SPRING COUNTDOWN: Cougars WR Preview Part I

PULLMAN–Mike Leach believes in an eight-man system at wide receiver. The top four start but four more should be ready to step in every third play or so. According to Leach, it helps the system move at its fullest capacity, rotating fresh legs throughout the course of the game. Because of that, a bevy of targets end up getting some in-game run -- a favorable circumstance for the Cougs this spring.

Redshirt sophomore Dominique Williams, along with second year sophomores Gabe Marks and Brett Bartolone appear destined for extensive time this season but as the past has shown, they'll have to put in the work or risk getting losing turns to any number of hungry wideouts behind them.

The Cougs return the vast majority of wideouts from last season's squad, with the exception of Marquess Wilson and seniors Gino Simone and Andrei Lintz.

The Pre-Spring Eight
Dominique Williams

Gabe Marks

Brett Bartolone

Bobby Ratliff

Isiah Myers

Kristoff Williams

Rickey Galvin

Robert Lewis

At the "X", Williams burst onto the scene midway through 2012, ably filling down the stretch the enormous shoes left by Wilson. Before Wilson went AWOL, Williams had recorded just three catches for a mild 48 yards. Following his exit, Williams turned it on. His 31 catches and 498 yards, including five touchdowns, in the final five games of the season helped ignite what was to that point, a stagnant offense.

A full season of production could yield Williams his first 1000-yard season, on top of double-digit touchdowns to boot.

Williams plays very similarly to his predecessor. He's very lanky, possesses strong hands, and has a tendency to go after the ball at its highest point. Listed at 6-2, 187, Williams plays bigger than advertised.

Marks, one of the more heavily promoted wideout recruits in WSU history, also had a solid season at the "Z", but fell off toward the latter half, visibly fatigued making the transition to the extensive workload that comes with Pac-12 play.

Marks had, by many accounts including my own, one of the most incredible fall camps in Cougar history. Not only did Marks make each and every one of the routine catches, but he seemingly never dropped the extraordinary grabs. At that point, it was impossible for coaches not to play him as a true freshman.

His fall performance helped land Marks into the starting-four, leading to a 2012 in which the Los Angeles native hauled in 49 balls for 560 yards and two scores.

After an offseason in the weight room and noticeable weight gain, expect Marks to be ready for a full season's workload and an even better year statistically in 2013.

(The other thing to keep in mind, because they're so interchangeable, WSU receivers could go back and forth between the inside and outside. For example, Marks could also line up on the inside as he did against Oregon. Ratliff could find his way into the slot, as he did a large chunk of 2012. And so on..)

Bartolone may be the key to the whole shebang.


BRETT BARTOLONE

As the "H" slot receiver, Bartolone plays the "Wes Welker/Danny Amendola" role. In short yardage situations, Bartolone is the go-to guy, capitalizing on his quickness and lateral agility to out maneuver linebackers and slower nickel-backs matched up on him.

Bartolone hauled in 53 balls in 2013 for 435 yards and four touchdowns, assuming the starting role in Week 4. His numbers would have been larger if the offense hadn't needed to throw down the field after early deficits -- Bartolone should see more passes in 2013, especially early in games or when protecting a lead in the fourth quarter.

After those three, the "Y" position should see plenty of competition this spring.

Bobby Ratliff comes in as the incumbent having started the last four games in 2012 but he'll have competition nipping at his heels. Speaking of competition, Ratliff, along with outside receivers Isiah Myers and Kristoff Williams, both juniors, should all get long looks this spring.

Those three all had their own demons in 2013, whether that be durability, work ethic or performance -- each will need to show they've become more well-rounded starting with spring drills.

Myers started 2012 like a bat out of hell, claiming the Z-spot within the first few weeks of the season. The Orlando, Fla. native hauled in 38 balls in the first seven weeks of the season, accentuating his performance with four scores. Unfortunately for Myers, a concussion in practice sidelined the versatile widout, and he was never the same production-wise after that.

A strong offseason of weight training should help Myers take the next step, and presumably, make him the favorite to capture the open split-end position this spring.


BOBBY RATLIFF

Ratliff and Williams never truly found firm footing in 2012, and seemed to have a difficult time finding their true positions.

Ratliff ended up catching 30 balls last season, but many of those were out of the slot in the H-back position. Ratliff (6-2, 194) has the size to play outside, but seems to be overshadowed by some other candidates headed into the 15-practice spring session. Ratliff lacks top-end speed, something Leach clearly values on the outside. He should get a shot though (possibly at the Z-position?) this spring, though time will tell whether or not his true calling in inside or outside the numbers.

Williams (6-2, 209), once deemed ‘even better than Marquess Wilson' has yet to blossom. Whether it be injuries, work ethic or a case of the drops in practice, Williams has yet to get the nod from the coaching staff. Physically gifted and a sculpted athlete, Williams can be a matchup nightmare for defensive backs due to his strength and ability to beat press coverage. If he can shore up his hands, and exude himself of the durability issues that have arose, Williams could be exactly what the coaching staff is looking for, though he too lacks overwhelming speed.

Rounding out the eight, junior Rickey Galvin, once a heralded up-and-coming running back, will remain in the receiving corps this season, running exclusively out of the slot.


RICKEY GALVIN

Galvin possesses good speed and a ton of talent in the open field with the ball in his hands. Save for a broken arm in Week 3, Galvin almost certainly would have been a significant contributor last season. With an even deeper receiving corps in '13, Galvin will have to once again prove he is one of the top options at the slot, a daunting task in 2012, let alone this season.

Finally, one newcomer who could make an immediate splash in the system this spring is the slight, yet blazingly quick Robert Lewis. A grayshirt, Lewis has had the chance to put 15 pounds on what was once a 140-pound frame. Because of his size, durability is certainly a concern for Lewis, but his speed may be too much to keep off the field.

Lewis appears to be the hybrid type. He can catch balls out of the slot in open space, get touches in different ways out of the backfield, and, perhaps most valuably in his true freshman year, return punts and kicks on a regular basis.

It is yet to be seen how Lewis will be utilized, but it's certainly something to look for come spring ball.

Stay tuned for Part II on the wide receivers on CF.C…

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