WSU offensive lineman Joe Dahl is out to prove that he can run block as well as he can pass block, and that he’s big and athletic enough to compete for an NFL roster spot

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As one of 19 offensive linemen at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. this week, Washington State offensive lineman Joe Dahl is out to prove that he can run block as well as he can pass block, and that he’s big and athletic enough to compete for an NFL roster spot.

The one quality that’s not in question is his toughness.

Dahl, who measured 6-foot-3, 299 pounds at the Senior Bowl’s official weigh-ins on Tuesday, played four games this season with a broken left foot that ultimately caused him to miss the final four games of the regular season.

“After our fourth game (against Cal) my foot just started killing me and it just kept getting worse until the Stanford game, when I could barely walk,” Dahl said Wednesday in a phone interview from Mobile. “We got an x-ray after that, and it revealed that I’d had a stress fracture for about a month, and it just finally broke.”

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Dahl had surgery on his foot on Nov. 1, and the bone healed in time for him to return to WSU’s starting lineup in the Cougars’ Sun Bowl game against Miami on Dec. 26.

Despite playing only nine games last year, the Cougars’ starting left tackle was named to the USA Today All-America second team and invited to the Senior Bowl, the most prestigious of all the pre-NFL Scouting Combine senior all-star games.

The Senior Bowl game will be televised live on the NFL Network this Saturday at 11:30 a.m. PT.

Dahl is on the North team that’s coached by the Dallas Cowboys staff, and over the first two days of practice, he appears to have caught the eye of former Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian, who’s now a commentator for ESPN.

After Wednesday’s North team practice, which was televised live on ESPNU, Polian was asked to name a player who had stood out.

“I thought Joe Dahl from Washington State handled everything that anybody threw at him,” Polian said. “He’s got big balance, big punch, he’s technically really sound and has really good movement.

“He plays in a pure spread Air Raid offense, so he’s got a little advantage in pass protection, but in terms of the run game, he was fine.”

If other scouts concur with Polian, who was also formerly the general manager of the Carolina Panthers, that should go a long way toward boosting Dahl’s draft stock.

The Spokane native started 34 total games in his WSU career, playing left guard during his sophomore season before moving to left tackle in 2014. Dahl gave up only one sack throughout his entire junior season, and three sacks in 2015, though WSU offensive line coach Clay McGuire is quick to point out that even on those three sacks last season, “Joe never really got beat. It’s just the way the play broke down. And this year he played real nicked up.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Dahl graded out as the best offensive tackle in the country in 2015, but despite his success guarding the quarterback’s blind side in college, his lack of size could necessitate a move to guard at the NFL level.

Dahl played left guard with the North team on Tuesday, but swung between left and right guard at practice on Wednesday because of an injury to one of the other North team linemen.

He did well against Ohio State defensive tackle Adolphus Washington in one-on-one drills on Wednesday, drawing praise from ESPN commentators Polian and Louis Riddick, a former NFL Director of Pro Personnel with Washington and Philadelphia.

“Joe Dahl has been really impressive, he more than held his own against Washington,” Riddick said. “He’s an accomplished pass protector and he’s a guy NFL offensive line coaches are going to be looking forward to working with.”

Dahl worked extensively with Cowboys’ offensive line coach Frank Pollack during practice, with Pollack correcting his hand placement and exhorting him to “stay square.”

“Coach Pollack has helped me a lot right now,” said Dahl, who is represented by Bruce Tollner of the Irvine, Calif.-based Rep1 Sports agency. “There’s a lot to be learned still. I came out of an offense that’s not very similar at all to pro style schemes so I’m just trying to absorb as much information as possible.”

Dahl needs to adapt to playing out of a three-point stance  and setting up in a traditional pass set. In Mike Leach’s Air Raid, offensive linemen generally line up in a two-point stance, and are more spaced out from one another than in a typical pro-style offense.

The knock on Dahl is that he needs to show more consistency in his run blocking, and that it’s difficult to evaluate Air Raid offensive linemen because they come from such a unique system.

But McGuire, a former Texas Tech offensive lineman who also coached the offensive line on Leach’s Red Raiders staff, believes there are misconceptions out there about how Air Raid linemen don’t adapt well to the NFL, and that the Cougs’ offensive system doesn’t produce offensive linemen who can run block.

“We don’t run as many of the gap scheme run plays and we’re not your traditional offense that does things every other team in college football does. Nobody throws the ball 60 times a game,” McGuire said. “But can (Dahl) run block? Well yeah, Joe’s real good at run blocking. He’s done it.”

Also, here’s a stat that might surprise you. Even though the Air Raid has become known for its success at developing NFL-caliber receivers, McGuire claims that Leach’s Texas Tech teams churned out more NFL offensive linemen than players in any other position.

“One’s going to be starting in the Super Bowl. Denver’s (offensive guard) Louis Vasquez,” McGuire said. “He played for us.”

The facts support McGuire’s assertion: from 2000-09, Leach’s staff at Texas Tech produced six receivers who went on to play in the NFL. However, they coached seven offensive linemen who caught on with NFL teams. Five of those seven were drafted, and three, including Vasquez, are still on NFL rosters today.

Dahl projects as a mid-round draft selection, and he’s hoping to be the first offensive lineman to get drafted since the Leach era began at WSU, and the first since offensive tackle Calvin Armstrong was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the sixth round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

“I think Joe has a chance to have a long career in the NFL,” McGuire said.