6 WSU storylines as Cougars’ fall camp looms

THIS WEEK, IN preparation of covering fall camp for Cougfan.com, I’ll be taking a look at what I see as the biggest storylines surrounding Washington State’s training camp that kicks off in Lewiston on Saturday.

Let’s get right to it.

1. With apologies to the defense, the No. 1 storyline for the Cougars in my book is the quarterback position.
It almost always will be when you’re considering a Mike Leach team. Luke Falk through his three starts last year is the heir apparent but don’t think Mike Leach will just hand over the keys to the offense without competition. Throughout spring ball, Falk split reps with redshirt freshman Peyton Bender. Falk has the upper hand but Bender has a quick release and throws a nice ball.

Leach’s history and love for competition means Bender has a decent shot to start for the Cougars -- and the starter probably won’t be officially named until shortly before the season opener. A side note: In Leach’s three years at WSU his competition-driven attitude hasn’t always generated the desired results. I’ll touch more on that this week.

2. The coaching changes at WSU have barely been talked about headed into fall ball but I think they’ll be huge to whether WSU sinks or swims.
In case it’s slipped your mind, the Cougars last season promoted Eric Mele to run the special teams on an interim basis after the debacle against Cal got Eric Russell canned (WSU allowed two carbon copy kickoff returns for touchdowns and missed a 19-yard field goal to win it at the end). Mele had the interim designation removed this offseason. The Cougars' special teams for years have been anything but -- will Mele have the Midas touch in 2015?

Joining Mele in Pullman in 2015 is new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Alex Grinch – and he is a particularly interesting hire from Missouri. He’s so well liked that Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly, who worked with him at New Hampshire, offered his two cents when Leach brought Grinch onboard. Former Leach quarterback at Texas Tech, Graham Harrell takes over as the outside receivers coach and his work during spring ball earned the praise of players including Gabe Marks. Finally, Roy Manning looks to give the Cougar defense a fierce look as outside linebackers coach.

3. If the quarterbacks are the most important part of the Air Raid offense, the wide receivers are a close second. (I know, some will argue it’s the offensive line but I think the wideout position in Leach’s precision passing attack get the slight nod in ‘15 with so many new starters). I’ll look at expectations for returners Dom Williams, River Cracraft and Robert Lewis as well as Tyler Baker and Calvin Green. Meanwhile, the return of Marks (whom Leach chose to redshirt last season) will be a big story throughout fall camp. I’ll also opine on if the wideout group as a whole will struggle this season in replacing three of four starters (Vince Mayle, Isiah Myers and Rickey Galvin) or if they’ll soar to new heights.

4. I’ll also look at the myth that WSU can’t run the football.
The Cougars and their coaches have hinted at more running plays this season, and the team spent lots of time preparing in the spring for that possibility. With ‘backs like Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow (who both averaged 3.8 or more yards per carry) and the addition of Keith Harrington to the mix I’m not only seeing more runs called, but increased production, too.

5. On ESPN last week Leach pegged the secondary as the Cougs’ biggest question mark headed into fall ball.
Leach dismissed Daquawn Brown, his best ’14 cornerback, back in December and the secondary is one of the youngest units the Cougars have this season with only one senior, Taylor Taliulu, mixed in amongst a gaggle of sophomores and junior college transfers. Who will the Cougars turn to? I’ll dive into that.

6. Finally, I’ll talk about my overall expectations for the Cougs over the course of fall camp. If you have anything you’d like me to try and work in, tweet at me @ZimCaster on twitter or on the CF.C forums and I’ll give it my best shot.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matthew Zimmer served as the general manager, radio show host and play-by-play man at KUGR Radio during his time at Washington State. He also worked with Cable 8, KQQQ and is the co-founder of The Front Office, a sports website. He graduated from Washington State this spring with a degree in communication and media studies.

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