WSU CAMP: What we've learned about the future

PULLMAN -- If the early going of fall camp is any indication, the Cougs have some very good, very young players in place for down the road. Some even look to be ready to help contribute now, while others will be able to help most over the long haul by redshirting. In the last of a three-part series 10 days into fall camp, takes a look at the future, both near and far.

Freshmen o-linemen such as Sam Flor, Pierson Villarrubia, Eduardo Middleton, walk on Gunnar Eklund and Denzell Dotson have all looked to be Pac-12 caliber prospects in fall camp's early going. That being said, they are still just freshmen and plenty of work and time probably remains before they're ready to start and to win Pac-12 battles.

All the above five have looked to have good footwork -- which should play nicely when protecting the quarterback in the Air Raid.

Speaking of the quarterback position, the Cougs are deep and very young. Washington State looks to have three bona fide quarterbacks in senior Jeff Tuel, sophomore Connor Halliday and freshman Austin Apodaca. The verdict is still out on redshirt freshman Cody Clements, he has struggled a bit in camp thus far.

Clements has been working strictly with the scout team as the backup quarterback -- it's still early in fall camp, but it would appears Apodaca has already leapfrogged him on the depth chart. With quarterback Tyler Bruggman verbally committed for 2013, there could be a whole lot of competition at QB in the coming years. Something to keep an eye on.

At wide receiver, Mike Leach looks to have a plethora of targets at his disposal for the next several years. Freshman Gabe Marks has already looked like he might be the next great Cougar receiver although again, it should be noted again we're just 10 days into fall camp.

Fellow freshman Brett Bartolone has also looked very promising – so has second year freshman Dominique Williams though his fall camp has been interrupted by injury. When Williams returns is unknown with Leach's policy of not disclosing injury news, including whether someone is even injured at all.

Sophomores Isiah Myers, Bobby Ratliff and Kristoff Williams (KW also injured) all have looked like they have promising careers in front of them.

On defense, the future also looks bright. That said, it is the future, and this year's defense has looked questionable in a number of areas in fall camp's early going.

But in looking ahead, freshmen cornerbacks Alex Jackson, Ray Ford and Rahmel Dockery look to have the makings of a potentially very, very good future trio.

For Mike Breske's aggressive defensive scheme to have success in the future, corners need to be groomed to be able to play at a high level on the islands – that can't be overstated. The Cougs have not had shutdown corners in recent years, but the early fall camp signs are indicating they might in the future.

The young corners have been making plays in camp, matching up against the likes of Marquess Wilson and other veterans, all while mostly holding their own.

Again, they're still freshmen,and they have a lot of learning to do. Corner is one of the few positions suited to a special freshman earning early playing time -- but is one or more of them the best corner option right now 10 days into fall camp? No. Could they conceivably be by the end of fall camp or at some point during the season? Can't definitively say one way or the other just yet, though we're leaning at this moment towards giving the veterans the nod.

Each has at least one standout trait -- Dockery can jump with any receiver he's matched up against, and he has very fluid hips. Jackson and Ford both have the speed and explosiveness to run step-for-step with the best receivers in the Pac-12.

At safety Taylor Taliulu and Feddie Davey have been doing some good things in fall camp, and Taliulu has gotten some work in with the 1s in certain specific situations. And keep an eye out for Deone Bucannon's younger brother, David Bucannon too.

The future at linebacker looks promising. Freshmen Jeremiah Allison, Khalil Pettway, Keith Ewing and Kache Palacio look to be more than adept at blitzing the quarterback.

Being able to drop back into coverage and play the run, with consistent efficiency, are the areas that need work.

But they are young, and still have plenty of time to grow into the position. Allison is one of those who looks like he might be almost ready to play now but that the best move for the Cougs, if they have the luxury, is to redshirt him.

Technically, the defensive line is actually deeper than it probably seems, but unfortunately that depth is freshmen.

Freshman Destiny Vaeao has mostly run with the 2s but he's also gotten some time with the 1s. Robert Barber has been a steady worker with the 2s.

Both could see action this season -- Vaeao mostly because he might make it hard for the coaches to keep him off the field and is close to ready, Barber mostly because the Cougs are thin at tackle and he has a lot of natural ability.

To sum up, the Cougs have a lot of good looking talent in the wings – the cupboard is not empty by any means. The future of WSU rests in its sophomores and freshmen – redshirt and true alike. The problem for WSU in 2012 is that it might also, if not primarily then more than the coaches would like, rest in the hands of the Cougs' sophomore and freshmen as well.

For the Cougs to have a lot of success this season, youngsters will need to step up and play beyond their years, and some key veterans will also have play at a higher level than they've shown in the past and/or stay healthy.

Still, if I were a betting man, all things considered based on the first 10 days of fall camp, I'd wager Washington State will be bowl eligible for years to come, including a 6-6 mark in 2012.

Youth will be front and center. And the offense will go only so far as the offensive line takes them in the Air Raid. In the grand scheme, Mike Leach does have a good number of the pieces he needs to make this team a dominant force in the Pac-12. But such a case might be realized more down the road, with this season only the first step.

A first step, and a small one for those Cougar fans who want more than a 6-6 season in 2012.

A first step, and all-in-all a satisfying one, for those Wazzu fans who want to go bowling with the Cougs in 2012.

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