When practice began on Sunday, there was a player seen practicing with the defensive unit wearing No. 34. The only player that has worn that number throughout camp is Teondray Caldwell, but he is always in a red jersey playing with the offense. Between Friday evening's practice and Sunday afternoon's full pad workout in Martin Stadium a decision was made to give Caldwell a look on defense.
Caldwell was a staple of the Cougar backfield last season making five starts and appearing in all 13 games as a running back and kick returner. Caldwell's role diminished towards the end of 2013 with the emergence of Marcus Mason as the main running back. However, Caldwell never went a game without seeing at least one carry and catching a pass. Now both Mason and Caldwell have seen significantly diminished roles at running back over the course of the fall camp. Mason spent Sunday as a member of the scout team.
Caldwell is not the first member of the team that has shifted from offense to defense since Mike Leach arrived. Last season Rahmel Dockery moved from the receiver position to corner before quitting the team fall camp in 2013. Sebastian Larue transferred to WSU last January and moved from receiver to the safety. LaRue has now been absent from several practices with "family matters" cited as the reason. Charleston White came to WSU as a receiver and has been moved to corner where he now sits with the second unit. Others that have made the offense to defense switch under Leach include Jared Byers, Skylar Stormo, and Max Hersey.
The timing of this move doesn't seem to make it match with the rest. In the other cases, you are looking players who mostly switched when their role became redundant (i.e. tight ends) or they were early in their college careers. The motivation for a player to switch is usually to see a quicker path to the field. Caldwell has been auspiciously absent from the offensive backfield with both the first and second units this year as Theron West, Jamal Morrow, and recently Gerard Wicks have got the bulk of the carries. Caldwell would have another season to battle for time at running back after this season, but may face competition from Squally Canada in addition to Morrow and Wicks in 2015.
Caldwell has clearly showed his athleticism at both the running back and kick returner positions, but is now be pushed aside by younger players. Although he has fallen from the depth chart at running back, Caldwell might be just too athletic to not see the field. It will be interesting to see the path that the coaches take with him if the switch to defense sticks. He may possibly have a redshirt year while he makes the transition. If Caldwell does permanently make the switch, Coug fans will be hoping that he can deliver punishment to receivers like he did to the Oregon defender below after intercepting a pass.