What we learned this spring about the Cougs

PULLMAN – The 15 spring practices at Washington State provided critical insight as to how the fall will shake out. Here are four things that stood out most for the Cougars this spring, and what we've learned...

1. The Cougs may very well have a very good front seven on defense.
Sure, the Cougs are unlikely to have a senior starter in the linebacking corps, but youthful exuberance seems capable of holding serve in 2013. Led by third-year sophomore Darryl Monroe, the Cougs can expect big things from a host of linebackers that includes junior Cyrus Coen, third-year sophomore Tana Pritchard, and sophomore BUCK Kache Palacio. Senior Justin Sagote figured to be a shoe-in at the WILL when spring ball began; now, with the emergence of Pritchard, that's a battle.

On the defensive line, the Cougs are much deeper than anticipated. With senior Ioane Gauta in the middle and third-year sophomore Xavier Cooper to his left, the Cougs have a formidable first point of contact in the trenches. And that doesn't even take into account Toni Pole -- or the emergence of Darryl Paulo. At right end, fourth-year junior Matt Bock continues to hold down the fort, but he'll be pushed by junior Logan Mayes and others this fall.

All things considered, if the offense can keep this defense off the field here and there, the Cougs could greatly surprise the critics and cynics in 2013.

2. The defensive secondary needs work. Bring on the freshmen.
Don't sound the alarm just yet. While the defensive secondary was lacking, it's not to say things won't improve this fall. It starts with the seniors. Nolan Washington, Damante Horton and Anthony Carpenter will all need to take a step forward this fall if this squad hopes to turn any heads in 2013.

Washington missed 80 percent of the spring, but returned for the final few practices and played decently. Horton played the first half of spring ball at a below average clip, but came on strong the final two practices and played the best he has in a while. Carpenter on the other hand is a completely different mold. He's not going to wow anyone with his cover skills, but his ability to press at the line and make the open field tackle gives the coaching staff some flexibility as to which direction they'd like to go.

If the veterans aren't able to make the necessary adjustments, expect youth to once again step in and prevail. Second-year freshman Alex Jackson and incoming frosh Daquawn Brown both look to have the makings of Pac-12 caliber cornerbacks.

Throw in second-year freshman Rahmel Dockery, and the Cougs may have a trio there that can carry the secondary for years to come.

3. The offensive line is bigger and better… but how much better?
This team has so many more bodies to work with, appeasing offensive line coach Clay McGuire after an abysmal 2012. Fifth-year senior Rico Forbes looks to have the makings of a bookend right tackle for the Cougs, while third-year sophomore Joe Dahl and second-year freshman Eduardo Middleton appear primed to compete for starting jobs this fall. Dahl started at right guard all fall, while Middleton rotated in at a number of positions.

Still, there's certainly work that remains. It's important to note this offensive line should only continue to get better, and not all of the spring struggles should persist in the fall. Why? The starting five are still getting acquainted with each other, and will need time to jell.

Despite what fans saw at the spring game (when the starters were spread over both teams,) the full of the spring session indicated this -- the days of being the cellar dwellers in the sacks allowed category should be over.

4. If he can stay healthy, Gabe Marks is an all-conference player.
Marquess Wilson and his gaudy numbers are gone but flashy receiver play on the Palouse still holds true. Gabe Marks may be the most polished receiver the Cougs have seen for a while. His hands are unmatched on the roster, and his competitive nature is unparalleled. Wilson may have fancied the big play, but I'll go on the record as saying Marks is a more complete player at this stage in his career.

He doesn't possess the height, or leaping ability as Wilson, but Marks' hands, ability to go over the middle and his dog-like mentality in the open-field make this a guy Coug fans should fall in love with even more in 2013.

Fans didn't get to see the whole Marks package last season. The wear and tear of a full Pac-12 season wore on the true freshman and his weight, or lack thereof, became a detriment to his durability. Now ten pounds heavier, and a year older, Marks looks to have the makings of a true playmaker who can do it all for the Cougs.

He was every quarterback's favorite target this spring, and looks to be holding himself to the highest of expectations. Throw in some swagger and a class-clown kind of attitude and Marks just screams ‘ShowTime.'

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