Preseason camp is only five days old at this point for the Washington State Cougars, so there are limited conclusions to be drawn. That said, there are a handful of developments that are worth noting and passing along if you’ve not been reading the daily practice reports from Theo Lawson (Spokesman-Review) and Dylan Haugh (Cougfan).
In no particular order, here are some things to know.
The WRs could maybe possibly be just fine (we think)
The state of the wide receivers has been a frequent topic of debate around here, what with the departures of Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, easily the two most productive receivers of Mike Leach’s time in Pullman.
So far, the guys left behind look like they won’t miss a beat. Tavares Martin Jr. is shredding people, as expected. But the young guys — sophomores Isaiah Johnson-Mack and Dezmon Patmon, and freshmen Jamire Calvin and Tay Martin — are winning lots and lots of battles.
There’s always a little bit of “is it good offense or bad defense?” to these sorts of things, but given the experience in the secondary — and given the plainly obvious physical tools of the receivers, which, cumulatively speaking, are pretty clearly the most of Leach’s six seasons — I put a little more stock in what’s happening out there in the first week than I might otherwise.
We saw what Johnson-Mack and Patmon were poised to do during spring practices, but Calvin (a four-star recruit who committed late to WSU) and Tay Martin (an overlooked three-star recruit who was) are turning heads.
“Very quick, good stop and start,” Leach said of Calvin. “Can stop suddenly and start suddenly. Very elusive. The other thing, pretty knowledgeable and kind of a real hungry to be coached kind of guy.”
Martin, meanwhile, has made some circus catches in the air befitting a guy who was considered primarily a basketball recruit for much of his high school career.
“He’s playing real hard and real intense,” Leach said. “And he’s not one of those guys that’s afraid to go out there and show what he can do.”
Additionally, sixth-year senior C.J. Dimry appears to finally be on the verge of living up to the hopes and dreams of Cougar fans who were immediately enamored with his bloodlines and physical stature. He’s also turning some heads, looking like more than just an end-zone jump ball threat. Of course, consistency has always been his challenge.
To see a sampling of what the receivers are doing, watch yesterday’s practice report at the bottom of this post. Also, watch this — RIP, poor freshman linebacker who never stood a chance against Calvin:
(In order, that was Renard Bell, Tavares Martin Jr., Robert Lewis, Dimry, Calvin, Tay Martin, Patmon, Brandon Arconado, Anthony White Jr. and Kyle Sweet.)
Few position battles?
Seeing who’s going to grab the vacated starting spots is always the most intriguing part of camp, but to be honest, it sure seems like this camp is shaping up to be a bit anticlimactic on that front.
First off, there are a massive number of starters returning on both sides of the ball, so there just aren’t that many spots up for grabs. Secondly, some spots already are developing clear front runners.
On the offensive line, fifth-year senior B.J. Salmonson and sophomore Fred Mauigoa appear to have taken control of right guard and center, respectively, ahead juco transfer Robert Valencia and redshirt sophomore Noah Osur-Meyers. Personally, I’m a fan of settling this nice and early — no unit on the field relies more on cohesion than the offensive line.
The defensive secondary also looks pretty well set with Marcellus Pippins — who seems to always be fending off a challenger for his spot, despite strong productivity in games — holding down the spot opposite Darrien Molton. Robert Taylor and Jalen Thompson continue to patrol the back end (with the latter asserting himself repeatedly so far in camp).
Spots that are still undecided include Z receiver (Patmon/Johnson-Mack), nickelback (Kirkland Parker/Hunter Dale) and rush linebacker (Dylan Hanser/Frankie Luvu*); however, it’s tough to say how meaningful it is for whoever is declared the “winner.” For at least two of those three positions — Z and rush — it wouldn’t be surprising to see a near even split in playing time, given the propensity of both Mike Leach and Alex Grinch to rotate fresh bodies into the receiving corps and the defensive line.
*By the way, yes, this is a position change for Luvu, who had been playing WILL. Isaac Dotson has locked that spot up, and I’m intrigued by Luvu’s potential playing closer to the line of scrimmage. He’s an explosive athlete ... and strong.
As for Parker and Dale? They appear to be neck-and-neck, and I’d expect the competition to continue into the first game, where both will probably get long looks against Montana State.
- I find it interesting that it’s being intimated that new defensive line coach Jeff Phelps is an upgrade over Joe Salave’a in the teaching department. I know this is sort of par for the course when a new guy comes in, but ... really? Salave’a put two guys into the NFL (Xavier Cooper and Destiny Vaeao) and to my eye, he consistently got the most out of the guys who developed under him. They didn’t get a lot of sacks last year. Big deal? I guess. But I think it remains to be seen whether Phelps brings more to the table than Coach Joe.
- The roster says running back Jamal Morrow gained two pounds from last season. I don’t buy that for a second — as a guy who has be rewatching last year’s games, he looks noticeably thicker, particularly in his legs, on the videos I’ve seen this fall.
- Defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo has been “limited” the last couple of days. Let’s hope it’s short term, because I have a suspicion that he’s the guy who can unlock the defensive line’s potential.
- Speaking of injuries ... can we just put nose tackle Daniel Ekuale in bubble wrap for the rest of the preseason? There’s a non-zero chance that he’s actually the No. 1 guy on the team that we can’t afford to lose, given that he’s literally the only guy on the roster built to play his position.
- Matt Chazanow does an interview in one of the videos below where he asks outside linebackers coach Roy Manning who “his guys” are. Here’s his list off the top of his head — rush linebackers: Hanser, Luvu, Chima Onyeukwu, Mason Vinyard, Greg Hoyd III, and Willie Taylor; nickelbacks: Parker, Dale, Dylan Axelson, Dymund Richardson, Cole Dubots, and Damion Lee. These seem to me to be in a rough depth chart order. Couple of things. First, I believe Hoyd had been at MIKE the last two years, but I could be wrong about that. Anyway, that’s interesting. Second, Richardson is listed on the roster as a linebacker and is quite a bit bigger (6-3/213) than the other guys playing nickel. It’s going to be interesting to see if he can make an impact from that position at that size, since I’m sure this means they’re enamored with his athleticism.
- You’ll notice Logan Tago isn’t listed with the rush guys, and his name hadn’t come up in any practice reports ... until last night: Tago’s suspension appears to have been lifted, and he is now working with the defensive ends, rather than at rush. This seems like a natural move, given he’s now close to 250, although it wouldn’t be a shock to see Grinch still use him situationally at rush.
- If you missed it, the receivers coaches switched roles. Derek Sage will now work with the inside receivers, while Dave Nichol will work with the outside receivers. Shrug. Here’s some video of Nichol:
- Leach has noted that both sides of the ball have had their moments, and his demeanor in discussing team performance has been decidedly upbeat (for Leach, anyway). I know we’re still a week or so away from the dog days of camp, but I’m encouraged that the team seems to be “on it” from the start, since we know that if they weren’t, Leach would certainly tell everyone.
Here are WSU Athletics’ recap videos from each day. They’re doing a nice job with these, which I certainly appreciate! You can also find interviews with all manner of folks at the YouTube channels of WSU and The Spokesman-Review.