Part eight in an eight-part series previewing the WSU football 2010 offensive and defensive units.
The tight end spot is filled with question marks for the Cougars. Skylar Stormo is still recovering from a broken hand suffered in offseason passing drills and Aaron Dunn -- expected to contribute as a freshman -- is out for the year, leaving the bulk of the work in the hands of Stormo and Andre Lintz.
At receiver, The Cougs return their first stringers in Gino Simone, Daniel Blackledge, and Jared Karstetter. Backup Jefferey Solomon is a capable, and versatile, backup after gaining some experience last year. Newcomers Isiah Barton, Maquess Wilson, and Kristoff Williams step into the rotation as first year players. There's talent out wide, but with it comes inexperience.
With quarterback Jeff Tuel returning as the starter, the offense should see an uptick. Tuel established a rapport with the receivers -- especially Simone -- in his time last season and has continued that during individual work throughout the offseason. The future looks bright for the Cougs' passing game, but will it be enough this year?
Projected Depth Chart For Sept. 4
This is our best guess based on the preseason depth chart and published reports.
And at the TE spot
No real surprises here. Karstetter, Blackledge, and Simone are the starters, but anyone on the two-deeps at receiver will see time. Kristoff Williams is missing from the two-deeps with a toe injury, but will likely see time as he returns from injury. The receiver corps boasts four returning scholarship players and three newcomers that will see significant time.
At the TE spot, the loss of Aaron Dunn does hurt. Stormo and Lintz will shoulder the load and with the 6th year waiver status of Zach Tatman and Aaron Gehring apparently up in the air, the position is full of unknowns.
Gino Simone. The sophomore wide receiver was a favorite target and safety valve for Jeff Tuel last year. The two started off in the program together and have a knack for being on the same page and reading each others' thoughts in the passing game. The shifty slot receiver has been able to find holes in the defense and make himself available for Tuel. Recovering from a nagging hamstring injury, Simone needs to return to form and be the guy Tuel can always find in the Cougar passing game.
Biggest Question Mark
How will the newcomers at WR adjust and can the TEs play a role in the Cougar offense? With three first-year players expected to see time at receiver, the young Cougs will need to adjust to the college game quickly. Although Barton has JC experience, none of them have played at this level. It's a learning curve, and one they'll need to quickly accerlerate.
At TE, Stormo and Lintz will both see time in the passing game. In double TE sets, if both aren't on the field, one will be replaced by Aaron Byers or Marcus Richmond as an H-Back. For the Cougs to run the offense they want, the TEs need to step up.
Best Case Scenario
The young players step in and are playmakers out of the gate. Marquess Wilson stretches the field and captures the hearts of Cougar Nation. Karstetter and Simone have an even better rapport with Jeff Tuel and make big plays to stretch the field. Blackledge gets over his case of the dropsies and is a useful weapon and the TEs play as versatile blockers and receivers.
Worst Case Scenario
Skyler Stormo never recovers from his broken hand and is useless in the passing game. Andre Lintz doesn't step up and the TE production is non-existent. The receivers don't catch the ball and the newcomers aren't ready for the college game. With no time to throw or deep threat to hit, Jeff Tuel is a sitting duck.
The receivers take some time, but get acclimated by the middle of the season. The TEs are serviceable, but not spectacular. Tuel picks up where he left off and continues to grow, running a more ideal form of the Cougar offense. If there are some injuries at receiver, the younger guys step in and play admirably.