Mike Leach's first fall camp at Washington State University is right around the corner, with practices set to begin on Thursday afternoon. Fall camp serves a dual purpose: Both as a way to get extended preparation in for the season, including polishing the scheme, and to flesh out position battles. It's an exciting time for fans of the Cougars and we're here to guide you on your way as camp nears.
Leach said he'll basically reinstall the offense again -- same plays, formations and otherwise -- in an effort to get the new guys up to speed. The acclimation period, spent without pads, is a good time to do this, and should allow both sides of the ball to work out some of the kinks and shake the rest.
But this is about the position battles, and there should be plenty. There are starting spots up for grabs, of course, but there are also spots in positional rotations to keep an eye on. So let's take a look, shall we?
Quarterback: Let's just throw this in here for fun and to start up the Jeff Tuel vs. Connor Halliday debate again. I expect Tuel to be the starter when Washington State takes the field to open the season against BYU. It would be a significant surprise to see Halliday out there after he missed, essentially, all of spring while recovering from his liver laceration.
But Halliday will get a shot. He'll get plenty of reps throughout the fall and will get his chance to challenge Tuel. He's just so far behind at this point, and Tuel has a big edge, that it's hard to see him taking over the starting spot.
Defensive line: Thanks to a pair of headphones, the defensive line rotation is up in the air at the moment. Anthony Laurenzi is out, as you all know by now, and his spot is up for grabs. Toni Pole should be the starting nosetackle, or in the rotation at one of the spots as a starter, and Xavier Cooper is also a likely starter. The previous coaching staff was high on Cooper and he showed well during the spring.
Lenard Williams is also returning and should see plenty of time at one of the end spots. Matthew Bock also saw heavy time in the rotation during the spring. There's also David Davis, Justin Clayton (though he's been plagued by knee injuries) and Adam Coerper (also injuries).
Newcomers include Ioane Gauta and Robert Barber. Considering the depth, or lack thereof, on the defensive line, either or both could see time.
Secondary: I think most of the secondary is locked up at the moment, though Nolan Washington could challenge for one of the starting cornerback spots. Washington was out for most of the spring, only half-participating in drills before working in the sand pit or riding a bike.
The other battle to watch: free safety, where Tyree Toomer and Casey Locker are both listed as the starter. Toomer's spring ended early with an undisclosed injury. Locker also sat out the end of the spring session. Both will likely split reps during the fall camp.
Running back: During the spring, Leach made it a point to say he had trouble distinguishing the running backs. All are of similar build and stature, though they each sort of specialize in different things. Leon Brooks was great catching passes, especially screens. Rickey Galvin is, as always, shifty and quick. Carl Winston is more of the power guy, with Leach pointing out the running back's tree trunk legs.
It's likely all see time in the rotation along with Teondray Caldwell. There's no clear "leader" at the moment, though, and fall camp should help settle which ends up starting. Edit: Forgot about Marcus Mason, who plays the speed role.
Offensive line: It was a rotating cast of characters during the spring, with players switching positions and working with different units. Wade Jacobson should be ready to go, which should be a boost. I'd also expect John Fullington to be one of the bookends. Rico Forbes, however, may be challenged for his right tackle spot, though he showed well during the spring. Jake Rodgers and Dan Spitz should also see heavy time in the rotation and the center spot is up for grabs between Matt Goetz, Elliott Bosch and Taylor Meighen.
Good luck trying to figure this one out.
Wide receiver: We know the starters, but Leach will use at least an eight-man rotation. It'll be interesting to see which receivers make the rotation -- especially at the H spot, where Bennett Bontemps is listed at the starter -- and if any of the freshman jump into the mix. Gabe Marks seems like a good bet here.
I'm leaving out the linebacker spot because, at the moment, it's pretty set. During the spring, Darryl Monroe was the starting MIKE, Chester Su'a was the WIL, Eric Oertel was the SAM and Travis Long was the BUCK. There were no real changes to the starting unit and these four worked together almost exclusively. Logan Mayes will obviously see time at the BUCK, where he excelled during the spring, especially in pass-rushing situations.