Those concerns begin at the quarterback position, where a pair of underclassmen will battle to replace departed senior Matt Kegel.
Sophomore Josh Swogger enters fall camp as Washington State's leading candidate to replace second team All-Pac-10 Kegel. The Youngstown, Ohio, native is just the second player in program history to be named team captain as an underclassman. Swogger gained valuable experience a year ago, earning time in nine contests while backing up Kegel. His first career touchdown pass came in game 11 of the season against Arizona State.
Swogger, who possesses prototype size, a strong arm, and surprising mobility, completed over 50 percent of his passes as a redshirt freshman.
"Josh has the confidence of his teammates and I think that was made evident by the fact that he was named team captain as a sophomore. He will start as the No. 1 guy in fall," Doba said.
Despite Swogger's edge in experience, he will be pushed by redshirt freshman Alex Brink. The Eugene, Ore., native capped a strong spring season by completing 11 of 16 attempts for 151 yards and a touchdown in WSU's annual Crimson & Gray Game. The state of Oregon's all-time leading passer, Brink has a natural feel for the game and a Jason Gesser-like ability to improvise and create.
"Alex Brink will get some reps. It will be a battle but we definitely want to name one guy the starter," Doba said. "Our thinking is that you have to limit your offense if you are trying to get two quarterbacks ready to play."
Gary Rogers, a product of Mukilteo's Kamiak High School, joins the program after throwing for 1,480 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. Rogers was considered one of the top 30 quarterbacks nationally coming out of the prep ranks.
Despite losing second team All-Pac-10 selection Jonathan Smith and third leading rusher Jermaine Green to the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants, respectively, there is reason for optimism in the Cougar backfield. While most of that revolves around senior Chris Bruhn, the return of junior Allen Thompson could prove to be a major boost for WSU's running game.
Bruhn is just the fourth Cougar player to rush for 100 yards or more in his Washington State debut, going for 118 against Idaho last August while coming off the bench against the Vandals. Despite playing last season with a hernia, the Woodland, Calif., native finished with 353 yards in a reserve role. Bruhn had a strong showing in the Holiday Bowl victory over Texas, rushing for 46 yards on 10 carries.
Redshirt freshman Kevin McCall, senior Lavell Anderson, and junior college transfer Jerome Harrison will provide depth behind Bruhn and Thompson. Harrison was considered one of the top three junior college running backs in the country as a sophomore at Pasadena City College, the same school that produced the departed Smith.
"We have three solid kids at running back in Bruhn, Thompson, and McCall. We like our depth there," Doba said. "Harrison is a lot like Jonathan Smith. He has great quickness and good hands. He could do a lot of things for us and we think he will be a good addition. He could be a nice changeup from Bruhn, who is a big, strong back and Harrison is more of an elusive guy with great lateral movement."
For the second-straight year, offensive coordinator and receivers coach Mike Levenseller enters the season working with a retooled pass-catching unit. A year ago, the loss of Mike Bush and Jerome Riley was supposed to spell a downturn in production at the position. This season, the Cougars are looking to reload without the services of Devard Darling, Scott Lunde, and Sammy Moore.
Sophomores Chris Jordan and Jason Hill figure to be a major part of that process. Jordan hauled in 28 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns during his freshman campaign, while Hill should provide Cougar signal callers with a big, strong downfield threat after serving as a physical special teams performer in 2003.
Levenseller should also get a lift from junior workhorse Marty Martin, who introduced himself to the Cougar Nation during the spring game, bringing in 10 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
"Marty had an excellent spring. I would love to see him have a great season," Doba said. Fellow junior Trandon Harvey, who caught 21 passes for 247 yards a year ago, is also a dangerous target when healthy. Harvey has missed 18 games in his career due to injury.
Speedsters Tramaine Murray and Jevon Miller, both redshirt juniors, give the receiving corps an added dose of depth and could double as threats on kick and punt returns.
Junior college transfer Greg Prator and freshman Michael Bumpus could also be candidates for playing time. Prator was a first team All-Foothill League selection at Chaffey College in California last season after bringing in 49 passes for 899 yards and 12 touchdowns. Bumpus was a multi-purpose performer for Culver City High School in the Golden State, racking up over 1,000 yards receiving as a junior and over 800 yards rushing while playing quarterback as a senior.
"Greg Prator could really help us. We don't recruit junior college kids to be backups so we expect a lot from him," Doba said. "Michael Bumpus has a ton of raw talent that could enable him to play as a true freshman."
Both players are versatile contributors. In addition to being a sure-handed pass catcher, Bienemann serves as a long snapper. At 6-8, 245 pounds, Boyd blocked two field goal attempts in 2003.
Sophomore Jesse Taylor could be the best blocker among the Cougar tight ends. Freshman Ben Woodard, who returned from a two-year religious mission in January, is a likely redshirt candidate.
"Calvin didn't have the year that he wanted to have last year, but he has really dedicated himself in the weight room," Doba said. "Sam has the right mental approach. We want him on defense he is so aggressive. He was named co-captain of the offense and that tells us that the rest of the offense thinks highly of him as well."
In the middle, versatile junior Nick Mihlhauser will become the full-time center after splitting time at that spot and right guard a year ago.
"Nick could be one of the best centers we've had here. He is tough, quick, intelligent, and understands the offense. We put a lot on his shoulders," Doba said.
COMING TOMORROW: Season outlook on defense
COMING SATURDAY: Sizing up the specialists