WSU fall camp preview: Wide receivers

WASHINGTON STATE’s wide receiver corps is ranked among the Pac-12’s best by the preseason pundits -- the Cougs lost only one starting wideout to graduation from last season’s 9-4 campaign. But there are two major personnel changes when it comes to the inside and outside receiver groups out on the Palouse in 2016.

They are new outside receivers coach Dave Nicholl and new inside receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard, replacing Graham Harrell and Dave Yost who are now at North Texas and Oregon, respectively..

Returners: Gabe Marks (R-Sr., 6-0, 188, pictured above); River Cracraft (Sr., 6-0, 203); Robert Lewis (R-Jr., 5-9, 162); Kyrin Priester (Jr., 6-1, 194); Tavares Martin Jr., (So., 6-1, 182); Kyle Sweet (So., 6-0, 190); C.J. Dimry (R-Sr., 6-5, 202); John Thompson (Sr., 5-8, 192, walk on); Kaleb Fossum (So., 5-10, 186, walk on); Kainoa Wilson (R-Fr., 5-11, 167)

New faces:  Isaiah Johnson (Fr., 6-3, 214); Dezmon Patmon (Fr., 6-4, 202); Grant Porter (Fr., 6-2, 185); Renard Bell (Fr., 5-10, 186)

Departed scholarship players: Dom Williams. (Also graduating was walk on and contributor Tyler Baker).

What to like: Defenses will no doubt key on Marks at the Z, who set a program record with 15 TD receptions last year (sixth in Pac-12 history) and who is on pace to become the all-time Pac-12 leader in pass receptions. But the Air Raid makes it hard to take away something without opening up something else. Marks may not catch 104 passes like he did last season, but his numbers still figure to be eye-popping.

If Cracraft (Y) hadn’t gotten dinged up a little the past two seasons, he’d be more in the national conversation headed into this year. He’s already eighth in WSU program history with 165 receptions, despite missing six games the past two seasons to injury, and is on pace to finish his career No. 2 on the all-time WSU list. Sticky hands, crisp routes and the ability to move the chains on third down typifies Cracraft's game.

The frontrunner to replace Williams at the X in our book is Martin, but he figures to face tough competition and it's far from a lock. Meanwhile, the H could see an ongoing battle between incumbent Lewis and second-year man Sweet. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see both players in liberal rotation at the H over the course of the season given their varying skills sets.

Biggest question: Will there be a transition period under the new assistant coaches or will the wide receiver corps not miss a beat?

Our guess is the latter -- Mike Leach will tinker here and there but he’s not a wholesale changes kind of guy when it comes to scheme and responsibilities. That should allow the new assistants to zero in most on technique, route running and being assignment perfect.

Among the other fall camp storylines: Marks and Cracraft are the headliners heading into fall ball with the starters at the X and H less set in stone. Beyond that, key to Leach’s success in the Air Raid is that he generally uses an 8-man rotation at the four wideout positions.

Priester competing at the X is clearly one to watch (he moved to the inside this spring but is expected to be back with the outside WRs in fall camp). Other must-see-TV candidates are newcomers Patmon, Johnson and Porter, who figure to get every chance to earn playing time as true freshmen (assumedly on the outside).

And with so much focus on the outside, wouldn’t it be interesting if Bell suddenly came in and tore it up in fall camp.

A pair of returning walk ons, John Thompson and Kaleb Fossum, were also on the rise last year. Dimry has been dinged up since coming to WSU but the Cougs would like to see what the 6-5 tree-topper can do in the red zone in 2016.

Fall camp kicks off Aug. 6 in Lewiston.

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