2014 Coug RB group is a first for Mastro

HERE'S SOMETHING DIFFERENT: the Cougs are stacked at running back this spring. Jim Mastro tells Cougfan.com that in 25 years, he's never been more excited than he is to coach this Cougar group of five, all of whom Mastro says are capable of producing in the Pac-12. The question then naturally begs -- is WSU likely to run the ball more this season? CF.C asked Mastro about that and much more…

"What people don't understand is some of the passing game we have is just an extended run game," said Mastro. "As we go through and break down our offense, there are some passes that go into the run category… And it depends on the defense. We're going to take what they're going to give us.

"If they're going to give us, a la Auburn and a la Arizona, keep giving us those great run looks, then we're going to keep running the ball. But as soon as they load us up and say we're not going to let you run the ball anymore, then we're going to throw it. Defenses dictate that more than the offense does."

That said, Mastro thinks he has an explosive quintet in Marcus Mason, Teondray Caldwell, Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks and Theron West.

"I've never been more excited in my 25 years of coaching than I am with these five guys," said Mastro. "I mean, you've got five guys that can play… Back in the heyday of Nevada we had two studs... Here, we've got five."

That's significant, considering that Nevada under Mastro led the nation in rushing in 2009 and ranked third nationally in 2008. Granted, QB Colin Kaepernick was part of that but keep in mind Nevada had two running backs combine for 2,379 ground yards in 2009 (Vai Taua, Luke Lippincott). And with Kaepernick, Nevada became the first in college football history to field three 1,000-yard rushers in a season. And Taua rushed for 1,521 hashes in 2008.

THIS SPRING, WILL Wicks, Morrow and West potentially see more reps since Mastro already knows what he's got, or at least knows more about what he's got, in Mason and Caldwell?

"Exactly. It took us 2 ½ years but we've finally got depth at that position, and now we'll have a lot of competition this spring…Right now, this is one position that is absolutely wide open, and it will be determined by spring and fall camp," said Mastro.

MASTRO SAID THAT Wicks and Morrow will take the next step along their maturity level this spring.

"Wicks is just a big, strong, fast straight-ahead kid. Morrow is more elusive, can make you miss, got great hands out of the backfield," said Mastro. "We know they're going to be great players but right now they're kind of an unknown because we haven't put them in a game situation yet, we haven't put them with the normal offense. So it's going to be eye-opening for us too to see what these two can do."

IF THAT SOUNDS like Wicks might be the goal-line guy now that Jeremiah Laufasa has transferred, think again.

"I have to wait and see how Wicks and Morrow pan out because we haven't put them in that position yet," said Mastro. "But both guys run hard, Morrow's real elusive, Wicks can run you over… or (it could be) whoever we have in the game, we'll just let it roll. We'll take spring ball and fall camp to decide that."

MEANWHILE, WEST SEEMED TO come out of nowhere at the end of last season.

"Mason was pretty beat up by the time we got to the bowl game … and T-West has finally matured, he's grown up and he was getting our attention – getting Mike Leach's attention, getting my attention…Teondray was a little beat up, Mason was a little beat up, so we figured it was a perfect chance for him and he played very well in the bowl game," said Mastro.

WITH THE COUGS REPLACING three starters on the offensive line, how much of a concern is that for Mastro?

"There are new guys, but I'm really excited about those guys…there are going to be three new starters but they're three guys we like a lot," said Mastro. "The running backs game goes how the o-line goes. You can say what you want about your running backs and how talented that group is, it doesn't matter how good we are without that group. They're young and will have to grow up in a hurry but Clay (McGuire) has some guys who can play there."

MASTRO HAS FIVE running backs with no clear pecking order headed into Thursday's first practice. He said he'd like to see the exact same situation at the end of the 15 practice sessions.

"I don't want a set order because I want it to be so competitive that we have to let it roll into fall -- if we have a set guy after spring that means one guy stepped up and the other four didn't," said Mastro. "We feel like we're so equally balanced here at this position and I want to see that roll into summer and roll into fall camp. That's how you get good. That's how competition gets you better.

"I'm proud of all of them. They've all done great in the classroom, in the weight room, off the field. We've had an incredible offseason… to me spring ball is the midterm, and the you have summer and fall camp and fall camp is the final exam."

THERE'S BEEN CHATTER ever since Mastro came to Pullman about the possibility of adding some of the Pistol. Any plans to look at that this year?

"You have to ask Coach Leach that question," Mastro said. "Right now we're just trying to establish a two-deep. And we already do some of the Pistol, maybe not the formation but the principles are the same – the way we block things in the run game, there's a lot of it. But I think he just wants to focus on us getting better (at what we do), getting the Air Raid better.

"We always talk about things as a staff – do we want to add (this)? But we're never going to add a whole lot because Leach wants us to be good at what we do -- which is the way you're supposed to do it. There's a few things we've talked about that you might see this spring but I don't think it'll be anything drastic. Maybe tweaks here and there but nothing earth-shattering, not until we get good at what we do."

Mastro said when he first arrived at WSU, the heaviest running back he had was around 170-pounds, now the lightest he has in his stable is around 180-pounds. Mastro was talking about West, who is listed on the depth chart at 171-pounds but is a little heavier than that. "I think the heaviest he was (this offseason) was 181, he told me the other day he was about 177. We're going to get him to play at about 183-185… which he should be able to do."

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