It simultaneously feels like no time and a lifetime has passed since we watched Washington State play a football game. Roughly four months after the Holiday Bowl, we get to catch a glimpse of the team before the plodding off-season disappears them into the doldrums of summer and we don’t get reacquainted until August.
There’s been coaching changes, new recruits, departing players, and a wealth of stats from last season to digest.
Checking in on the defense
Defensive line coach Jeff Phelps, plucked from Minnesota, steps in to fill the shoes of Coach Joe, who Oregon made one of the highest paid defensive line coaches in all of college football with their money printing machine that looks like human Phil Knight.
Phelps has his work cut out for him. In the past few seasons, the Cougs have had a couple big nose tackle and run-stopping defensive tackle / defensive end types (Xavier Cooper, Destiny Vaeao, Toni Pole, and Ione Gauta) to plug up the interior. The slow transition to #speedD has showed up on paper too. Ngalu Tapa (RJr., 6-2 323 lbs) is the only nose tackle (of “traditional” nose tackle size) on the roster, with the rest of the players clustering around two weights; 285 lbs and 260 lbs.
This likely means the front-seven may function a little differently for the Cougars next fall. While the line (and OLB - Rush Ends) lack the number of big-bodies we’ve seen in the past, they have more than a few rocket pass-rushers; Nnamdi Oguayo and Chima Onyeukwu especially should be fun to watch.
Because of the split-squad nature of the Spring Game we won’t get a real good look at how Phelps and the staff are looking to platoon the players, but we do get a chance to see some of their individual talents.
Shalom Luani was very important to the defense last year. Kyle Sherwood put it rather elegantly in that “he was the rug that held the room together”.
So who steps up? Sean Harper, a JC transfer, has been rumored to be playing well, so has Hunter Dale and Jalen Thompson.
The corners are pretty well locked-down with Darrien Molten on one side and a combination of Marcellus Pippins and Marcus Strong on the other.
Safety will be the fun competition to watch on Saturday.
The Nickel position is actually segregated on the roster now and the Cougs have two listed; Kirkland Parker and Justus Rogers — former quarterback in Bellevue who’s bulked up to a solid 225lbs and could make a play at starting.
How about some stats?
Wazzu rather dramatically changed its offense right before our eyes last season, which is a testament to the versatility of Coach Leach’s Air Raid. It’s surprising to see a single offense adapt in such different ways.
The X-axis are the offensive positions. “X” and “H” are the outside and inside receiver to the left of the center in their standard 2x2 offensive formation - “Ace”. “Z” and “Y” are the outside and inside receiver to the right of the formation. “F” is the running back position.
For most of Coach Leach’s tenure at WSU, the “X” position has dominated attention. First with Marquess Wilson, then with Vince Mayle followed by Dom Williams, who started to share more as Gabe Marks began assaulting defenses at Z.
For the first time in Wazzu’s history with the Air Raid, over 50 pct of the offense went through the running back position. Nearly 32 of the 58 touches dolled out to skill position players per game went to either James Williams, Gerard Wicks, or Jamal Morrow. And they turned that into an average 207 total yards per game.
Friends, Wazzu is #RBU right now. As an “Air Raid School”.
We’ll have more on both the run game and passing game stats in the following weeks. For now, know that it’s good to have Earth, Wind, and Fire and Boobie — that quartet needs a new and improved name -- as your workhorse of the offense while some green receivers get acclimated to larger roles in the outside receiver spots.
Speaking of receivers.
The Cougs picked up a new inside receivers coach from Toledo in Derek Sage. They also lost two of the most prolific wide receivers in program history in Gabe Marks and River Cracraft. The duo accounted for roughly a third of WSU’s passing yardage last season.
Easop Winston -- who comes to us from San Francisco CC — has been getting a lot of praise for his work at Y (Cracraft’s old position). Luke Falk recently stated after practice he had the “best hands I’ve ever seen”. Kyle Sweet, who was secretly one of WSU’s more explosive receivers last fall splitting reps at H with Robert Lewis, could also flip to the right side.
Kyrin Priester is also back on the roster and to be honest, I don’t have a clue what his playing status could be for this fall. Coach Leach has been nebulous in his commentary on the subject, as he is with most personnel matters. So...if he’s playing, he’s also a really talented receiver that could do some special things inside at Y.
Flipping to the left inside receiver, H, you have Robert Lewis as the veteran likely taking most of the reps. Kyle Sweet backed him up last season and could again this fall, also Renard Bell figures to push for playing time here and should be exciting to watch on Saturday.
The most exciting will probably be CJ Dimry. Dimry has battled through a ton of bad injury luck in his time at WSU and was granted an extra year of eligibility. He will stand out at the X — left outside receiver — position because he is 6-5 and also hasn’t ever gotten a chance to show what he’s got. Dimry was a fairly raw receiver coming out of Saddleback College a few years ago, he’s looking significantly more polished this spring and should push to be one of the primary targets at X.
That’ll be a tough competition though. Tavares Martin Jr. dominated the position last fall and could either stay there or rotate back to the opposite side at Z, which would make a lot of sense. Dezmon Patmon also figures to make a name for himself at X after backing up Martin last fall.
Isaiah Johnson-Mack will likely be one of the top guys at Z, but it’s a little unknown who they’ll rotate over with him. Freshman Anthony White Jr. is an early enrollee from the 2017 signing class that could be out there.
To recap, here’s the things that I’ll be looking at during the game;
- Who’s playing well along the DL and OLB, how does it look like they’re using them.
- Who’s stepping up to fill Shalom Luani’s shoes? They giving more run-stopping responsibility to Nickel?
- Anything new for the F? Play designs and whatnot?
- Where are the receivers playing and does anyone look like they have an edge so far.
- Does Hilinksi give us any reason to be concerned or are we ok there.
What are you guys excited to see?
Be sure to drop by our tailgate if you’re going to the Spring Game and say hi!