Leach’s fourth fall camp: Raised expectations

SATURDAY MARKS the start of Mike Leach’s fourth fall camp at Washington State. But whether the Cougs are young at some spots (and they most definitely are) there is also a sense that coming off a three-year record of 7-20 in the Pac-12, the expectations should be higher in 2015. Here’s what I expect during the Cougs’ fall camp leading up to the season opener against Portland State on Sept. 5.

Offense
• I expect Luke Falk and Peyton Bender to show improvement in footwork, timing, and strength. However, I believe Falk’s experience push him over the top of any offseason training. And that means I expect Falk to begin the season as the Cougs’ starting quarterback.

• The offensive line should show the growth of what a season of working together can do. All five of the returning starting o-linemen will be stronger and better suited for a return to their roles and I expect to see plenty of evidence of that in fall camp. I’m certainly not ruling out someone else taking a starting job from the returners, but I do think it will be a challenge.

• I expect to see be a jumble at the running back position this fall camp as Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington fight for the top two spots. I think all three will play, but for the top two to get the lion’s share of the snaps. Last year Wicks and Morrow worked fairly well off each other, and that should only improve this season. I also expect giving Leach a third weapon in Harrington virtually guarantees WSU to play quicker, but more efficiently too.

Gabe Marks should return without missing a beat, given his play this spring, and with a season off there isn’t as much wear and tear. I expect to see great routing running and a very explosive Marks in camp.

• Keep an eye on Robert Lewis, although it’s a coin flip as to whether he shows it in camp (depends on if the WSU defense covers like the opponents will). What I’m getting at here: I think Lewis is decidedly capable of being in the top four for receptions and yards this season. With double teams expected at times on Marks, River Cracraft and Dom Williams, Lewis is the guy I see as being the beneficiary.

Defense
• The position I’m watching the most is the linebacker spot because those are the guys who need to have big tackle numbers for WSU. Granted, new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is also the DBs coach, but as the coordinator he also needs to oversee all defensive aspects. I expect Roy Manning’s impact will show early with the outside linebackers and the linebacker unit as a whole will rush the passer via a better first step and a more aggressive charge into the backfield.

• The secondary is what most everyone else is watching and for me they’re a close second. I expect corners Charleston White and Marcellus Pippins along with Darius Lemora at nickel back to all be better after their first season. I expect to see Taylor Taliulu, Sulaiman Hameed, Isaac Dotson and Shalom Luani duking it out for the two safety spots, although one of those guys could instead be battling with Lemora. Regardless of how the personnel shakes out, I expect Grinch to have the group nabbing more interceptions.

• The defensive line is arguably the most stacked unit with Darryl Paulo, Daniel Ekuale, Destiny Vaeao, Hercules Mata’afa and Reggie Coates, just to name a few. Throw in outside linebackers Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan and the expectation is to at least have a serviceable front seven, although that’s the least that should be expected. I honestly don’t expect too many surprises to come out of the d-line, only because there is a decent amount of experience returning and the unit played well against the run in ‘14.

Special Teams
• This unit has the most question marks, as evidenced by the earlier CF.C article linked below. Who Leach will have returning kicks is the question that haunts me the most, although I know others are more concerned with the coverage units. Special teams play may have sent CougFans into therapy last season but I expect Eric Mele will make the special teams units stronger as the season progresses.

One final expectation
• I expect to see even more fire, and chippy behavior, in fall camp that we saw during spring ball.


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