Peyton Bender OR Tyler Hilinski
Falk is the clear starter, of course. Bender, meanwhile, deserves the chance to bounce back from a horrendous Apple Cup and prove he's the QB who led that first drive in that game, and not the guy seen in the rest of the debacle. And Hilinski with a year under his belt, meanwhile, deserves his chance to try and earn the backup job over Bender. The battle for No. 2 figures to be a compelling one this spring.
Gerard Wicks OR Jamal Morrow
Keith Harrington OR James Williams
This should be great theater. Mike Leach and running backs coach Jim Mastro have said they won't rotate four running backs once the season starts, but that doesn't mean they won't have the four duking it out in the spring. Indeed, we'd argue that's exactly what it means for the spring, with spring drills (and possibly even part of fall camp) featuring a four-way battle that will determine the top three on the chart.
B.J. Salmonson OR Noah Osur-Myers
There are lots of different machinations that could play here (and some backup spots might be most accurately filled by starters elsewhere). In losing Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund to graduation on the left side, might o-line coach Clay McGuire move Cole Madison to the left tackle spot? It's certainly possible. But our guess, based on what WSU did when Dahl was injured, is no - at least not for the spring. McGuire this past season instead first moved Middleton to left guard to shore up that side when Dahl went out. Dillard has loads of potential but it would make sense for WSU on the left side to try and replicate that with Middleton in 2016 (with the experienced Eklund at left guard beside Dillard in the late stages of '15).
O'Connell was fitted at guard last season but does the 6-8 behemoth also get a long look at tackle this spring? It would seem to us the top four tackles heading into spring are Madison, Dillard, O'Connell and Bigge-Duren. But if a starting tackle were to go down in a game, all things being equal, it might make the most sense to slide Middleton to a tackle spot and fill his guard spot with the numbers and experience there.
Speaking of guards, what about Flor? He seems a lock for the backup center job but might he also challenge O'Connell at one of the gusard spots, and/or be the first man off the bench for any of the three interior positions? Is Bigge-Duren at 6-6 someone who can ably play either guard or tackle and more importantly, is he ready as a second-year freshman in 2016? Bigge-Duren and Osur-Myers in our view are the two most ready of last year's redshirting o-linemen to compete, although some January corner-turners usually come into play. And it's a big unknown just what the Cougs have in Amosa Sakaria after knee surgery (according to California Sunday Magazine) and a redshirt season.
Then there's Salmonson, who looked like he might be ready to make a move at various points over the past year. So did Freeman. Both have been primarily centers by trade and will be fourth-year juniors in '16 -- could one or both find their niche at guard in '16 and more importantly, follow the same path as did Middleton who as a fourth-year junior in '15 took a huge step forward? Indeed, Middleton removed any doubt early on he'd not only be a 2015 starter, he's be one of WSU's best o-linemen. Meanwhile, Brandon Evers now has two seasons under his belt at WSU and the early part of 2016, and spring ball, figure to be big for him.
Kyrin Priester OR Tavares Martin
Robert Lewis OR Kyle Sweet
Priester, Martin or Johnson
Marks and Cracraft are clear starters. It gets interesting after that.
Whatever the pecking order was this past year for Priester (33 rec, 241 yards) and Martin (16 rec, 124 yards), the reset button figures to be pushed this spring with a new outside receivers coach in Dave Nichol. Priester looked like he was a step away at times in his first season at WSU. Martin, as did Priester, looked more and more comfortable as the year went along.
It's also an eye-opener to spot Johnson in the two-deeps, a true freshman who starts classes at WSU on Monday. But he has enough early potential to warrant the inclusion, and after watching his tape for the umpteenth time we had this feeling we'd be kicking ourselves if we didn't put him on the list (plus, he's listed at 6-3).
Just as big a position battle figures to come at the H, where it's expected Lewis and Sweet will throw down. Lewis quietly racked up 43 receptions last season. Sweet came on strong down the stretch (21 rec, 222 yards). Meanwhile, John Thompson is the guy nobody is talking about but perhaps they should. He had 24 grabs last season for 255 yards. And as a poster on the Luxury Suites pointed out, C.J. Dimry, who spent last season injured, could use his height (6-5) to not only be productive in the red zone, but also will be trying to work his way into the two-deeps on the outside.
Spring ball dates haven't been officially announced but last year kicked off the last week in March.
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