Five spring ball questions on offense

THE FIRST SPRING session for the Cougs under Mike Leach begins in a little over a month. And a new coach and a new system means there are more question marks than usual. From tight ends to the slot, from the QBs to the o-line and beyond, here are five of the more pressing questions on the offensive side of the ball headed into spring drills at Washington State..

1. How are the tight ends going to be used?
Tight ends are used by Mike Leach in his Air Raid offense, particularly down near the goal line, but they're not a staple of the offense.

Where an uber-athletic tight end can flourish in the Air Raid, however, is when he's flexed out wide, such as in the slot.

Will Aaron Dunn, Andrei Lintz or Max Hersey assert themselves in the receiving game this spring? Leach told CF.C this week that, in general, some players will be changing positions -- will some of those come from the tight end position? Will Hersey, Lintz and/or Dunn try their hand at d-end, for example?

Those questions and more will be on the minds of Coug fans for the next 40-some days before spring ball starts.

2. And speaking of position changes, might some of those include some shuffling on the o-line -- with a tackle moving inside here, an inside guy moving outside there, and guards and centers switching up?
It's a position that features lots of questions already, with starters B.J. Guerra and David Gonzales graduating, plus sometimes starter Andrew Roxas.

And another starter, Wade Jacobson, is hoping to receive a medical hardship waiver to get another year at WSU.

The Air Raid will be a different animal for the o-linemen -- for starters they're going to need to learn the nuances of lining up in wider splits and executing more pass blocking than they've ever done before. In Leach's last year at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders threw it 669 times against 319 runs, and it's not like they were trying to come from behind in a lot of those games either.

Will Matt Goetz solidify his hold on the center spot or will Taylor Meighen make a charge? Will Jake Rodgers, who stood out in emergency duty against Utah last season, show he's ready to be an everyday starter? Will Dan Spitz emerge? What about Rico Forbes and Moritz Christ?

As mentioned, there are a whole lot of intriguing questions here.

3. What should give Coug fans a sense of optimism, and not just on the offensive line, is how fast Leach expects the offense to learn and become comfortable in the Air Raid.
This is decidedly not the kind of offense where it takes a year or two before players truly become adept at all the little nuances -- Leach has said he expects the Cougs to be well-versed in it by the time spring ends.

That's just 15 practices.

And that will be one of the more fascinating things to watch develop this spring out on the Palouse.

4. Yep, it's taken until No. 4 to mention the quarterbacks. There's a reason for that, though.
Leach has said, time and time again since he became the WSU head man, that the starting QB position is up for grabs between Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday.

And it is, with a new coach and two QBs who have shown they have the tools to win in the Pac-12. And any coach wants there to always be competition at every spot -- competition makes every player better.

While Halliday is extremely talented, Tuel has a lot of things going in his favor. First and foremost, Halliday might not even be fully cleared for all activities this spring, coming back from a lacerated liver.

Beyond that, a premium is place in Leach's system on the ability of the QB to properly read coverages and make the correct checks. And Tuel, clearly, has the edge here. Halliday himself said of his phenomenal performance in the ASU game that he had no idea what defense ASU was running at times, he was just out there playing. Halliday, with two collegiate years under his belt, is also more inconsistent that Tuel, who will be entering his fourth year at WSU in '12.

Halliday, if healthy, can make it a battle though, particularly if he increases the film work study he does on his own. Don't misunderstand -- Halliday does his film work, it's just that Tuel studies tape endlessly.

And so the QB position battle will probably be talked about endlessly between now and spring ball, and possibly beyond. In reality, though, our take is that at this point, it's just not as big a story as it is being made out to be.

5. The slot. It seems like no position has been mentioned as much this offseason as the slot receivers in the Air Raid offense.
Replacing Isiah Barton, a guy who played a lot bigger than he was given credit for, should see a heated battle this spring. Bobby Ratliff would seem the logical favorite headed into the spring. But there should still be a position battle royale coming there, and those down the depth chart may still see plenty of reps, with a long rotation of receivers a distinct possibility in the Air Raid.

Competing with Ratliff, Blair Bomber has a shot -- depending on how healthy he is this spring (knee surgery). Gino Simone -- if he recaptures his pass catching form from early in his career, when he dropped jaws during most every practice it seemed with his ability to secure would-be incompletions, he can make some noise. Walk-on Bennett Bontemps is one to watch here as well. And what will Henry Eaddy do this spring?

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