SPOTLIGHT: Rundown on WSU Position Battles

WITH SCHOOL NOW in session at Washington State and the season opener against BYU just 10 days away, any and all position battles not yet decided will be soon – it's time to get the starters reps and the offense and defense running like a well-oiled machine. Here's the look from our chair at the position battles on offense and defense -- every starter, at every position, plus special teams.

Note: There are four notable "school start" players who were not among the 105 deemed eligible to participate by WSU until (at least) the roster expansion stage that comes with the first day of classes. We'll let you know if all or some are practicing today with the Cougs.

They are: DT Justin Clayton, DL Darryl Paulo, LS Zach Koepp, CB Spencer Waseem and WR Henry Eaddy.

Except for Koepp and because of the position he plays, all look to have an uphill battle to try and be ready to contribute for Week 1. Why? They're not in "football shape." Their teammates have a huge fall camp head start. They also have to go through the NCAA acclimation period – they can add shoulder pads on their third practice. Full pads and full contact are not allowed until Day 5.

Mike Leach, it's become clear, likes to keep his opponent in the dark and hinted again on Sunday he might not name some starters until the day of the game against BYU. From the CF.C vantage point, here is our rundown on how the starting units look 10 days before the season.

OFFENSE
QB - Jeff Tuel
A virtual lock. As Leach has started the process of shifting reps to the players who will play most, Tuel has seen his reps increase with Connor Halliday's decrease.

RB - Leon Brooks/Teondray Caldwell/Carl Winston
This trio remains neck and neck and neck. The guess here on who the starter will be? There won't be one. Sure, there will be one name on top of the depth chart. But in effect, it is looking more and more like a running back by committee approach will be use.

LT - John Fullington
Lock.

LG - Matt Goetz
Lock.

C - Elliott Bosch
Lock. Taylor Meighen has not run at all with 1s in the past few days.

RG - Wade Jacobson/Jake Rodgers
This is a tough one. It's looking like it's 50-50 the last few days, right down the middle and the two players are just about interchangeable. A true pick ‘em at this point.

RT - Dan Spitz/Jake Rodgers.
Another tough one to pick. It's looking like Spitz in our view, but if Jacobson starts at right guard, there's at least the possibility Rodgers then comes over to start at right tackle. But our take is that it's probably going to be Spitz.

X WR - Marquess Wilson
Lock. Some of the two outside receiver personnel have been interchangeable and rotational, but not Wilson. He's an X and he figures to play the most of any of the wideouts.

Y WR - Andrei Lintz
Lock. Keep in mind however that there will be rotation here. There are, for example, certain sets where they'll want to put Rickey Galvin into the Y. At the same time and in part as a result, Lintz should be fresher and even more of a nightmare for would-be cover linebackers in the fourth quarter.

H WR - Gino Simone/Brett Bartolone
A very close battle but Simone gets the nod in our book. Count on a healthy amount of substitution here and not just from Bartolone. There's a good amount of rotation going on and someone like Bobby Ratliff, for example, can also rotate in here too.

Z WR - Gabe Marks
Marks has a clear upper hand in our view. That said and despite his ability to make the big play, he's still a freshman and he still makes mistakes, so count on a good amount of rotation here. Two of those to watch for here? Isiah Myers and Dominique Williams, the latter having come back as a full participant just recently. When he returns to full health, Kristoff Williams as well.

DEFENSE
LT - Matthew Bock
An apparent lock. Bock, a hard worker, has clearly been the guy getting the reps and throughout camp. That said, it's a mild surprise from this chair that someone hasn't risen up and taken the job from him. But neither Lenard Williams nor anyone else from WSU's thin d-line corps has emerged. Could Adam Coerper make a bid starting today? Clayton? Paulo? Or will it be Bock? Stay tuned.

NT - Ioane Gauta
When Xavier Cooper comes back, is this his spot? He was playing here, getting all the time with the 1s before his injury. But was he just keeping this spot warm for Gauta in fall camp as the Coug rookie got comfortable, and would he have moved to one of the outside tackle spots – Cooper was listed on the post spring depth chart at right tackle. The injury to Cooper rendered it a question destined to remain unanswered. And what of his injury? Leach isn't talking but to us, it has all the earmarks of a (damned) high ankle sprain. Those can take longer than a broken leg to heal. When Cooper comes back is anyone's guess.

*RT – Toni Pole
With 10 days to go and Pole just now coming back at full participation, we expect this starting spot to be his once he's ready. Steven Hoffart has been playing in his stead and has gotten a ton of time with the 1s. If and when Pole take that spot, does it mean Hoffart might slide over to the left tackle spot for Bock? There's been no indication of that but it's one of the possibilities as long as we're spitballing here. Coerper is the other guy that keeps springing to mind, though he has not been getting any time with the 1s in recent days. Lots of intrigue here up front over the next several days.

BUCK - Travis Long
Lock.

*SAM – Eric Oertel
When he gets healthy enough to return full-go, Eric Oertel is a lock here. But until then, Cyrus Coen/Jared Byers have been filling in with the 1s.

WIL - Chester Sua
Looking like a lock. Once a fierce battle, things have changed here. Justin Sagote should still play a good deal and contribute, but this is no longer a true position battle, as Sua has claimed a starting job and has been getting the reps.

MIK- Darryl Monroe
Lock.

SS- Deone Bucannon
Lock.

FS- Taylor Taliulu
An apparent decision may have been made at this safety spot -- to start a true freshman at safety over a trove of veterans. Tyree Toomer has not been getting time with the 1s the last few days, nor has Anthony Carpenter – both have been working with the 2s. Could it be the Cougs have been trying to flood Taliulu with No. 1 reps to get him ready for this season but that Toomer or Carpenter will again assume a post with the 1s at any moment? It's possible. But Taliulu looks to be playing the best of the group, and it's sure looking like he's the guy. Note: Casey Locker has something of a different role. He's been roving over the place -- as a nickel back, subbing in with the 1s, playing with the 2s and more. Our take is he might be a situational specialist and a guy who still sees a lot of reps.

CB- Nolan Washington
This is a tough one. At the moment, we'd have to give the nod to Washington over Daniel Simmons but it also wouldn't be a surprise if things changed up again with today's practice. Things have also changed here with respect to the youth. Ray Ford was sporting a cast the size of Thor's Hammer on Sunday but even if he wasn't – and you can include Alex Jackson and Rahmel Dockery here as well – all the signs on Sunday were pointing to Washington and Simmons being ahead of the freshman trio in the fight for a starting corner job. That trio has the potential to be very, very good over the course of their careers. But their time looks to be down the road, not now.

CB- Damante Horton
Lock.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Placekicker – Andrew Furney
Lock.

Punter, Kickoff Specialist – Mike Bowlin.
Lock.

Punt returns – Brooks
Theron West was getting considerable opportunities as well on Sunday. Stay tuned.

Gunners
Washington and Carpenter were the guys on Sunday.

KO returns – Still a pick ‘em.
A large group that has yet to be whittled down – look for some movement here this week.

LS - Ryan Saparto/Alex Den Bleyker/Koepp
Saparto has been the primary long-snapper this camp but just can't rule out the other guys at this stage -- particularly when they have Pac-12 game experience and Saparto does not.


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