5 Cougs with the most to prove in spring game on Saturday in Spokane

PULLMAN — With the Crimson and Gray game scheduled for Saturday at 2:00 p.m. in Spokane, there are precious few chances left to shine for Cougar players looking to stake a claim on Mike Leach’s depth chart. Without further ado, here are the five players with the most to prove in this weekend’s game, starting with a player who figures to handle the football a lot.

1. Center Frederick Mauigoa, sophomore (6-3, 305)
The center position battle has been intense all spring, but the depth chart for WSU offensive line hasn’t changed at all since February — Mauigoa remains the starter, and he remains the starter by the thinnest of margins. You could easily say sophomore Noah Osur-Myers (6-4, 307) is the one with more to prove, being second on the depth chart -- but having seen every spring practice, I think Mauigoa has a better chance of creating separation than he does of being usurped.

Both have struggled with snapping the ball all spring long, but Mauigoa has been the more reliable of the two. If we see a few more high snaps from Osur-Myers, while Mauigoa avoids any big mistakes, I think it might be time to have a little more confidence that Mauigoa has forged more of a lead on the starting job.

2. WR Easop Winston, junior (5-11, 183)
The Cougars’ receiving corps is deep, so deep there are not enough snaps to go around for all the talent on the roster. But Winston has made the most of his chances. And he’s impressing the coaches this spring with his willingness and ability to play both inside and outside positions. If Winston can duplicate his outstanding 10-catch performance from Saturday’s scrimmage, look for him to make a run at one of the bigger outside receivers or one of the more experienced inside guys. If Winston is simply too good to keep off the field, Leach and the WSU staff will be forced to find reps for him.

3. Right guard Robert Valencia, fourth-year junior (6-6, 295)
Valencia came into spring ball slotted behind the senior B.J. Salmonson (6-4, 300) but the expectation was that he would take the starting job before spring was over. Well, spring is almost over and he’s still in second based on what I've seen. If Valencia has a banner day, or even if he does a better job than Salmonson in containing the Cougar defensive line on Saturday, things could could change.

4. DB Grant Porter, second-year freshman (6-2, 184)
After switching from wide receiver (and being stuck at the bottom of the depth chart) to playing in the Cougar defensive secondary, Porter has been an absolute monster for the Cougar defense. I know, I know, it’s only been a few practices and it’s way too too small a sample size. But Porter has been deflecting passes, making hard hits and tackles, and generally getting himself involved in as many plays as possible.

As a former receiver, however, look for Leach to send his receivers on new or slightly tweaked routes against Porter, just to keep him honest. After all, he knows the routes better than most of the Cougar defense, and if he can be just as effective reacting to a surprise route as he’s been covering the plays he knows, he’ll have a legitimate chance at a starting job somewhere in Alex Grinch’s backfield.  Porter is mostly lining up at corner but don’t count him out as a safety -- he certainly hits hard enough. 

5. DL Hercules Mata’afa, junior (6-2, 255)
This may be a surprising choice, as the best defensive player on the Cougars’ roster isn’t at risk of being overtaken by anyone else. However, the question in my mind is how much the junior can force the offense to account for him. Is he simply a star player on the Cougs or an All-American type?

If he’s simply the best pass rusher within Grinch’s system, that probably means less flexibility. But if he’s going to be a big problem for the vets on WSU’s offensive line and force uncomfortable adjustments, that figures to give d-line coach Jeff Phelps and Grinch more options to where he can throw different packages against opponents in the fall – or at least make opponents prepare for ‘em.

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