PULLMAN -- Center Josh Duin, nursing a knee strain, might be ready to practice Wednesday and could play Saturday against USC, line coach George Yarno said Tuesday. Right now, though, Kenny Alfred -- who has played considerably this year off the bench at center and guard -- will get the start. And for the second straight week, starting left guard Sean O'Connor will step in at left tackle.
O'Connor is moving over in place of injured Bobby Byrd. Dan Rowlands, who played sparingly last week with a tweaked knee, looked good Tuesday and is slated to start at O'Connor's left guard slot.
The rest of the line will be rounded out by Andy Roof at right guard and Charles Harris at right tackle. Roof started last week at Stanford after sitting out the first three games with a broken thumb.
Derek Hunter and Jacob McKinney will be the first hosses off the bench.
"Coach Yarno does a super job of teaching, and every offensive lineman knows every position," said head coach Bill Doba. "It's the toughest position to learn on any football team. We're a little thin there -- we've had an inordinate amount of injuries.
"The years that we've been good, the offensive line has been the same the whole year through. It's a concern of mine and we're going to have to shore it up and do some things to try to help them out."
Yarno said the final call on Duin's status will be made at the end of this week. Duin hurt his knee against Stanford.
Alfred, a second-year freshman who has not started this season but took the majority of snaps in the Baylor game, has "kind of worked his way into that (starting) position anyway, so he's going to be ready," Yarno said.
The outlook for Byrd, an honor candidate who suffered a right knee MCL sprain against Baylor, is unclear. "We're just waiting until it heals enough to play,"Yarno said. "I don't know when, probably not this week."
THE COUGARS' CORPS of tight ends, unlike the offensive line, now is completely healthy. Senior backup Jesse Taylor returned to practice Tuesday following a right knee MCL sprain and is good to go Saturday, said tight ends coach Greg Peterson.
Taylor returns to a unit which has come up big several times this season, but still has room for improvement according to Peterson. "I think at times we've played well enough to win, but am I satisfied with where we're at? Not yet. But I don't know if you ever get totally satisfied with how well you can play.
"In the run game, in the first three ball games, we blocked fairly well. The Stanford game maybe wasn't our best game in the run game, but I feel that we caught the ball pretty well, so guys are contributing, doing some good things."
One of those guys is senior starter Cody Boyd, who has 11 catches for 170 yards this season. He echoed the sentiments of his coach on Tuesday. "We've been picking it up the last couple of weeks, and now we'll step it up a little more."
Both Boyd and Peterson sang the praises of every player in the unit, with Peterson specifically singling out Taylor and second-year freshman Tony Thompson for their hustle and special teams play.
USC HAS ALL DOBA'S ATTENTION
Doba was succinct Tuesday when asked about USC. "I see too much," he said. "We watch their offensive line and it looks like a chorus line. They all step on a zone play in the same step. They come up, they keep their shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage, and they get down hill in a hurry.
"Defensively, I think they're better than they were a year ago on defense ... the linebacking corps is scary to be honest with you. We're a little nicked up in the offensive line and that's where it concerns me the most ... I think they've got to be one of the best defenses in the country. Defenses win championships. The last championship they won, they talked all about Leinart and Bush and everything but when they went down to that bowl game, that defense just manhandled them. Their D-Line that year I thought was the best D-Line I'd seen in years. They've done a nice job of mixing up the different fronts and stunts, their zone blitzes but I think the linebacker corps is just really exceptional.
"I don't know if Dwayne Jarrett is going to play or not but that's a big loss to them. He's become Booty's favorite target and he'd mine too if I were a quarterback, but Fred Davis does a heck of a job. It looks like those two have hooked up. Steve Smith is also an excellent receiver. If they do lose Jarrett for this game, it's not like they lose their whole offense. They've got two great running backs. I like (Emmanuel) Moody. I think he's really coming on and (Chauncey) Washington hurt us last year if I remember correctly. There's a reason they're ranked No. 2 in the nation and I'm not so sure they shouldn't be ranked No. 1."