THE TOP STORY UP FRONT this fall camp has been the defense, in particular the defensive line. And with that development, the consensus on the offensive line has been they've struggled. But there’s something not to be overlooked in considering that battle in the trenches… For clarity, we went to a Cougar quarterback with years of first hand-knowledge who took in a fall camp scrimmage and practice.
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When the Cougar lines battle on any given snap, keep in mind, says Jason Gesser, there are times the defense knows exactly what’s coming. And that's an edge that can make all the difference.
It's what gets lost in looking at fall camp practice and determining who won the day.
Sometimes the coaches run the same play again, they want to get the execution crisper…Sometimes the coaches will swap out a lineman and then run the same play again…Sometimes the coaches are going to run plays off the card – doesn’t matter the defense knows it’s going to the left, we’re still going to the left, boys.
Regardless of why, it's frequent in fall camp practices to have no element of surprise, and the defense, in part, looks great because of it.
This doesn’t mean the defensive line isn’t playing at a high level – they are. The difference up front on the stop corps has been striking comparing this year to last.
It also doesn’t mean the o-line has been playing letter perfect football – they’ve got work to do.
But the o-line has been playing better than it's appeared on the surface. Of this, Gesser is adamant.
GESSER WATCHED THE first scrimmage of fall camp and the next day's practice. The WSU defense was the story of both days. But it wasn’t the only story.
“Looking at it, our first strong offensive line has improved tremendously in size and ability,” said Gesser. “And not only that, the way they play together, they’re communicating very, very well. Coach (Steve) Morton has got them going pretty nasty. They have an edge to them again.”
Gesser isn’t the only one who has noticed.
“I talked to the coaching staff and they were all really pleased with how the offensive line was playing those days I was there. Not very many mental mistakes, maybe not any at all. Coach (Todd) Sturdy said they’ve gone from a one-mississippi to a two-mississippi in the pass-pro. And don't minimize that -- that can mean a lot,” said Gesser.
So what's the big picture headed into the opener Saturday against OSU?
“The offensive line performing like they are, that opens up Sturdy’s play calling a lot,” said Gesser. “And that was the one thing when I was talking to him that he was so much happier about and excited about for this year – his ability to start doing that with a line that can produce more.
“The big thing is when you have the offensive line, you’re an offensive coordinator and you feel more confident in your guys up there, now you can call certain plays. You can mix things up.
“You can have a run, be successful with it and set up a play action pass. And now if you want to stretch the field a couple times instead of the quick screens and quick gains -- because you didn’t have the time for anything else, now you can. Even if you hit those seams or you don’t, you’re still stretching the defense out and making them play you. It doesn’t allow them to be creeping up, creeping up. The safeties can't cheat into the box, linebackers can't blitz all the time and the corners can't roll up tight.”
In other words, while the defensive line looks to be the strength of the Cougs coming out of fall camp, it’s a new day on the offensive line, too.