3 Washington State storylines as Cougars’ fall camp looms

WITH THE COUGS kicking off fall camp in Lewiston a week from Saturday, CF.C presents three of the top Washington State storylines.

1. The lines
The projected starting units on the offensive and defensive lines look to have serious potential.  But until its realized, it's just that: potential.  Cougar fans will be watching closely to see if the projected o-line starting five - LT Andre Dillard, LG Cody O'Connell, C Riley Sorenson, RG Eduardo Middleton, RT Cole Madison - will rise to meet Mike Leach's expectations. Leach recently said at Pac-12 media days the starting unit can be as good as the 2015 group, and hopefully better.

But the story doesn't end there. WSU has little proven depth behind them.  O-linemen such as Carlos Freeman, B.J. Salmonson, Noah Osur-Meyers, Cedric Bigge-Duren and others need to step up this fall camp.  O-line coach Clay McGuire has already said he'll give the incoming freshmen o-linemen a long look in fall camp.

The same concerns hold true on the d-line. Of the projected starting trio of end Hercules Mata'afa, nose Robert Barber and tackle Daniel Ekuale, only Barber is a returning starter. Still, expectations are higher than one might think with Mata'afa a rising star and Ekuale not yet close to hitting his ceiling. 

Behind those three, just like on the o-line, is unproven depth.  WSU failed to sign a d-tackle type in the 2016 class. In going off CF.C correspondent Skyler Cracraft's projected depth chart, end Nnamdi Oguayo, nose Ngalu Tapa (pictured above) and tackle Garrett McBroom are among the candidates who must show something in fall ball if WSU is going to field a solid rotation.

2. QB depth
WSU's Luke Falk is one of the nation's best and there are few fall camp questions surrounding the Cougs' Heisman hopeful. And you certainly want to get him enough reps to have him at his sharpest, and for the Cougar O to be firing on all cylinders, by the time camp ends. 

But as they say, the backup QB is always only a play away. The battle between Tyler Hilinski and Anthony Gordon could develop into one of fall ball's best. 

But as the Sept. 3 opener draws near, Cougar fans will be hoping that one of the two has created clear separation and seized the No. 2 job.

Hilinski undoubtedly holds the edge headed into Lewiston, having tutored a full year under Leach. But there's a lot to like about Gordon. How quickly he assimilates Leach's offense, and adjusts to the speed and talent level of the Pac-12, will be huge for the second-year sophomore.

3. Running backs
The competition at running back promises to be the best in years at Washington State's fall camp. Every one of the four -- Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, Keith Harrington, James Williams -- is a potential starter.  And unlike at some other spots, if heaven forbid one of them gets dinged up during the season, the unit has the potential not to miss a beat.

But there's more to just slotting the depth chart in fall camp when it comes to the 'backs.

Last year saw significant RB gains across the board but Leach's stated goal is for his running backs to lead the league in all-purpose yards. Is that in the cards for '16?  Fall camp should offer a fascinating look into how high the WSU running backs can fly.

The defensive secondary gets an honorable mention nod here. In recent years, the defensive backfield has been one big question mark heading into fall ball, including last season. Suddenly, it's a team strength. But WSU can't try to live off of last year. The secondary needs to surpass and improve - and that means generating more turnovers than last season's total of 24 and helping to lower the stop corps' scoring defense in '15 (27.7 ppg).

Projecting WSU's defensive depth chart
Projecting WSU's offensive depth chart

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