ONES TO WATCH: Rising player predictions 2012

ALL COUG FANS KNOW about Jeff Tuel, Marquess Wilson and Travis Long. And tight end turned slot receiver Andrei Lintz blew up this spring and looks like a guy who will flourish under Mike Leach's offense. But here's my take on players who, while getting plenty of ink this spring, still deserve some more as the countdown for the season opener against BYU draws ever closer.

Offense:
WR Drew Loftus: The walk-on came out of nowhere to make his presence known in the Cougar offense. The Hawaii transfer arrived in Pullman and immediately started getting a few reps with the 1s the first week. Loftus showcased great speed, and very dependable hands throughout. He and Tuel had great chemistry throughout the spring, with the outside WR making plays each practice. As reported by CF.C numerous times, there were occasions when Marquess Wilson would be sidelined or sent to work with the scout team, and Loftus was the guy who stepped in and took advantage of his extra reps. I don't expect him to blow up with All-America type numbers, like I expect Wilson to do in 2012, but don't sleep on him. The potential is there for him to make a big difference for the Cougs.

WR Blair Bomber: The pride and joy of Lynden returned from a torn ACL in the spring and looked sharp. Bomber was lined up on the inside and was often seen working diligently with inside receivers coach Eric Morris. Any pre-spring concerns by fans about Bomber's knee proved to be unfounded. Bomber ran fluid routes, made his cuts and showed some of the steadiest hands of the Coug receiving corps. Another area where Bomber looks to shine will be with the Cougars special teams units. When was the last time the Cougs had a punt or kickoff return for a TD? Bomber has blazing speed and the footwork that could lead to a breakout return or two next season. Leach expressed he was a huge fan of Bomber throughout the spring, it wasn't hard to see why.

RB Carl Winston: We all know that Ricky Galvin is an explosive back and he's probably the starter heading into the fall. But Winston is a guy who has the potential to blow up in 2012. What sticks out about Winston is his work ethic and how he doesn't shy away from contact. At 5-8, 200 pounds, Winston is a mini semi-truck who drives through holes with his shoulder leading the way. In Leach's offense, the play calling will be rapid, and running backs are going to be given plenty of chances to take advantage of the defense. One of my concerns for Winston would be his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, but throughout the spring he showed soft hands. Sure, there were times where Winston dropped the ball, but he was mostly consistent and showed plenty of explosiveness bursting up field after the catch. Expect Winston to enjoy a nice senior campaign, and end his Cougar days showing the potential that was expected of him coming into Pullman.

Defense:
DT Xavier Cooper: This is my breakout pick of the year -- not just on defense, but for the entire team. Just about anything you could ask for in a defensive lineman, Cooper has. Standing at 6-4, 280-pounds, Cooper flies around the football field like a linebacker would. His quickness at his size is something that is likely to haunt quarterbacks and running backs this season. Cooper is a virtual starting lock for Mike Breske's unit this fall and I don't think he'll put up good numbers, I'm certain of it. When I try and think of something about his game I don't like, I scratch my head. He has all the intangibles to be successful, and he has an excellent work ethic. Cooper can line up inside and also outside. He played both positions back in the fall during his redshirt season on the scout team, and looked great against the offensive line consistently. Get your popcorn ready, because Cooper is going to be entertaining this season.

LB Darryl Monroe: The Cougs are young, inexperienced and thin at linebacker. Someone is going to have to step up and play to their full potential early. Enter Darryl Monroe. The redshirt freshman from Florida had a fantastic spring and was without question one of the most physical players the Cougs had on defense. Coming off Achilles surgery and during the first week, Monroe was running mostly with the 2s while Darren Markle saw the action with the 1s at the MIK. But Monroe was laying the hammer day in and day out, and was soon elevated to the 1s by the coaching staff. I still remember Monroe firing off some big hits during the first day of full pads, and his temporary trial with the starters became more permanent for the rest of the spring. What I like about Monroe's game is that he's adept at reading the eyes of the backfield, and has that quick first step to make a play on the ball. Monroe used that skill to not only make big hits, but also to snare some interceptions off of Jeff Tuel. Note: Monroe did sit out a couple later practices and the Crimson & Gray game, assumedly to rest his still healing Achilles.

K Mike Bowlin: I think many of the special teams problems the Cougs suffered through last year, (returns for touchdowns, field position battle, etc.) will be gone in 2012 thanks to the big foot of Mike Bowlin. The junior was better than advertised and all spring long. He has great hang time on punts, and those boots consistently traveled 45-50 yards in the air. The punt returners this spring were forced to backpedal, often into full on jogs trying to catch up to the ball. And it wasn't just his punts either, Bowlin also put some extra mustard on his kickoffs as well. When the Cougs worked kickoff drills during practice, Bowlin would boot the ball well into the end zone -- sometimes out of it. His power is going to lead to several touchbacks next season, something that only happened once for PK Andrew Furney in all of 2011.


Cougfan Top Stories