five up front, and even all in their regular positions! How about that!? But it was THAT fluid up front.

With that revolving door came the best teacher of all - in-game experience - but it also came at a steep price. We saw the beatings that the QB's took last year, where Gary Rogers, Kevin Lopina, and Marshall Lobbestael all dealt with major pain. Of course, Rogers and Lobbestael were knocked out for the season, while Lopina missed several games in the middle of the year with the vertebrae fractures.

Even Dan Wagner, the fourth QB, was hobbled a bit later in the year, and although J.T. Levenseller barely played, HE TOO was beat up when he was in there! All told, the WSU QB's ate it to the tune of 42 sacks (PAC-10 worst), plus numerous hits on the QB that might not go down in the stat book. It was a group that was trying to learn new schemes, from new coaches, with new players in and out. Doesn't exactly add up to success, does it?

But that's '08, and it's in the rear-view mirror (thank God). Time to look forward to a new era. And there is, potentially, some positions to feel really good about. Live in the past, stay in the past, right? So let's see how the '09 line might look....

Projected starters:

LEFT TACKLE: Steven Ayers - Sophomore

Decent size for tackle at 6-4, now up to 315 lbs, the sophomore-to-be should be a mainstay on the line for the next several seasons. He played in eleven games last year as a red-shirt frosh, including five starts, shuffling between guard and tackle. He played more guard than anything last year, in fact he had just one start at tackle for the entire season. So, starting left tackle will be a new deal for Ayers. Of course, brand new left tackles can make people nervous, you know, with the whole protect-the-QB-blindside stuff? But Ayers has that rookie season out of the way and sounds as if he'll be ready for the challenge.

LEFT Guard: Zack Williams - Junior

Originally thought of as a potential heir-apparent to Vaughn Lesuma at left tackle, instead Williams will roll with the starters at left guard. Williams has been regarded as one of the most talented linemen on the team since he set foot in Pullman for his redshirt season last year, and was often mentioned by Wulff during radio shows and interviews that Williams looks like he could be a real player. He's also mentioned as having a real tough streak to him, something this offensive line could really use in bunches right now. It will be awfully interesting to see how Williams does out of the chute. Not your typical JC transfer in that he actually has a red-shirt season at WSU under his belt, but still, this will be his first BCS action of his career. It's one thing to do it in practice, but let's hope his early buzz continues into September, and beyond.

CENTER: Kenny Alfred - Senior

The best lineman on the team, heck, probably the best player on offense to line up next year, Alfred has it all. Smarts (All-Academic team), experience (32 career starts coming into '09), and toughness(winner of the Mike Utley lineman of the year award last year), he's pretty much everything WSU could hope for at center.

He's been pegged as being a good one since he first came to Pullman under Bill Doba's watch, who once predicted Alfred would be a four-year starter back in '05. And here we are. He's on all the pre-season watch lists for offensive linemen, and rightfully so. A little worrisome is the hip injury that forced him to miss the entire spring practice session, but word is he is A-OK and will be ready to go next month. As center is really the quarterback of the offensive line, there is very little doubt that Alfred is the one guy they need to have out there on a weekly basis.

RIGHT GUARD: B.J. Guerra - Sophomore

Guerra has been up-and-down a bit, hasn't he? Thrown to the wolves in '07, he held his own as a backup, and then saw a lot of action last year, starting five games. Those five starts included the last three games of the year, when the WSU line had the same starting five for three consecutive games, the longest stretch of the season where the same five started a game. Originally a d-tackle when he came to WSU, he was switched over to the offense his red-shirt season and hasn't looked back. He's got some size (6-3, 311) and a little nastiness to him, a quality needed for this group.

RIGHT TACKLE: Micah Hannam - Junior

Similar to Alfred, Hannam is the other leader up front. Another brainy guy, named to an All-Academic team in each of the last two years, Hannam has some major experience as well. He has now started 25 consecutive games, all at right tackle. While not your NFL prototype tackle at 6-4, 284, he's still strong and moves pretty well. Also like Alfred, Hannam missed all of spring drills due to injury, but, everything sounds good for the start of camp.


The backup offensive tackles will likely be Joe Eppele and Tyson Pencer. Both are enormous Canadians, hailing from the great white north province of British Columbia.

Eppele's at 6-8, 306 and Pencer at 6-6, 297. But they are green, Eppele with two starts, Pencer with none as he is just coming off his red-shirt frosh season this year. Eppele is another smarty pants, placing on the second-team All-Academic PAC-10 squad for two straight years. While he only started two games last year, he did see action in 10 games total.

Inside, you will likely find Brian Danaher and Andrew Roxas as the backup guards. Danaher is a lunchpail-n-hardhat type, not a spectacular athlete but gives you all he's got. He's perfectly slated as a backup, but he still started EIGHT games last year. That's some good experience to have in there, and he'll be ready when called upon. Andrew Roxas, like Danaher, is also experienced, starting eight games himself last year. Roxas made a name for himself in 2007, when he stepped in as a frosh and started for the injured Kenny Alfred vs. UCLA. The result was a 27-7 victory at home that saw the Cougs run for 274 yards on the day, by far the season high in '07.

Roxas has basically been a backup at center and guard ever since, and that's where he'll open up '09.

So that's a look at the starters, plus some key backups. Now here's something else to think about - remember that NO HUDDLE OFFENSE we heard so much about when Wulff was hired?!? No? Neither do I. That's because we barely saw the thing after the first game of the year. Once the injuries started to mount, forget it. But it wasn't anybody's fault, really. The whole idea was just too much, too soon, for everyone on offense to handle. But not anymore. It's been said repeatedly that 2009 will see the "real" WSU/Todd Sturdy offense, and that involves a fast-paced, no-huddle scheme that is aggressive from the get-go. Now that we've seen a season in the books for all these guys involved, all in this new scheme, we'll finally get a chance to see the real deal. Will the no-huddle give everyone a chance to show what they can really do? Is the O-line up to the task? The beauty is that we are going to find out!

So what do you think of the O-line? It looks pretty paper. But we're still quite a ways away from Stanford on 9/5.

That's about it for a Monday. Enjoy heading back to the grind, and as always, GO COUGS!


Chris '04 said...

I stopped reading after this: "And to make things worse, we heard a few things about Romeo over the weekend that, uh, let's just say him leaving Pullman is the best thing for everyone."

So now you have to spill the beans.

Sean Hawkins said...

No chance Chris. No chance. Just be assured it's a very good thing he is no longer around. End of story.

Longball said...

Another great write-up, Hawk. We will just have to take your word on Pellum, but as usual there seems to be more to the story then what the team chose to report.

Put me in the Joe Eppele fan club. I have talked here about how he is one of the few big fellas we have that passes the eye test. On the Spring depth chart they have him as the starter at right tackle, but with injuries and other considerations that doesn't mean squat about who lines up against the Furd in week 1. This group just has to have better fortunes as a unit this year and that alone should make them better. But next year, with another season under their belts (in the "real" offense) and the tutelage of a head coach who is an offensive line specialist, i have high hopes for our O line in 2010.

If we are going to significantly improve this year, it has to start in the trenches. But with that said, good O lines feed off the success of the skill players they block for. If our RBs can start breaking off runs, and our passing game can move the chains, the big guys up front will get their first taste of success and start really pushing people around.

Stiffmiester said...

Longball beat me to it with the fact that Wulff should be the master at coaching up the line. This has to be key with the no huddle and the emphasis that puts on OLine making reads and adjustments at the line in a short period of time before the snap. Does anyone know what type of blocking scheme we use (Zone?)

The Coug-A-Sutra said...


For expertise on O-Line schemes, we'll all have to defer to fellow Blogfather, Hooty McBoob.

But if I remember correctly from my last convo with Hooty, our primary blocking scheme for the past several years has been a modified "look out" zone.

We'll see how things go in Zeptember.

Brian said...

I'm not so sure I WANT to see the "real" offense (no-huddle). Although it might help the offense move the chains a little, I would think that a fast paced offense would lead to less clock possession regardless of how successful they are... which means putting that defense on the field more... I do not like that thought.

That being said, the strength of our team should be the O-line. We will need it to be our strength because we need to take advantage of the talent at RB and run the ball over and over. Not to mention that it would be nice to avoid burning through 4-5 different QB's this year...

Sean Hawkins said...

Pretty sure it's zone blocking. Etheridge has actually written a book on offensive line schemes.


"Their production is indicative of the struggles the offensive line is having in the Cougs' zone blocking schemes in the transition to the no-huddle."

“It’s a simple scheme,we're just not executing it right now."

Etheridge's book:

'03CouveCoug said...

This is where it all begins. The performance of this group will be extremely indicative of how our offense overall is going to fare this season. I know, not much of a news flash there, but truly, the only way our offense gets better is if this group shows a lot of improvement from last season.

Health will play a major role. There is no doubt that if this group can enjoy some continuity that improvement is bound to take place. I’m very happy that one positive result of the catastrophe that was last season is experience for 8 of our returning lineman. Additionally, if Alfred can stay healthy, this group will make huge strides on the field in terms of the group being in the right place doing the right things nearly all the time. A good, smart center that is well versed in the offense can make a world of difference.

I also think that the two “hosers” (great Strange Brew pic, Sedi) Eppele and Pencer could end up being stars in the future…I recall Wulff raving about their athleticism along with their already immense size at last year’s Columbia River Golf Tourney. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eppele beat out Ayers in fall camp.

I’m looking forward to a much improved 2009 from this group, which should progress this team by leaps and bounds immediately.

Sean Hawkins said...

But I want to see it Brian. Please let me see this offense we've only heard about! :)

Seriously, the training wheels have to come off at some point. I would rather they take some growing pains out there trying to execute a decent offensive scheme vs. what we were seeing last year. They have had their grace period, now let's see who sinks or swims in the new scheme.

And Couve, right you are. If they can't get it done up front then it will be another long, tough season. I know I am holding my breath for Ocho Rojo to be healthy, but there may not be anyone more important than Kenny Alfred.

But even more, I can't remember when we had this many kids on the two-deep who actually had game experience. I mean our likely backup guards both started eight games last year, that's almost 3/4ths of last season. Yeah, they got pushed around and man-handled, but at least they got the game experience out of the way. You can't teach experience like that.

I don't know what to make of Eppele. He was extremely raw when he finally made it, but he certainly passes the eye test. The guy is GIII-NORMOUS. But here he is a junior, with all that size and strength, and he's projected as a backup to Ayers? That is going to be a good battle to watch in August. And who knows with the depth charts this early. It can change quite a bit from the end of spring to the beginning of the season, so we'll see!

BornCoug said...

I think it is a good sign to see Williams at guard but I really hope Eppele or Pencer can take over for Hannam. I have heard many people think he should move inside as well. It looks like there isn't enough outside for him to make the move and they actually have some depth inside.

I wonder if Hogdon plays this year and when will Freitag see a few snaps?

Brian said...

Sean, you're right. After thinking about it a little more, I don't know what I was thinking... I was really saying that I didn't want the offense to score too quickly?!?

I just want them to score!!! Who cares how long it takes, whether it's a drive that eats up an entire quarter or 1 play, I just want us to put some points on the board. Enough with these 50 point losses!

The experience and depth we have at the line should be huge for us. Guys will likely go down (it just happens in football) so at least we can take comfort knowing that everyone's been there before.