JALEN THOMPSON (Cougfan.com/Commons)

CF.C post-spring awards including top performances on WSU offense and defense, most improved, breakout players

TRYING TO TRIM the list of top performances and most improved players this spring at Washington State is a tall order. But without further ado …

Top spring performance on defense: Jalen Thompson
With apologies to Hercules Mata’afa, the spring saw Thompson sharpen his read and react skills after starting last season as a true freshman. The Cougar secondary was arguably the biggest story of the spring game and Thompson led the way when he was on the field. If the Cougs' 2017 spring ball is any indication, he's in line for a productive year.

Top spring performance on offense: Keith Harrington
He began the spring as a guy trying to get his foot in the door of a seemingly set three-man rotation -- one coming off a breakout year. He ended the spring solidly at No. 2 on Jim Mastro’s depth chart. That's a big-time spring.

Most improved QB: Tyler Hilinksi
The third-year sophomore didn’t have as good a spring game as he did the spring as a whole. His recognition and understanding of the offense took a big leap forward and his ability to extend plays with his feet was pronounced and adds a new layer to the Cougar offense.

Most improved RB: Keith Harrington
Harrington, Mastro told CF.C Tuesday, improved by leaps and bounds in pass protection this spring. Meanwhile, his plant-and-go in the spring game looked far more explosive as did his ability to make people miss. Harrington two seasons ago thrust his way into games with moves that were more finesse. Now, those moves have far more speed and power behind them.

Most improved WR: Dezmon Patmon
Based on how Patmon performed after Mike Leach called him out, Leach should pick five Cougs every spring and question their focus. The second-year sophomore showed this spring he's beginning to understand how he can throw his size and weight around. And his burst after the catch in the spring game on his TD score was an eye-opener, he could put up a lot of yards this season after he gets the ball out in space. 

Most improved OL: Noah Osur-Myers
The favorite to start at center clearly remains Frederick Mauigoa based on all indications from the WSU staff. But Osur-Myers really turned a corner this winter. If he can take another good-sized step over summer, fall camp could get very interesting in the middle of the offensive line. The worst that can happen? WSU has a solid 1A o-lineman ready to roll at a moment's notice.

Most improved DL: Daniel Ekuale
Ekuale is like Patmon in the sense he hasn’t known how good he can be – but based on his play in the second half of the spring, he now gets it. D-line coach Jeff Phelps and DC Alex Grinch are emphasizing to the fifth-year senior he needs to finish, and make a lot of big plays in the backfield. In the spring game, that meant two sacks. It won’t be a surprise if Ekuale follows Destiny Vaeao’s path from a couple years ago, with a breakout senior season of his own.

Most improved LB: Frankie Luvu
WSU has a good problem at the WILL, with Luvu and Isaac Dotson both legitimate starter types. Luvu, despite checking in at 6-3, 240 pounds, was playing fast this spring. He has both the ability to disrupt as well as the speed to close and limit gains out wide. Luvu also closed strong this spring and looked exceedingly comfortable in Grinch's scheme and under linebackers coach Ken Wilson. He can hit like an anvil -- but also gets that the more important thing is to make the tackle.

Most improved Safety: Robert Taylor
A large number of the hardest hits all spring in the defensive backfield were delivered by Taylor. He was clearly much more comfortable this April in his assignments and reads after a pretty good first season with the Cougs out of junior college. It might be too much to expect a Shalom Luani-like season from Taylor in 2017 – but that should be the goal. It’s possible, based on the way he covered ground this spring.

Most improved CB: Marcus Strong
Grant Porter, who moved to defense with a handful of practices left, also gets a nod here but Strong over the course of the spring showed steady improvement and was sticking more closely to his assignments by spring's end. The corners had their best outing in the spring game but for the other 14 practices, it was a mixed bag. Strong (and others) have plenty of improvement left to show when fall camp rolls around. The good news is that Strong has lots of potential yet to be realized.

Most improved special teams: Nate DeRider
It’s notable to put DeRider here because the fifth-year senior has been a mainstay on three special teams units virtually his whole career (punt, kickoff, punt return) and one of those guys Eric Mele knows he can trust to handle his assignments. He’s fully capable of getting turns in rotation at linebacker this season and as a special teamer, he does the dirty work that enables others to shine.

Three breakout players based on the spring:
WR Easop Winston, who QB Luke Falk said has the best hands he’s ever seen, looked like that guy who can move the chains when the Cougs gotta have it.

OL Robert Valencia didn’t seize the starting right guard job, he’s still locked in a battle with B.J. Salmonson. But he started to click the final few practices. The first two weeks of fall camp should be intriguing to watch.

RUSH/DE Derek Moore played d-end last season but the Cougs may slot him at Rush. He’s built like the proverbial brick house at 6-2, 246 pounds and after playing as a true freshman last year, looked this spring like he’s ready to take his game to the next level.

RELATED: Big moves on RB depth chart, says Mastro


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