What's to come during fall camp for WSU running backs?

WELL IT’S CERTAINLY a good problem to have, but Mike Leach has got some tough decisions coming during fall camp with all the talent in front of him. Friday, Leach said the Cougar running backs are no question the best group he’s had as a head man, with four standing out. But where are all the reps going to go?

With practice set to start tomorrow in Lewiston, there’s no question there is high intrigue at the RB position.

The “Earth, Wind and Fire” trio of Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington are coming off a strong 2015, collectively rushing for 1,195 yards and averaging 6.1 yards per carry. 

However, running back James Williams redshirted last season and continuously turned heads turning Thursday Night Football. He’ll be full go in 2016, ready to work his way onto the field on Saturdays.

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With four running backs in the mix, what are RB position coach Jim Mastro and Leach to do?

“Those guys are going to fight, claw and scratch to see who gets to the top,” Leach said during his tele-conference on Friday. “There’s not enough reps for all four. They’re all great athletes and great players. 

“They’re going to have to battle it out. We’re going to make some choices on reps and see if we can’t carve out roles. We’ll see how it unfolds.”

Make no mistake about it, though. Leach feels very strong about the potential the four have.

“No I haven’t,” Leach said when asked if he’s ever had a stronger stable of backs as a coach. “This is the best group of running backs I’ve ever had.”


Meanwhile at the quarterback position, Leach of course had positive things to say about starter Luke Falk, but gave plenty of love to redshirt freshman signal caller Tyler Hilinski. The California native enters the fall as the Cougs No. 2 QB. 

“I think we’ll probably split the reps in thirds to start out, then we’ll give half to Falk and half to Hilinski,” Leach said. “Hilinski had a good spring and got better as it went. I thought he had a really good spring. 

“Hilinski has the best feet for a quarterback on the team. He brings energy and really generates excitement in the huddle. He’s accurate, too. There are guys who have stronger arms, but he doesn’t have a weak arm. He’s really smart as far as picking things up and constantly working. He’s an intelligent guy and was in high school too.”

Leach also was quite complimentary of senior wide receiver Gabe Marks, who announced in the offseason he’d return to WSU to help the Cougs chase their Rose Bowl dreams this fall. 

“I never thought I’d say this, but Gabe Marks might literally be the hardest-working player I’ve ever coached,” Leach said.

In 2015, Marks, a Los Angeles product, had a sensational campaign. He hauled in 104 receptions for 1,192 yards and 15 touchdowns. Marks averaged 11.5 yards per reception. 

Leach acknowledged Marks, Robert Lewis, John Thompson, River Cracraft, Shalom Luani, Robert Barber, Peyton Pelleur and Frankie Luvu as guys who worked their tails off during the summer. 

"I think we’ll start fall camp on a very high note. We’ll continue to improve from there.”

“It’s always a little frantic trying to perfectly anticipate all the stuff...you’re trying to do. There’s always going to be hitch. You’re never going to plan perfectly. But you try.  I’ll be honest with you. Some of that over-planning can be a waste of time. You want to have the best framework. There’s a whole bunch of coaches, us included hopefully to a lesser degree, wringing their hands and pulling their hair out to be perfect on...accounting for everything. Not many, but a few things will be screwed up on or could be planned better. You just quietly adjust as you go and have the best camp you possibly can.”

“The most important objective tomorrow is to get there, get in the dorms, get on the practice field and have a great practice with as little distraction as possible. It’s about as simple as that.”

“(Tyler) Hilinski has the best feet on the team. (He) really generates excitement in the huddle. He’s accurate. There are guys with a stronger arm, but he doesn’t have a weak arm. He’s really smart as far as picking things up.”

“I think we’ve got a good group (of linemen) to pick from. As always, we’re worried about depth. We’ve got a guy who played quite a bit (last year in third-year sophomore) Andre Dillard and another guy who hasn’t played a lot but had a really good spring, (fourth-year junior) Cody O'Connell.”

CF.C's Lew Wright contributed to this report.


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