WSU’s most contested position battles

PULLMAN – With the season opener but eight days away, and 18 Washington State practices now in the books, some of the Week 1 starters on offense and defense seem readily apparent to our eye. But not all of ‘em. Indeed, at these spots the position battles continue to rage on and/or are providing great theater and compelling storylines.

This article focuses on the offense and defense, with a CF.C special teams article yet to come.

RUSH

It's Ivan McLennan (pictured above). No wait, it's Kache Palacio (pictured at top of story). Rinse and repeat. It remains a pick 'em proposition. Palacio, with 19 career WSU starts under his belt including all 12 last year, may well get the starting nod in Week 1. But McLennan looks like he's going to play a good deal this season regardless of who is named the starter. He has made strides from a year ago and is quick off the snap. The two have been getting about equal reps in camp -- with McLennan getting perhaps a touch more in recent day. So why doesn't that just indicate McLennan is the leading candidate? Oftentimes the WSU staff wants to give a "1A guy" a lot of first-team snaps before they get to game week, to give him as many reps as they can, since they know he's going to play. Right now, it feels like the Rush spot has co-starters. We'll see if things change, in terms of practice time with the 1s, next week leading into Portland State.

CORNERBACK, SAFETY, NICKEL BACK

We won't know for sure until Sept. 5 but it sure looks like to us that WSU is going to have a true freshman starter at one corner in Darrien Molton, and another WSU rookie at the strong safety position in third-year junior Shalom Luani. Molton has been getting the most first-string snaps here (alongside fellow starting CB Charleston White, pictured above with Luani) over Marcellus Pippins. Why wouldn't this be the same situation as above, where the WSU coaches are just trying to get Molton as many reps as they can before game week prep? Because Mike Leach on KJR radio Wednesday said there would be some new faces in the secondary headed into Portland State. By the way, Isaac Dotson looks like he's going to be the starting nickel, getting the lion's share of first-team snaps there over Darius Lemora of late. Two reasons for that in our view: Dotson, at 215-pounds, is better suited to take on the quasi-SAM run responsibilities at the nickel than Lemora (196) plus Luani has played his way into a starting role - but WSU doesn't want to remove Dotson from the starting lineup because of Luani's emergence. That also speaks to how well Taylor Taliulu has played in Alex Grinch's new system: WSU didn't instead plug Luani in at Taliulu's free safety spot. Instead, it appears to us they want Taliulu, Dotson and Luani all out there, alongside Molton and White, so as to put their best defensive backfield foot forward vs. Portland State.

NOSE TACKLE

Daniel Ekuale has missed some fall ball time due to apparent injury and Robert Barber has done very well in his stead, as Joe Salave'a implied to CF.C earlier this week when he talked about the raging battle that was going on between the two. From what we can glean, Ekuale is expected to be fine, more than ready by the time the opener rolls around. And here's the thing about Ekuale: he is "country strong" and barring something unexpected, he looks like the starting NT to us in Week 1. But Barber has turned some heads in this camp, he's moving the best he ever has since his string of injuries began as a freshman. The big takeaway to us on Barber, a fourth-year junior, is that he will -- at the least -- give Salave'a the flexibility to rotate at the nose, something that could turn out huge in the fourth quarter of games.

The remaining offensive and defensive positions look fairly well set to us, barring something unexpected. Check back in on CF.C later this afternoon for our projection, eight days before the opener, of the Week 1 starting lineups on offense and defense.

NOTABLE NOTE:
The Cougs are holding a short walk through Friday and then driving to Lewiston to simulate travel week. There is no media availability after the walk through -- so there will will be no practice report nor Cougfan TV tonight.


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