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WSU spring preview: Wide Receiver

POSITION BATTLES, senior talent and two new coaches are among the wide receiver storylines at Washington State this spring. Most eyes will be on Gabe Marks, a preseason national honors candidate, but there’s a lot more going on at the four WR spots in the Air Raid with spring drills kicking off March 24.

With 227 career receptions, Gabe Marks needs 68 catches to become the most prolific wide receiver of all time in the Pac-12.  He figures to be the pass defense focus of every team WSU faces this season.  Marks might have the starting Z spot sewn up before the first spring practice but he’s unlikely to coast during spring drills, Marks has treated practice over the course of his WSU career as if its game day.

Another senior is at the Y in River Cracraft.  Outside of Pullman, the 6-0, 200-pounder might be flying under the radar after missing three starts to injury last season -- even after posting 53 catches for 615 yards and 4 TDs.  Cracraft had the second-highest yards per catch on the Cougs last season at 11.6 – that’s noteworthy since slot receivers tend to trail the outside guys in ypc in the Air Raid.

The other two starting WR spots, the X and H, figure to feature wide open battles in spring drills. 

Tavares Martin, after backing up Marks last season, is moving to the X.  The  6-1, 165-pound second-year sophomore figures to battle Kyrin Priester (6-1, 190) to replace the graduating Dom Williams.  Priester looked like he was just a step away at times last season. Both are explosive and have a good burst – count on a great battle all spring long.

At the H, incumbent Robert Lewis (5-9, 170) had a quiet 43 catches last season (if that's possible) with his contributions coming in bunches coupled with quiet stretches.  There’s a good deal of spring intrigue when it comes to Lewis, a fourth-year junior in 2016. There were signs last year he might be ready to take his game to the next level.

His primary challenger at the H figures to be Kyle Sweet (6-0, 186), who will be a second-year sophomore. Last year, Mike Leach watched Sweet on the scout team give the No. 1 WSU defense fits through the non-conference slate -- Leach took his redshirt off in Week Four. It paid dividends down the road as Sweet came on strong in the latter part of the season and especially in relief of Cracraft, posting  21 receptions for 222 yards in 2015.

Like Cracraft, Sweet has great hands. He can also surprise defenses with his speed. Just like at the X, this figures to be a compelling battle royale all spring.

Leach uses an 8-man rotation on Saturdays -- as much focus as the starters get, the backup wideouts at WSU get a healthy amount of run.

Who lines up at the Z behind Marks this spring isn’t known yet but our guess is true freshman Isaiah Johnson, who arrived early out of high school in January. Johnson has said he might line up in the slot this spring but at 6-3, 211 pounds and with lots of athleticism, he might make his spring mark on the outside. Regardless of where he lines up, how much polish is needed for him to earn significant turns in Leach’s precision offense figures to be revealed this spring.

At the Y and/or H, don't be surprised if John Thompson has a good spring. He came on strong in the latter half of this past season, with the 5-8, 194-pound senior showed an innate ability to find the soft spots in the defense. Thompson is crafty, and has more downhill speed after the catch that he’s given credit for.

C.J. Dimry is the spring wildcard. Injured much of last year, it’s an important time for the former JUCO transfer and 6-5, 200-pounder to find his niche in the WSU offense heading into his final collegiate season.

Top to bottom, WSU looks flush at wide receiver ahead of spring drills. And in the fall, signees Renard Bell (5-10, 165); Dezmon Patmon (6-4, 202) and Grant Porter (6-2, 185) arrive -- despite the quality depth, each of them could make a play for early playing time as true freshmen.

One more slice of wide receiver intrigue. WSU is replacing both WR coaches this spring: How might that translate this spring when Dave Nichol (outside) and JaMarcus Shephard (inside) are able to coach their respective groups out on the practice field for the first time?

RELATED STORY: X now marks the spot for this WR

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