One spring certainty: Cougs stacked at WR

SPRING FOOTBALL drills start today at Washington State and one thing already is known: the Cougars are stacked at wideout. Indeed, receivers coach Mike Levenseller, a guy not given to hyperbole, says his 2011 corps has the potential to be the finest since he joined the staff in 1992. Yes, better than the Fab Five. Better than the Snow Bowl group. Better than anyone.

Just how flush with talent is the wide receivers group this spring for the Cougars?

"I think it's going to be a war out there," said Levenseller.

The Cougs return four productive receivers from the top of last year's roster, and are adding five promising true- and redshirt freshmen.

While the talent is aplenty, the large influx of youth means the position will be one of the top areas of focus this spring for Paul Wulff.

The four returnees are honorable mention all-Pac-10 pick Jared Karstetter, Freshman All-America selection Marquess Wilson, sure-handed Gino Simone and a steady playmaker in Isiah Barton. Between them, the Cougars this spring will return 149 catches and 1,961 yards from their 2010 passing game.

Karstetter led the Cougs in receptions (62) in 2010 and Wilson was tops in receiving yards (1,006). This has been his first offseason Karstetter has been healthy and able to truly attack the weight room. Dependable, smart and extremely coachable, Levy says he prepares as well as anyone he's ever coached.

As good as he was during his breakout season in 2010, and he was freshman All-America type good, Wilson wore down towards the end of last year. That's typical for a freshman. But with a winter offseason now under his belt, and with a summer yet to come, he could scale new heights in 2011.

Simone has been hampered by injury but don't forget about his hands – he's shown since Day 1 an exceptional ability to snag anything near him. But ultimately, he's got to get stronger if he's going to avoid injury and reach his potential. He's had a good offseason so far and looks to have improved his upper body strength.

Barton will be the starter in the slot when the Cougs take the field today, having quietly amassed the fourth most catches on the Cougs last year, amassed 620 kickoff return yards and also stepped in at punt return. Barton is already strong, that's not at issue. What he does need to work on is catching the ball clean and using his explosiveness in the best, most efficient way, and that comes from lots and lots of work to change hand-eye coordination.

OF THE FIVE freshmen, three are coming off redshirt seasons -- Kristoff Williams, Bobby Ratliff and Blair Bomber. The other two are members of the 2011 recruiting class who graduated from high school early and enrolled at WSU in January -- Henry Eaddy and Isiah Myers.

Williams sat out 2010 with a turf toe injury but if Cougar fans want to be excited about something, drink this in: he is considered as potentially an electric a performer as Wilson. "Going into last year we intended on redshirting Marquess and playing Kristoff -- that should tell you all you need to know right there," said Levenseller, who went on to praise Williams' "extremely high character."

Bomber, scout team QB Connor Halliday's favorite target in 2010, made more plays against the No. 1 defense last year than they found palatable. He has to maximize his physical assets in order to take the Pac-12 pounding but there's a place for him in the conference, he has a great desire and has shown skills. Bomber's (5-8, 160) speed might first surface in 2011 on special teams.

Ratliff? He was impressive enough last year that Levy kept him close to him -- Ratliff saw plenty of time running with the 2's, and with the 1's in skelly drills, during his redshirt season. He is on his way to being perhaps the most versatile receiver the Cougs have, a true inside-outside guy.

The two early arrivals from Florida have generated a buzz since they arrived at WSU in January. Eaddy is in the James Rodgers mold -- while 5-8, 170, he has great hands and superb running skills . Myers (6-1, 170) is surprisingly athletic and quick, and beyond his years in route running ability. Don't be surprised if one or both turns heads this spring.

Backing up that rather large group this spring is walk-on Bennett Bontemps, who made some nice plays on special teams this past season. When Simone got hurt last season, Bontemps stepped in at the slot and, despite having practiced all week at his normal outside receiver position, made some plays. That kind of thing doesn't go unnoticed. He has a ways to go to catch some of the scholie players ahead of him. But Levy says he'll compete for a job. Walk-ons Justin Amundsen, Josiah Sims and Dontavious Fleming, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Central, are also in the mix.

And in the fall, Rahmel Dockery, called by Paul Wulff as the most electric player in the state of Washington in the 2011 class, and Dominique Williams, a 6-foot-4 touchdown maker (18 last season) are scheduled to arrive.

What a difference. Last year, Levy says he incredibly had one, just one, scholarship wide receiver who could fully participate during the spring.

With the 2011 wide receiver corps, footballs figure to fill the spring air out on the Palouse, so much so they might blot out the sun.

Air Wulff, anyone?


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