The 2 biggest surprises of Washington State's spring ball

THE CONVENTIONAL THINKING headed into spring football was that replacing two of three d-linemen and the left side of the offensive line would be an uphill climb.

But Mike Leach this week said he’s seen enough this spring to believe both units can be as good as last year.

The two units are not as deep as last year.  But the front line starters have Leach in a good mood these days.

Tackle Daniel Ekuale and end Hercules Mata'afa meshing well with nose tackle Robert Barber is the primary reason for optimism on the d-line. “On the edge, Frankie Luvu and Logan Tago are playing better than ever,” Leach said in Spokane on Monday.

The surprise on the o-line... is that there have been no surprises. 

Andre Dillard (pictured above) and Cody O'Connell were projected at the outset as the likely starters at left tackle and left guard, respectively.  And in listening to o-line coach Clay McGuire this spring, it's apparent they have clearly been the top performers.

THE OTHER BIG surprise of the spring in addition the two WSU lines this spring: safety Jalen Thompson. From CF.C's Tyler Baker to Jason Gesser to Leach, it seems everyone has been impressed by the play of the 6-0, 176-pounder who arrived on campus in January.

Headed into spring ball, the Cougs needed to establish depth at safety apart from starter Shalom Luani.  They’ve done so with Charleston White, who continues to shuffle between safety and corner and play well at each spot.

But Thompson has played so well this spring he’s now become a legitimate candidate to start as a true freshman.  It usually takes a while before a safety’s speed is on full display as he learns the ins and outs of the position at the Pac-12 level. Thompson, however, has played fast all spring.

Meanwhile, the Cougs are very high on Robert Taylor, the JUCO safety who arrives in the fall. The conventional thinking when spring ball began was that Taylor would likely join Luani (a lock) in the starting lineup.  Thompson's performance this spring has changed things.

What’s been intriguing of late is Luani getting more reps at nickel.  Assuming Taylor performs as expected in fall ball, that could give DC Alex Grinch the flexibility to put Luani at the nickel while having the confidence to play Thompson and Taylor at safety – maybe not all the time but in certain situations and/or against certain opponents. 

However he wants to play it, Thompson's early emergence gives Grinch more options to keep an offense guessing.


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