WSU spring football: March 23 – April 25
When: Practices held Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, times not yet released
Spring Game: Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane, April 22 at 2 p.m.
Number of returning starters offense: 7
Number of returning starters defense: 9
Key graduation losses: WR Gabe Marks, WR River Cracraft, C Riley Sorenson, RG Eduardo Middleton, S/Nickel Shalom Luani, Nickel Parker Henry, NT Robert Barber.
Notable early departures: DB Charleston White, LS Lucas Gravelle.
New faces (players and staff):
Defensive backs Sean Harper, Isaiah Love and Zaire Webb, offensive lineman Robert Valencia, and wide receivers Anthony White Jr. and Easop Winston all enrolled in January. Note: WR Kyrin Priester is also back with Cougs after sitting out 2016.
New DL coach Jeff Phelps replaces Joe Salave’a (Oregon).
New inside receivers coach Derek Sage replaces JaMarcus Shephard (Purdue).
Second-year freshmen to watch for:
WR Renard Bell, LB Jahad Woods, Nickels D'Jimon Jones and Justus Rogers, DB Skyler Thomas, DL Danny Bender, OL Keenen King, OL Joshua Watson, Wr Grant Porter.
3 positions battles to watch:
Z and Y: On paper, and assuming Tavares Martin holds down the X, the most likely candidates to replace Gabe Marks at the Z would seem to be Isaiah Johnson, Dezmon Patmon, C.J. Dimry or newcomer Winston. On the inside at Y, and assuming Robert Lewis returns at the H, Kyle Sweet, Bell and Priester are likely candidates to do battle, with Porter and Anthony White Jr. also ones to keep an eye out for.
Nickel: With Shalom Luani and Parker Henry both graduating, Jones, Rogers and Kirkland Parker figure to be among those getting long looks at the nickel spot.
Right guard: B.J. Salmonson would seem a logical choice to begin the spring running with the first unit at right guard. His chief competition is Valencia, with the big question how quickly the JUCO transfer can make the adjustment to Pac-12 football. If Valencia wins the job, that could in turn make Salmonson a candidate at center, which figures to be a battle royale regardless with Frederick Mauigoa and Noah Osur-Myers this spring.
Honorable mention: Free safety. On paper, it looks probable that Robert Taylor slides in here but it’s worthy of mention this spring simply because of how important Luani was to the Cougar D in 2016. Whoever wins the job at free safety, the Cougs need a strong contribution from that spot.
Injuries don’t exist at Washington State under Leach. From what we have heard, WSU looks to be in good shape with the exception of one reserve but you never know with Leach if a player here or there might be limited or sit out the spring.
The wide receivers. The Cougs can be very good here, and they are faster and more athletic than a year ago. But better? Replacing both Marks and Cracraft is a tall, tall order. Spring ball will offer the first look at how ready the Cougs are in that respect.
Something not talked about enough:
WSU's special teams are on the rise. The Cougar special teams units under Eric Mele last season jumped 52 spots in Football Outsiders’ rankings. WSU has almost all of those pieces back in '17, with replacing Gravelle arguably the most pressing concern. Kyle Celli is the leading candidate there, and Mele is high on his potential. There will also be an influx of young special teamers this spring, including Bell, Winston and Skyler Thomas joining Taylor in the return mix, and with Jones and Marcus Strong at gunner.
Good to know:
The first two days of the spring are NCAA-mandated helmets-only sessions, after which the pads go on.
Most schools finish with their spring game but Leach always holds one final spring practice, held in Pullman, after the spring game. Leach uses that final practice after the final scrimmage to work on areas most in need of attention.