You didn’t have to be a football savant last season to see what losing senior River Cracraft did to the WSU passing attack after Week 10 – at both the inside and outside wide receiver positions. For the Air Raid to fire on all cylinders, for Luke Falk to be his most effective and particularly against the better defenses, the Cougs need that reliable, sure-handed slot man to keep drives alive and make plays in crunch time.
Kyrin Priester (pictured above) will be with new inside receivers coach Derek Sage’s group this spring, Sage told CF.C last month. Priester, listed at 6-1, 190 back in 2015, figures to have his work cut out for him.
Veteran inside receivers Robert Lewis (5-9, 165) and Kyle Sweet (6-0, 190) are likely to be atop the depth chart at the start of spring. Plus, second-year freshman Renard Bell (5-8, 155) spent last season building up a whole lot of buzz in Thursday Night Football. You can make a case for any one of them to have a standout spring. At the end of the day, however, what happened late last season after Cracraft went down can’t be repeated in '17 -- someone on the inside needs to have a banner spring and begin to establish himself as a chain-moving, go-to-guy. And two would be even better.
It might be asking a lot for Priester to claim that role over 15 spring practices that begin March 23, he’s coming off a lengthy layoff. But that should still be the expectation, it should still be the goal. And that means a whole lot of eyes are going to be on Priester this spring. Priester also needs to show that his suspension in July 2016 is firmly in the rear view mirror.
THERE IS ALSO intrigue aplenty on the outside, where the Cougs will have to replace another star WR in Gabe Marks at Z. Headed into the spring, four returnees plus one newcomer are among the leading candidates on the outside in what should be a battle royale under second-year assistant Dave Nichol.
Tavares Martin (6-1, 185) is the Cougs’ most experienced outside receiver coming back, and he’ll be expected to not just retain his starting job but to take that next big step with the Cougs losing two prolific receivers to graduation. Martin started all 13 games at the X last year, hauling in 64 passes for 728 hashes with 7 TDs. He averaged the second most yards per catch (11.4) among those with more than 27 receptions.
Meanwhile, Isaiah Johnson-Mack (6-3, 216) was Marks’ backup at the Z last year, but he still caught 35 passes and looks to have a bright future ahead of him -- he’s big, strong and athletic. But there’s also room for improvement in terms of improving his quickness, overall speed and route running. This spring should offer a great test of what he can do with a year’s experience now under his belt.
But don’t count out C.J. Dimry (6-5, 201) and Dezmon Patmon (6-4, 207) – both figure to get long looks on the outside. Dimry, who has battled injuries in his time at WSU, has done things in practice he hasn’t yet shown in games. After being awarded a sixth year by the NCAA for all the time he’s missed, the 2017 campaign is his last chance to make his mark on Saturdays. That should provide plenty of motivation this season.
Patmon has a boatload of talent, emerged in fall camp and played early as a true freshman last season, but his game reps tailed off as the season went along. He finished with only three receptions. In talking to Nichol earlier this season, I got the impression Patmon doesn't know how good he can be and that he won't know until he adopts a competitive mindset similar to Cracraft/Marks. But the same holds true for Johnson and really, all the wideouts coming back.
It’s always about effort when it comes to Leach. He demands it constantly and it ticks off the WSU head man, as the last five years’ worth of press conferences can attest, when he feels any of his guys aren’t giving maximum effort.
Three other candidates besides those listed above who could end this spring at or near the top of the depth chart: Easop Winston (5-11, 170), Grant Porter (6-2, 178) and Anthony White Jr. (6-1, 165).
Winston will be with Nichol on the outside this spring and it's thought Porter will be as well. White could be either inside or outside. Winston comes in with the reputation of having great hands. The Cougar rookie posted 71 and 62 receptions in his two junior college seasons. Porter spent this past season redshirting. He started to emerge in the latter half of last year in Thursday Night Football, and he had some of the best hands on last year’s squad. White graduated high school early and joined the Cougs in January.
Walk ons Brandon Arconado (5-11, 165), Riley Krenz (5-10, 175), Kainoa Wilson (5-11, 170) and Solomon Cooper (a junior college walk on from Ellsworth Community College in Iowa) are thought to all be at inside receiver this spring. Arconado and Krenz both got noticed last season for execution, work ethic and making plays.
Fall camp will see an infusion of young WR talent with Jamire Calvin, Davontavean Martin and Travell Harris signing with WSU in February.