Returning slot men in Shephard’s group for 2016 include River Cracraft, Kyle Sweet, Robert Lewis and walk on John Thompson. Two areas for the group in particular figure to be heavily emphasized this offseason under Shephard.
“If you’re building the guy I want every day, you’re looking at a strong kid who is quick out of his breaks,” said Shephard. “Those are, to me, the two most important components of playing that position.
“Guys with a lot of quickness coming in and out of breaks, those are the kinds of guys you really want as inside receivers. You also have to have guys with a lot of toughness.. guys who are strong because you’re going to need to block on the perimeter some, you’re going to get the ball on the perimeter some, and they have to break tackles.”
Shepard won’t get to coach his guys in pads until next month, but he’s already watched a lot of film and he’s seen his group in Midnight Maneuvers sessions.
“We definitely have some speed," said Shephard. "Some of these guys have some really good technique as far as watching film on them… But most certainly, there is room for improvement in the group.
“I think guys need to have some elusiveness, quickness out of their breaks, and also an understanding of the defense,” said Shephard. “Coach Leach lets these guys run things over and over and over again in order to get really good at it. And part of that is being able to recognize (defenses).”
But how does a guy from Western Kentucky with no ties to Mike Leach end up at Washington State?
“I don’t know that I have the answer to that either,” laughed Shephard. “We had some success there at Western Kentucky and maybe Mike Leach noticed.”
From the time WSU o-line coach Clay McGuire first reached out to him on twitter, it took eight days for him to be hired, Shephard said. He first talked on the phone with Leach and a few days later, was sitting in Leach’s office for an interview. A day later, he was offered the job.
Leach and Shephard talked about different receiver and offensive concepts during the interview, in part to see which were transferrable to what WSU runs, said Shephard. But the intangibles were just as important.
“I’m a big, firm believer in passion, for players having the love for the game. Those things are hugely important to me… to bring that energy every day. And I’m quickly and rapidly transitioning to guys here that have that same kind of feeling,” said Shephard.
We’ll have more from our conversation with Shephard later this week.