Cougar receivers coach offers insights galore

MERCER ISLAND – Washington State outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons wants Cougar Nation to notice a decided difference this season when it comes to the receiving game. In a wide-ranging interview, Simmons also takes you inside the WSU staff's meeting room for areas of emphasis when it comes to the Cougar grabmasters.

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"I think yards after contact was the biggest thing we worked on," said Simmons of the Cougars' spring. "We had too many "catch and fall guy" moments. We can't have that. We had a lot of drops too. Is a kid going to drop the ball? Yes. But we try to minimize the drops and play technical, sound football.

"But for me, the biggest thing was our YAC. We need to get better at that. It's no value to us if you catch the ball and go down right away or run out of bounds. We can't have catch-and-fall guys. In our offense, we need to get yards after initial contact."

It was the little things that Simmons emphasized all spring.

"I told them we need to get better at doing the little things," said Simmons. "Be aggressive with your hands. Use your hands, not your body. The little things make a big difference for a receiver. Being physical in the run game. Setting the routes up and coming off the line of scrimmage the same way.

"Those were some of the key elements we talked about in the meeting room this spring."

SIMMONS SAID, for the most part, those areas were addressed on the field during spring ball. But he's a coach, and just like Mike Leach, there is always, always room for improvement.

"Some of those skills, we accomplished, some of those, we have yet to accomplish," said Simmons. "The focal point right now is to work on the little things."

With a slew of underclassmen that played last year, (including 17 freshmen), this spring meant the receivers had less margin for error.

"There is more expectation for these guys because no one gets credit for last year," said Simmons. "We don't get credit anymore for those catches and yards they had last year. It's a new year. It's a Janet Jackson mentality, ‘what have you done for this team lately?' They understand there is competition now."

SIMMONS SAID THE inexperience showed at times last year, but there's a flip side to that coin. Having gone through that process, the benefits can be better realized this season.

"Gabe Marks was a young guy who had a chance to play," said Simmons. "So was Dominique Williams, so was Isaiah Myers, they were redshirt freshman but if you look at the previous season, they hadn't played a quarter. There was a room full of young guys.

"Kristoff Williams was a year older, but you can throw him in there with the injuries and the playing time he had prior to the season. Our room for growth and our ceiling was really high."

Yet despite all of their playing time and starts last year, nothing is set in stone when it comes to 2013.

"All of these guys are working to play, but we're going to put our best guys available out there to play -- nothing is guaranteed," said Simmons. "They knew that going into the spring. We made it very clear: we're going out to recruit guys to replace you, so it's your job to go out there and solidify your spot, or you're not going to play as often as you did. They understand that."

SIMMONS SINGLED OUT two of his receivers for their work in the spring.

"I thought Gabe started off strong and I thought Kristoff finished the spring where I expected him to play," said Simmons. "Kristoff is a guy that when you see him and see how physical he is, your expectation is that he'll be a beast. I thought he did some things towards the end of spring that kind of showed you that -- that he knows what he has within him.

"Now it's my job to pull that out of him on an everyday basis."

The Cougars' incoming receivers in the 2013 class is a group that Simmons is hoping will push the returners and give the staff more options.

"We played 17 freshmen last year, so we won't hesitate to play young guys. There is going to be an immediate need for all of them. You never know through injury or the woes of a regular season when a guy is going to have to step up. So all of them, you would expect to be ready," said Simmons.

THOSE INCOMING COUGARS will arrive later this month, enroll in summer school and join the team in their voluntary workouts. As CF.C detailed in this article, one of them, Vince Mayle, is already on campus.

"Vince is guy you would want to come in and contribute," said Simmons. "He has some college experience, even though it's at a JC. But from a physical standpoint, he has some college experience. And from a physical standpoint, he's a beast.

"You would expect him to come in and give you some value in the receiving corps and give you some minutes to upgrade your talent."

And speaking of minutes, the Coug WRs coaches were definitely putting in the time on Friday at the NW Elite Football Camp.

At the end of the day, Simmons and WSU inside receivers coach Dave Yost were the last coaches to leave.

If you missed it on Saturday, be sure to check out the article on the NW Elite Football Camp – click here.

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