WSU first-team offensive line takes kind, Christian Hilborn named starter at left guard
PULLMAN — Washington State’s first-team offensive line discovered its ultimate piece.
Over the previous three weeks, the Cougars evaluated their choices at left guard. On Thursday, coach Jake Dickert named the winner of the place battle.
Redshirt freshman Christian Hilborn is predicted to line up with WSU’s starters when the workforce opens its season Sept. 3 at residence towards Idaho.
“Christian Hilborn we feel like has really established himself coming out of fall camp as that guy,” Dickert stated. “We’re really happy with Christian’s progress and I think he’s really earned that (role).”
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Hilborn labored primarily with WSU’s first workforce at left guard for the primary two weeks of fall camp. The Cougars then gave Fa’alili Fa’amoe a check run on the place. Fa’amoe, a former defensive lineman who was flipped to offensive deal with this offseason, held down beginning duties all through Week 3.
But the Cougars suppose Fa’amoe has higher potential at deal with, contemplating his athleticism and lean construct.
“We feel very comfortable about leaving ’Lili, as an athlete, more at the tackle position,” Dickert stated.
“(Fa’amoe) is still new to the position. His progress is tremendous. … He hasn’t reached his best football yet, so we’re excited about ’Lili and what he’s doing and giving us another option at tackle.”
Dickert stated he’s “kind of set on playing six guys” up entrance this season. Fa’amoe will presumably be the primary off the bench to alleviate one of many starters — left deal with Jarrett Kingston or proper deal with Ma’ake Fifita.
Fifita has returned to the sphere after lacking most of fall camp with an damage. Guard Brock Dieu can be again in pads after spending the previous two weeks sidelined.
“Everybody’s out there, ready to get going,” Dickert stated. “We’re excited about having those guys back in the mix.”
WSU’s 2022 offensive line options three returning starters, but it surely’s nonetheless a new-look group. The Cougars restructured their O-line after a handful of huge males departed following the 2021 season.
The Cougars are assured of their high tackles — Kingston and Fifita, who had been dependable starters as guards final season. The two had been successfully locked in as WSU’s beginning tackles for the longer term once they switched positions late within the 2021 marketing campaign.
The Cougars are changing two mainstays on the deal with positions in Abraham Lucas and Liam Ryan. Lucas is rising because the Seattle Seahawks’ beginning proper deal with and Ryan is combating for a roster spot with the identical franchise.
Kingston and Fifita made their debuts on the deal with spots final yr on the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, after Lucas and Ryan opted out of the season finale.
Hilborn made his first profession begin in that recreation — at proper deal with — however struggled within the first quarter and was changed by Fifita, who had began at proper guard. Dieu, in his collegiate debut, crammed in admirably for Fifita.
Hilborn carried out nicely throughout spring camp with WSU’s first workforce and got here into fall exercises as a favourite to start out at one of many guard positions. In Hilborn, the Cougars see a excessive ceiling.
“Don’t sleep on Christian Hilborn,” Dickert stated final week. “He’s had one heckuva camp.”
Offensive line coach Clay McGuire has been impressed with Hilborn’s “competitive spirit” — expressed on the sphere by means of an aggressive taking part in fashion and fiery persona.
“I think he really loves playing football, I really do,” McGuire stated just lately. “He loves to do it and he pays attention.
“I think he’s really improved himself. I keep reminding myself that he’s still a young player, just a freshman still. I think he’s got an opportunity to be a really good football player.”
Dieu gives “extra wiggle room” for the Cougars’ guard positions, Dickert stated. The second-year freshman won’t crack the rotation, however he’ll add depth.
If one in all WSU’s beginning guards — Hilborn or grad switch Grant Stephens — had been to be unavailable, the Cougars would almost definitely name on Fa’amoe to play deal with, then shift both Kingston or Fifita again to protect.
“If we’re going to have ’Lili in the rotation, we’ll kick one of the older guys inside probably,” Dickert stated, “just because it’s easier to bounce some of those guys.”
Stephens earned All-Big Sky honors final season with no consideration deal with at Northern Colorado.
The Cougars flipped him inside to fill a necessity, and Stephens hasn’t missed a day as WSU’s No. 1 proper guard this preseason.
“He worked really, really hard to prepare himself all through summer to be able to come out here on the first day and know what he’s doing,” McGuire stated.
Center Konner Gomness, an eight-game starter final yr, drew regular reward all through fall camp for his consistency and management.
“Konner hasn’t missed a rep since we’ve been here,” stated McGuire, the Cougars’ former O-line coach underneath Mike Leach who rejoined WSU’s workers earlier this yr. “Konner has done an unbelievable job from Day 1 of taking control of that group.”
Gomness organized offensive line exercises all through the offseason to expedite the event means of the reshaped unit.
“Konner Gomness is a great leader,” Stephens stated. “We were out six days a week getting O-line drills done in the summertime, and that’s not very common around the country. So, it’s one of the hardest-working groups I’ve ever been around and I take a lot of pride in being a part of this group.”
WSU will depend on Kingston, a third-year starter, to make a clean transition to left deal with and shield the blind aspect of quarterback Cameron Ward. The Cougars like Kingston’s expertise, foot pace, steadiness and talent to anchor cross safety .
“When he’s out there doing his thing, he’s the example you always watch,” McGuire stated.
WSU isn’t blessed with depth within the trenches this season — many of the workforce’s second-string O-linemen have by no means appeared in a collegiate recreation — so it will likely be essential for the Cougars to keep away from accidents up entrance.
“We gotta keep them healthy,” Dickert stated. “Every Saturday, we gotta have those guys ready to go.”
WSU’s deep, gifted line of defense had a transparent edge towards the reserve O-linemen in workforce drills. Fifita’s absence was obvious at instances throughout 11-on-11 durations between starters. The veteran-laden defensive entrance gave the Cougars’ beginning offensive line a check this preseason, to say the least. But the benefit turned much less apparent as camp wore on.
Asked to evaluate the offensive line’s progress for the reason that begin of the month, Dickert counseled the unit’s chemistry.
“There’s a connectedness with the group, and I think that’s exactly what you need on the offensive line,” he stated. “They don’t have the big names, (like) an Abe Lucas … but collectively, they can be really, really strong.
“They’ve taken a big step forward. There’s still a learning curve of where we want to be, but I think those guys are getting better each and every day. It’s about the connectedness of the whole unit and how they’re playing together better.”