The new offense: Reflections from spring ball

PULLMAN -– Aside from coaches and players, I'm pretty sure I saw more of WSU's spring football workouts -- all 15 practices and/or scrimmages -- than any person on Planet Coug. With a bulging notebook and a head full of images, it seemed only appropriate to pen a few reflections on it all. In the first of a two-part series, here's my rundown on the offense ...

QB Gary Rogers looked sharp. The coaches installed just a portion of the offense the Cougs will run in the fall, but Rogers took to it like white on rice.

He came into the spring as the leading contender to replace Alex Brink, and left firmly ensconced as the No. 1 guy. He was comfortable in the no-huddle attack, oozed confidence from the opening whistle, and displayed the arm strength and foot speed needed to excel. Rogers is surprisingly quick for his 6-5, 236-pound frame and made good throws on the move.

There's obvious chemistry between Rogers and his receivers, especially Brandon Gibson and Daniel Blackledge.

Rogers' understudy, Kevin Lopina stepped up this spring. He set himself apart from Cole Morgan and Marshall Lobbestael and has a solid grip on the No. 2 spot. Lopina showed off great mobility and, like Rogers, has an aptitude for throwing on the run.

At wideout, Gibson was outstanding as usual. But the big news was the development of Blackledge, a sophomore-to-be. He's the whole package -- a route runner, a blocker and an athlete with good wheels and soft hands. With the return of Jeshua Anderson, currently running track, this fall, the Cougs would have three big-time receivers in the fold.

Plus there's former safety Michael Willis, who came a long way over the spring and capped it off with a huge day in the final scrimmage. Willis is a versatile threat who can line up all over the field.

In the new system, the Cougs' receiving corps may prove to be one of the most explosive in the conference.

ONE QUESTION-MARK come fall will be on the o-line. The group has experience in Kenny Alfred, Dan Rowlands, Micah Hannam and Vaughn Lesuma, but the unit has been slow in grasping the new scheme of line coach Harold Etheridge.

Two-a-days in August should get that cleared up. Presuming it does, the only real worry becomes health, because after the starting group the lack of depth and size is glaring.

There are no such worries at tight end, which figures to be one of the strengths of the team.

The Cougs have a range of options. Devin Frischknecht, as he proved in last year's two-touchdown outing in the Apple Cup, is a big threat in the vertical passing game with his size and speed. Ben Woodard is a big body well suited for blocking, but he has good hands as well.

And Tony Thompson can do a little bit of everything. Coaches credit the former long snapper with being one of the hardest workers and quickest learners on the team. He can block, catch and run and looks to be well suited for an H-back type of role.

THE BACKFIELD WAS BETTER, at tiumes, than expected during the spring but it was also a tale left very much unfinished. The top four on the depth chart all missed significant time due to injury or academic issues.

Starter Dwight Tardy is ahead of schedule coming back from his knee injury and looks to be ready to go come fall. Despite missing all of spring ball, he's spent time learning the new offense so should be ready to roll when he's back on the field.

With Tardy's absence, this spring could have been an opportunity for talented Chris Ivory to make his mark but he participated in only half the sessions as he concentrated on work in the classroom. The bruising running back played well in his limited time.

Logwone Mitz and Marcus Richmond each showed good speed this spring and proved tough to tackle. The backs, as a group, looked solid catching the ball, which should make the multi-dimensional attack more effective.

Coug fans will see a much different offense than in recent years -- expect lots of different sets and personnel groupings, as well as plenty of motion.

Overall, it was a promising spring for the Cougs offensively. The players responded well to the new staff and the changes they're implementing. Throughout, the atmosphere was upbeat, intense and aggressive and players spoke consistently about how they were loving the new environment.

The unsung hero of the spring was backup running back Joseph Campbell, who was forced to take nearly every rep for the better part of Week 3 with the top four RBs all sidelined. Campbell won't see much playing time come fall, but had himself a good spring and was instrumental given the attrition.


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