Annabel Stephan answers your Cougar questions

CF.C SUBSCRIBERS, despite the voluminous amount of video and info provided by Annabel Stephan during WSU's early fall camp practices for CF.C, still had more questions. They ask, and she answers…

Who was being tried at Buck other than Travis Long and Logan Mayes?

Mayes and Long have gotten the majority of the time at BUCK. Cyrus Coen got some time at the position, but not as the prototypical blitzing BUCK (dropped back into coverage).

Is Tyrone Duckett now being tried as a linebacker?

Duckett has been playing safety, but mostly in different ways than your prototypical safety.

Any updates of linemen drills and execution?

During my time in Pullman, there really wasn't much to report on in the trenches, (given that full pads don't go on until Day 5.) The offensive line has been "opening" holes for the running backs most of camp, but with an unproven front seven, I'd expect that to begin to slow down as the defense gains experience.

The offensive linemen look great, physically. John Fullington, Dan Spitz, and Gunnar Eklund all caught my eyes as big guys who were still moving well on the field.

Rico Forbes walked off the field in a boot on day 2, and had a brace on day 3, so I wasn't able to see much from him. Still haven't heard why Wade Jacobsen hasn't been at practice, but same goes for him.

How have Andrew Furney and Michael Bowlin looked on field goals, punts, and kickoffs?

Bowlin was working on kickoffs during my final day in Pullman. He consistently put the ball five yards into the end zone. He also looked very strong on punts. Furney hadn't kicked too many field goals in camp's early going, and has instead been doing individual drills to warm up his leg for the coming weeks.

What's Rahmel Dockery doing? Returns? Slot? Both?

Dockery ran with the receivers while I was watching camp, but as you all read on CF.C, he has just been moved to corner. On his first day at the new position, he didn't partake in any return drills. Coaches, however, may want him to work harder on his cover skills for the next few days of camp instead of running with the return unit.

Which fall camps have you covered in the past? If so, how did what you saw in the first 3 days of the Cougars camp compare?

I've been covering football for a while, but Washington State was my first time covering fall camp. Though I don't have a camp to compare it to, I left Pullman extremely impressed. I don't think anyone can argue that a disappointing season grates on the players, and the Cougars really needed a change. Watching this team, even based on their mentality alone, it's hard to remember that it's pretty much the same team that went 4-8 last year. I really believe that Mike Leach and Washington State are the perfect fit for one another. Leach is, for lack of better words, a breath of fresh air; he and the other coaches really seem to believe in the talents of the team. I think it speaks volumes that players who have been on the roster a while but haven't really performed much are starting to emerge. It was evident from my few days of observing that the coaches are really working with, and helping cultivate, the talent that is already on the team.

When are you coming back? I thought it was great that you interviewed different members of the coaching staff and guys whose names won't necessarily be in the newspapers.

I think sometimes people forget that a team is made up of more than its few key playmakers. Guys who get interviewed a lot typically give you the same answer. I love talking with players who are just on the cusp of breaking out: hearing what motivates them, what challenges they face, etc. And isn't that the beauty of football? Every season, in every conference, players come out of nowhere and explode on the college football season. It's always more fun to be in the know first than just jumping on the bandwagon!

As for returning to Pullman….I'll be back whenever CF.C wants me back!

What triggered this level of coverage? Will you be returning to cover the Cougs throughout the season?

CF.C: We can answer that one. put its toe into the proverbial waters of video coverage of fall camp a year ago and the response from readers was very positive, so we carved out a chunk from our annual marketing budget to get Annabel up to Pullman for the first three days of camp. Given that this is the first year of the Leach Era, we knew that interest among fans and other media in the first few days of camp would be especially high so we wanted, as always, to make sure our coverage was the most comprehensive. We'd absolutely love for Annabel to do more on the Cougs in the future, but that opportunity depends in a significant way on Cougar fans. The cost to fly Annabel to Pullman from L.A. and put her up in a hotel was pretty sizeable. The more subscribers CF.C has, the more coverage we can offer.

Really enjoyed your reporting, Annabel. My question is if you were the WSU track coach and could pick 4 guys from the football team for the 4 x 100 relay, who would they be?

Great question. A little hard to answer, since I don't think I've seen many of the guys running full pace yet, but let's go with… Gabriel Marks, Leon Brooks, Teondray Caldwell and Marquess Wilson.

Who among the first year guys looks to have a shot of playing this year based on what you saw? Do any of them look like they could even be a starter?

With the significant playing time receivers will have this year, expect Gabriel Marks to be on the field quite a bit. If he continues to progress throughout camp the way he did over the first few days, I wouldn't be surprised to see him start later in the season. He's a guy that the older players seem excited about, too, and I think having such a talented freshman on the roster is just going to amp up the veteran receivers.

Quarterback Austin Apodaca looked a bit frazzled on Day 1, but looked much more comfortable as the days progressed. However, with two extremely capable guys in Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, I'd expect him to redshirt. However, this also relies on both Tuel and Halliday remaining healthy all season. The other freshman QB, Conner Johnson, looks to have a solid arm, but like I stated earlier on the board, I wouldn't be surprised if he were to switch positions. At 6-5, 222 pounds, I could even see him gaining some weight and switching to that Y-receiver.

The other offensive newcomer I've been really impressed with is Theron West. He's only listed at 5-7, 171 pounds, but he was getting a lot of carries and usually was able to take them all the way to the end zone. I think he'd be good as a return man, as well.

Defensively, there is a LOT of talent amongst the freshmen and new guys. Though Robert Barber has some stiff competition at nose tackle, with both Ioane Gauta and Kalafitoni Pole impressing, I think he could see potentially the field this year.

Safety Feddie Davey drew my attention this week, and Mike Leach was high on him, as well. The freshmen linebackers, including Keith Ewing, Jeremiah Allison, Khalil Pettway and Kache Palacio all show great potential. The challenge there is adjusting to the speed of the collegiate game, especially in the Pac-12. If I had to pick starters out of those guys, based off of the first three days, I'd give the nod to Ewing, but I covered Allison throughout his senior season and know what he's capable of on the field.

Re: JUCO transfers and other newcomers: keep an eye on Justin Sagote. The linebacker had some big hits (well, as big as hits as you can have without full pads) and actually showed notable progression in just the few days I was there.

I really like Chester Sua, as well. He's another guy who shows an ability to get to the ball, but what really stood out is that he consistently stepped up to whatever challenge the coaches posed and was already displaying leadership.

Again, talent is not an issue with this class. Lots of stars or few stars, whatever. Like Leach has said, the stars are gone. The biggest challenge is inexperience, but if this class is just an inkling of what kind of players the staff will bring in over the next few years, get excited.

How good of an offense do you think they'll have with respect to Pac-12 competition? How good of a defense? Granted, I know you only saw the first three days but what's your gut feel?

Well, let's break it down. When it comes to quarterback, it's clear USC comes out on top. But consider this: Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford and Colorado will all have first-year starting quarterbacks, and some of those programs haven't even named their guy yet. Washington has Keith Price returning and Oregon State has Sean Mannion, but both of those guys only have a year behind them. UCLA and California both have returners, but neither program has been having much success at the position lately. Utah is in the same boat as the Cougars are: Jordan Wynn missed last season because of injuries.

If you take into consideration a.) how talented WSU's receiving corps is and b.) that the new coach is Mike Leach, who happens to have an incredible offensive track record, I'd say you'd be crazy to discount the Cougs.

Defensively…well, everyone knows the Pac-12 isn't known for their defense. I think Utah has a star, quite literally, with lineman Star Lotulelei, and I think he'll be the best defensive player in the conference this year. It's hard to answer this one exactly, since I haven't spent as much time watching other teams as I have the Cougs, but with all the changes and disarray happening in the conference this season, this is the perfect breakout year for the Cougs. Aside from USC, who has most of the cards in their favor leading them to the conference championship, and perhaps Oregon, I think the conference is on level playing field.

Did the Cougs do much special teams work and if so, who were the gunners and which guys stood out to you?

There was a little bit of special teams work (around 20 minutes a day). Pretty much every guy had a go at the gunner spot, even Marquess Wilson. Seems like the coaches are feeling things out right now. Bennett Bontemps and newcomer Brett Bartolone both looked good as gunners and Leon Brooks and Rickey Galvin were in their own league when it comes to return man.

In fact, now I'm starting to reconsider the 4x1 question. I'd like to add Galvin to the list. Bartolone, too.

Where were the early position battles shaping up most? Who looked to have the upper hand?

I think nose tackle is going to be interesting. While I'd give the early nod to Gauta, both Pole and Barber have looked really solid. Gauta has the best ideal size, and Pole, though a bit smaller, has great technique. Barber is going to be a star, and I expect him to play, but I'd put them in that order right now – Gauta, Pole, Barber.

Cornerback is another spot. With three returners in Damante Horton, Nolan Washington and Daniel Simmons, you'd think the experience gives them the upper hand. While I noticed both Horton and Washington making some big plays, it's going to be interesting to see how new Cougar Raymond Ford progresses over camp.

No surprise here...I think Travis Long will be the starter at BUCK. He comes off as the leader of the defense, and though he and Logan Mayes are essentially the same size, he has the experience. But both guys are key to the defense, and I'd be shocked if Mayes didn't get heavy playing time this year.

With four receivers out there on any given down, I'd expect the rotation to be pretty frequent. The Cougs definitely have the depth for it. Obviously, Wilson has the talent, but I think we'll see some big plays from Andrei Lintz, Gino Simone, Mansel Simmons, Dominique Williams and Kristoff Williams, as well as the aforementioned Marks and Bartolone. The Cougars are going to surprise the college football world at receiver this year.

Do you see Tuel and Halliday really competing for the job or do you think it's clearly Tuel all the way?

I'd still call it a competition. Halliday has looked really good over the past few days. Taking off the spring and truly allowing himself to heal is the best thing he could have done. My gut feeling is that Tuel will start, but that Halliday will definitely get his share of playing time.

What running back impressed you?

I talked about him earlier, but I really do like Theron West. He has great speed and an ability to find the holes in the defense. Freshman Teondray Caldwell also looks to be pretty fast, but based off of those three days, I'd say West has a better chance of playing time.

Returners Rickey Galvin, Leon Brooks and Carl Winston all looked good on the field. The entire unit seems to be adjusting to the new offense well, and like Galvin mentioned to me in our interview, he's enjoying being involved in the pass game with screens. One thing the backs don't have, however, is size. Winston remains the closest thing to a power back on the roster, but at only 5-8, 192, he'll have to find a way to run through the defensive big boys when the offense chooses to run the ball in goal line formation.

What do you think might surprise some people this year based on what you saw?

Andrei Lintz is my go-to guy here. He created buzz in the spring among Washington State fans, and will create buzz this fall among college football fans. Said it on the board earlier: my bold prediction is that he'll become a national name.

Marks will make an impression as a freshman.

Defensively, keep an eye on Sua, as well as Sagote. Can't say how much playing time they'll get this year but if they keep progressing, opposing offenses will feel their impact.

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