1. The Offensive Line
Gesser tabbed the offensive line as the biggest question mark heading into camp, saying WSU's goals in '16 are most dependent on the hosses up front.
With the left tackle Andre Dillard and left guard Cody O’Connell stepping in to replace a pair of seniors lost to graduation (Joe Dahl, Gunnar Eklund) Gesser says the left side figures to be the focus in fall ball for o-line coach Clay McGuire.
“Looking at those two new guys stepping into those spots on Luke Falk’s backside, I think the offense's play is really going to depend on how those guys go,” Gesser said.
2. Outside receivers
Gesser’s biggest concern with the Wazzu receiving corps? The outside widouts behind projected starters Gabe Marks (Z) and Tavares Martin (X). It's a question that Gesser thinks might continue on after fall camp.
“I think we have great depth with our inside receivers, but I think that depth on the outside is a question mark right now," said Gesser. "Who -- from Dezmon Patmon, Kyrin Priester and Grant Porter -- is going to step up and give us that depth? I think that we will really start to see and understand who those guys are after the first three games.”
Gesser says Martin can be the clear starting choice at the X, but he wants to see more from him in fall ball.
“We started to see last year what kind of playmaking ability he has. I think that he’s one of the more explosive and overall talented receivers that we have next to Gabe Marks. The question is, when he gets in his 1-on-1 situations, is he going to rise to the occasion and make a big play? We saw Dom Williams make huge plays for us throughout his career, so who can fill that void and be able to make similar plays when we need them?” said Gesser.
3. Defensive front seven
Gesser will be watching to see how well the front seven holds up in camp against the Cougar O. He noted that WSU signed three JUCO players this past recruiting class between the d-line and linebacker. (DL Garrett McBroom, LBs Chima Onyeukwu and Suliasi Tamaivena. Note: Tamaivena is the lone member of the class WSU is waiting on as he finishes up academic work).
Gesser thinks they can all earn instant playing time and provide quality depth. He also sees a battle brewing at the starting WIL to line up beside starting MIKE Peyton Pelluer.
"Is it going to be Frankie Luvu, Suliasi Tamaivena, Chima Onyeukwu, Paris Taylor? And you know how much Coach Joe (Salave'a) likes to roll those d-line guys and keep them fresh, so who’s going to fill those (No. 2) spots and hold everything together?” said Gesser.
4. Defensive backfield
“I really like all of our corners," said Gesser. "Young crew, but an experienced crew. I don’t think we should be too worried about those guys, mainly just with what's going to happen with the safeties. I think the secondary will be one of our strong suits on the team.”
Gesser really liked what he saw from true freshman safety Jalen Thompson this spring, saying he doesn’t think anyone knew how good he was going to be this early. With the addition of Thompson and JC transfer Robert Taylor, Gesser sees d-coordinator Alex Grinch having much more versatility. How might that manifest itself?
Gesser said it could allow Grinch to bump strong safety Shalom Luani (pictured above) down closer to the box -- a la how the Pittsburgh Steelers used Troy Polamalu.
5. Falk to Marks
“Luke Falk and Gabe Marks, in my mind, those are the two biggest keys for the Cougs to have success this year," said Gesser. "Luke brings so much more than what he does on the field, it's what he does off the field too. His position is so important and I think one of the main reasons why we went from a 3-9 team to a 9-4 team was because of him.
"But the one guy that can really turn things around, the one guy that can take over a game single handedly when a play needs to be made is Gabe Marks. I think that guy is one of the biggest X-factors out there. The passion that he plays with, the mentality that he plays with, the way he goes and attacks the game, attacks the football and attacks the situation, he can be that one guy that turns an entire game around in a quarter or a half.”
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