5 most pressing concerns heading into WSU spring

THERE MAY BE 16 RETURNING STARTERS on offense, defense and special teams at Washington State this spring. But there are always unknowns and always, returning starters or no, competition in the fight for playing time. Here are our five biggest concerns facing the Cougars headed into spring ball.

1. The defensive line/pass rush
The Cougs are replacing two of the three down linemen starters but on the bright side, tackle Daniel Ekuale and end Hercules Mata'afa played significant snaps last season. Both come into the spring with the expectation of becoming every down types alongside returning nose tackle Robert Barber. Meanwhile, Logan Tago and Dylan Hanser (pictured above) at the RUSH spot this spring are being looked to in order to help provide a consistent, effective pass rush.

2. The offensive line
The good news is that three veteran o-linemen starts return in center Riley Sorenson, right guard Eduardo Middleton and right tackle Cole Madison. The challenge lies in the fact the Cougs need to replace not just the two starters on the left side, but also their 79 combined starts – a lot of experience. LT Andre Dillard, as Mike Leach noted Wednesday, is hugely athletic and hasn’t yet realized how good he can be. Guard Cody O'Connell will be a fourth-year junior and o-line coach Clay McGuire said last season he was nearly ready to push for a starting job. On paper, OL depth is a major question mark heading into spring ball.

3. Running back riches
Running backs coach Jim Mastro and Leach would both prefer to have one starting running back. But as much as last season was a breakout campaign for the ‘backs, it was because Gerard WicksJamal Morrow and Keith Harrington all complemented one another with their varying skills sets. If one running back can run, catch and block and gain some separation from the group, he’ll get the lion’s share of the reps and be a consistent starter week to week.  But if not, it will continue to be by committee. What makes this spring’s battles in the backfield especially interesting is the addition of second-year freshman James Williams, who ran circles around his fellow youth on D in Thursday Night Football last year. Mastro has said he won’t have a 4-man rotation in games, so expect some high octane effort this spring from the four running backs this spring.

4. The new deep threat
WSU has almost all of the wide receivers back but the big one missing is Dom Williams, the Cougs most consistent deep threat. Isaiah Johnson, if he’s ready to play as a true freshman, could be the heir apparent at the X – he’s a quick study and has a lot of raw talent. But Tavares Martin, who has moved from the Z behind Gabe Marks, might be the guy WSU is looking for on the outside to complement Marks. Expect the Cougs to take a look at a large number of wideouts at the X this spring.

5. New blood
With Johnson, Jalen ThompsonGarrett McBroom and Justus Rogers, the Cougs have four January entrants looking to make their early mark this spring and gain playing time. Thompson, a defensive back, figures to see more of the spotlight this spring - his athleticism equals versatility. McBroom will get plenty of looks to make his mark on the d-line and with two-to-play-two and starting jobs open, the Cougs need him to transition quickly from junior college and contribute. Rogers, you may have heard, is lining up at quarterback this spring while the coaches try to figure out if he should stick there or if his talents would be best put to use elsewhere (likely safety or linebacker).

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