RB Teondray Caldwell
No one on the Cougs racked up more all-purpose yards in the WSU stat book last year than did Caldwell. His kickoff returns accounted for the majority, with 675 hashes (269 rushing yards, 36 receiving yards.)
Speaking of running back receiving yards… In Mike Leach's Air Raid, rushing yards and rushing attempts are almost always going to be fewer than at other programs, but touches are not.
Texas Tech running backs averaged a stunning 64.7 receptions a year under Leach. And it is in this area where many expect Caldwell's biggest improvement to be seen in 2013 – he had 14 grabs last year.
The Cougar ground game remained a work in progress this spring but it was Caldwell who was the most consistent, the most reliable. What makes him the man to catch is his burst -- he has a great plant-and-go.
LB Cyrus Coen
Coen was the fifth-leading tackler on the Cougs last season, with 60 takedowns (40 solo) and 12 TFL. He took over the starting SAM linebacker spot in Week 2 and never let it go. He was also second on the team last year with three interceptions – a spot usually reserved for a defensive back.
What makes the junior-to-be special can be found in his instincts, angles and technique. Coen was huge in helping limit Stanford's running game last year and despite being listed last year at 6-0, 205-pounds, there was an "ooh-ahh" play where he put a Cardinal 300-pound o-lineman flat on his wallet. On another snap, he successfully took on two Cardinals, thereby allowing a teammate to make a tackle-for-loss. You can't do those things unless you have smarts and rock-solid technique.
Coen will be battling Eric Oertel for the starting post in fall camp, just like last year. Both figure to play, with the backup possibly seeing considerable turns in rotation. Coen has faced challenges before at WSU. He is a former walk on safety, and he still has his redshirt.
In his first year with the Cougs, he played in all 12 games and started one. And in only his second season, he made 11 consecutive starts and was named honorable mention All-Pac-12.
RT Rico Forbes
Forbes has yet to play a down for Washington State -- and yet based on what he did this spring, it made leaving him off the 10-best list difficult.
He was all set to start last season when a knee injury struck in fall camp and ended his season before it began.
Forbes (6-6, 304) has the body-type as a tackle that fits smartly into the Air Raid. More importantly, he has the feet. And he uses his arms deftly against would-be rushers off the edge.
He redshirted his first season with the Cougs in 2011 after transferring in from junior college – though he probably could have contributed, it was more important at that stage to build depth. And he made excellent use of his learning opportunity. Then, when that all seemed for naught after the subsequent injury, he attacked his rehab this past year in a way that had him ahead of schedule and at nearly 100 percent this past spring.
Given how he performed in spring ball, Cougar fans should be excited to see what 100 percent from Forbes looks like on Saturdays this fall.
LB Justin Sagote
Sagote came in last year and won the starting job over Chester Sua in Week 3. He proceeded to post 61 tackles (39 solo), tied for third-best on the Cougs in 2012.
Sagote's listed at 6-2, 225 but he plays bigger than that. He's very physical, chases people down with better speed than he's given credit for and he's been lauded by the coaches for his toughness.
Sua was sidelined this spring but there was still competition for Sagote's job – Tana Pritchard is giving him a run for his money.
But it's also worth noting that Sagote was slowed at times this spring due injury. And whoever wins the job should give the Cougs strong play at the WIL, with the backup also getting quality turns in rotation.
Sagote was also a natural leader this past season despite it being his first year in Pullman after arriving via junior college. And leadership is a quality prized by Leach and Co.
WR Kristoff Williams
Williams was listed as the No. 2 "X" receiver behind fast-rising Dominique Williams this spring. But no receiver turned more heads in the Crimson and Gray Game than did KW.
Williams at times this spring looked apprehensive, and coaches were critical of his hands and hesitancy to use his body as a weapon. But then he put it together – big time -- in the spring game, exploding for seven catches, 136 yards and one TD. It was the second straight scrimmage he had suddenly taken flight.
To be fair, Williams has fought through injuries while at WSU. But from a bottom line perspective, Williams will also be a fourth-year junior this season and if he's going to become that true outside threat many predicted when he signed with WSU, he needs to start soon.
What makes Williams (6-2, 216) a potential break-out receiver in '13 is that he's a physical wideout who can beat the press and manhandle defensive backs both in coverage and when fighting for the ball. Before the last two scrimmages this spring, some fans were wondering if he realized just how good he can be, just how strong a receiver he is on the outside.
Based on how the session wrapped up for Williams, that concept would now appear to be well known to him.
Kristoff Williams (18); Cyrus Coen (43); Rico Forbes (76); Justin Sagote (51); Teondray Caldwell (34)
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