SPECIAL TEAMS: WSU Fall Camp Preview

PULLMAN – Mike Leach in his WSU first fall camp is expected to place major importance on the special teams units. An underwhelming third phase of the Wazzu's game in recent years, the Cougars appear ready to turn a corner in 2012, both literally and figuratively.

Mike Bowlin: Fourth-year junior. Briefly an Oregon Duck, Bowlin spent the last two years at Saddleback Junior College in Mission Viejo, Calif. after leaving Eugene. He vaulted to the top of the post-spring depth chart as WSU's kick-off specialist and punter thanks to a booming leg. Bowlin connected on 11-of-15 field goal attempts at Saddleback in 2011, earning Southern California Football Association First-Team honors as a sophomore. He also averaged 64.1 yards on kickoffs and recorded 14 touchbacks.

Andrew Furney. Third year junior. Fresh off a sensational sophomore campaign, Furney has all but solidified his place as the team's field goal kicker entering fall camp. He made 14-of-16 field goal attempts in 2011 -- posting the best field goal percentage in WSU single-season history (.875). A graduate of Burlington-Edison High, Furney went 5-5 from 40-plus yards last year, 7-7 from outside 30 yards and 39-41 on extra points. The Lou Groza semifinalist connected on a season-long 51-yard attempt in the season opener against Idaho State… is also slated to back up Bowlin on kickoffs.

Wes Concepcion. Second year sophomore. The former SPSL Special Teams Player of the Year recorded 23 touchbacks his senior year at Kentridge High and could handle kicking duties if disaster were to strike.

Bowlin. At 6-4, Bowlin will remind the WSU faithful of former punter Kyle Basler for both his build and ability to boot the ball a very long distance.

Long Snapper:
Zach Koepp. Fifth year senior. The Iowa native earned a varsity letter in 2011 after long snapping in 10 of 12 games.

Alex Den Bleyker. Second year sophomore. Handled the long-snapping duties the final three games of 2011 season after Koepp went down with a concussion.

Ryan Saparto. Third year sophomore. The Archbishop Murphy High product could figure into the long-snapping competition after walking on in 2011.

David Gilbertson. Fourth year junior. The Cougs' third-string quarterback who had his best spring on the Palouse will serve as the holder in 2012.

Punt Returner:
Leon Brooks. Fourth year junior. Brooks served as the primary punt returner in 2011, seeing action in nine games. He returned 12 punts, compiling 46 total yards. He will enter fall camp with the most experience at the position, but he hasn't shown the ability to break off huge chunks of yards yet.

Ricky Galvin: Third year sophomore. The talented running back didn't return punts in 2011, instead serving as a part-time kick returner. Assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Eric Russell might push his dual-threat running back to help his unit after WSU struggled in the return game last season.

Rahmel Dockery: First year freshman. The explosive wide receiver from Curtis High School could potentially help the return game right away. Dockery is just south of 170-pounds but has the big-play potential WSU has lacked for a long time.

Kickoff Returners:
Post-Spring Depth Chart
1. Dockery
2. Galvin

Position Battles/Final Thoughts:
A quick glance at the punt returner depth chart leaves little doubt the position is fully up for grabs entering fall camp. Brooks didn't struggle in 2011, but he wasn't spectacular either. The Cougars are definitely looking for a player capable of taking a low lining punt all the way to pay dirt. If last season is any indication, Brooks will struggle to hold off Galvin and Dockery.

Russell said during spring practice he is open to playing more starters on special teams in 2012. One would think Galvin, as the team's purest runner, could be the consensus pick to handle punts this year. However, Dockery should also figure into the mix. His high school YouTube highlights are electric.

Bowlin is slotted to be WSU's punter and kickoff specialist in 2012 and not the placekicker because a) Furney did a good enough job in the spring to hold him off, b) Russell doesn't want one guy to handle all three jobs and c) Bowlin was good but not as prolific in field goal accuracy as he was on punts and kickoffs this spring. Bowlin has the type of monster leg Cougar fans have been awaiting for a very long time. And if Furney hits his field goals similar to last year, he will be on his way to becoming one of the best kickers in the conference.

Who the gunners will be is also up in the air, with a wide variety of veterans and new freshmen potentially battling for the roles.

But it's clear WSU will need to improve their return coverage if they plan to ascend the Pac-12 North standings. In 2011, the Cougars allowed four kickoff returns of 90 yards or more and ranked at or close to the bottom of the conference in kickoff coverage, gross punting distance and punt-return yardage.

Fortunately for WSU, Russell is a salty, no-nonsense type motivator. It may be just what needs to end several years of underwhelming special teams production.

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