While Leach and his staff are generally tight-lipped when it comes to naming leaders/starters, this is where the Cougars offense stands in my view after watching every practice this spring. We start on the offensive line.
1. B.J. Salmonson, senior (6-4, 300, pictured above)
2. Robert Valencia, junior (6-6, 295)
1. Frederick Mauigoa, sophomore (6-3, 305)
2. Noah Osur-Myers, sophomore (6-4, 307)
By far, these two positions have produced the fiercest competition on the offensive line. At this point, however, Leach and offensive line coach Clay McGuire have said Mauigoa is leading for the center job -- and McGuire also recently said Salmonson has been the top player at right guard.
Both Mauigoa and Osur-Myers are strong and quick-moving blockers, but Mauigoa’s been the one with the more reliable snaps to the quarterback both overall and of late. Salmonson, to his credit, has simply been outworking Valencia at the guard spot in my view.
1. Andre Dillard, junior (6-5, 310)
2. Nilsson Gaisoa, freshman (6-5, 313)
1. Cole Madison, senior (6-5, 315)
2. Christian Haangana, freshman (6-4, 358)
1. Cody O’Connell, senior (6-9, 370)
2. Keenen King, freshman (6-4, 324)
The three established veterans, barring something completely unexpected, will anchor the offensive line into fall camp and the regular season. But beyond Dillard, Madison and O’Connell, the Cougar offensive line remains something of a question mark and frankly haven't played to its capability this spring.
Gaisoa, Haangana -- and especially King -- have all shown flashes in pass protection and run blocking this spring, but they’ve also had their fair share of mistakes in letting WSU pass rushers get the better of them.
1. Luke Falk, senior (6-4, 225 pounds)
2. Tyler Hilinski, sophomore (6-3, 217)
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Falk led the nation in passing yards last season and looks poised as the Cougar starter for another stellar campaign. But with the rising, quicker and equally-as-accurate-this-spring Hilinski waiting in the wings, QB looks to be a decided position of strength for the Cougars in 2017 and beyond.
1. Jamal Morrow, senior (5-9, 200)
2. James Williams, sophomore (5-11, 192)
3. Keith Harrington, junior (5-8, 194)
4. Gerard Wicks, senior (6-0, 228)
Williams is clearly the most talented player in the Cougar backfield in my view, but he’s also the least reliable. At his best, Williams has unmatched downhill speed that he combines with quick lateral bursts to make helpless defenders look foolish. Unfortunately, he combines those All-American-like plays with basic mental blunders, like dropping wide open passes or missing simple blocking assignments.
Morrow, on the other hand, has been reliable in his route running, pass catching, and rushing from the backfield all spring long (mirroring his WSU career). Williams’ upside argues strongly for the top of the list, but for now it’s the sophomore’s downside that has my No. 1 spot going to the senior Morrow.
Wicks has been noticeably missing from the past few practices (with predictably few words from the coaching staff on the matter). But Wicks’ absence has Harrington in a great spot to carve out a role on the depth chart. While he doesn’t have the speed of Williams nor the strength of Wicks, Harrington has earned compliments from running backs coach Jim Mastro this spring as the best pass blocker of the four — and protection is the skill Mastro says he values most from his backfield. Still, I have to expect Wicks upon his return will continue to earn a very big role in the Cougar backfield with his combination of straight ahead speed and power.
1 Tavares Martin Jr., junior (6-1, 183)
2. C.J. Dimry, senior (6-5, 213)
1. Isaiah Johnson-Mack, sophomore (6-3, 218)
2. Dezmon Patmon, sophomore (6-4, 211)
Johnson-Mack and Martin both have the size, speed, and skill needed to excel at the outside spots in Leach’s Air Raid. But Patmon has been a pleasant surprise – and all spring long. Leach himself, who publicly questioned Patmon’s work ethic on the eve of spring ball, has not been shy about sending compliments Patmon's way since spring began, saying he’s improved much more than was expected. Dimry continues to be inconsistent, but on his good days the senior is up there with the best wideouts on the roster.
1. Kyle Sweet, junior (6-0, 192)
2. Kyrin Priester, junior (6-1, 195)
1. Robert Lewis, senior (5-9, 170)
2. Renard Bell, freshman (5-8, 155)
So far, the veterans are holding their own, and doing a nice job of dispelling concerns over last year’s late-season drop off. Both Sweet and Lewis saw plenty of time last year at the inside positions, and they should bring to the Cougar receiving corps some much needed experience. Both slot men have looked impressive all spring, running precise routes and expertly turning corners on time without dropping passes.
Priester has looked just as good as both of them on the days he’s practiced in my view — but his academic absences have kept him from genuinely having a shot at usurping one of the projected starters this spring.
Bell has also been good this spring and you can see why the Cougs are so high on his potential. But at times, he can rely a little too much on his speed and get lost in trying to beat his defender one-on-one, instead of running the route Falk’s play call demands.