Wide Receivers: A CF.C fall camp preview

WSU WR COACH Mike Levenseller before this last spring would also work a bit with the RB's and TE's to improve their receiving skills. But this spring, he was foremost lasered in on trying to brush the polish onto the wideouts. How does WR stack up headed into fall camp? A comprehensive CF.C positional overview at receiver with analysis, strengths & weaknesses, facts, figures, depth chart and more.


DEPTH CHART:  "X":  Jr. Daniel Blackledge (6-1, 182);  R-Jr. Johnny Forzani (6-1, 195);  Jr. Jeshua Anderson (6-2, 188)  |  "F":  So. Kevin Norrell (5-9, 199);  R-Jr. Jeffrey Solomon (6-0, 196);  R-Jr. Easton Johnson (5-11, 202);  R-So. Nick Proen (6-0, 193);   Fr. Dominique Jackson (5-11, 180)   l   "Z":  SoJared Karstetter (6-4, 203);  R-JrSolomon; R-Jr. Johnson;  R-Sr. Reid McEllrath (6-5, 223)

PLAYERS LOST:  Brandon Gibson (The Cougs' leader in receiving yards the last three seasons, now in the NFL); Benny Ward (13 games, no starts in '08); Michael Willis (13 games, one start in '08)

INJURIESAnderson was not injured but missed the spring and voluntary summer workouts competing in track for WSU. Forzani and Solomon each missed partial time with injuries. All are expected to be ready by the opener.

OVERVIEWThe receiving corps is young. Along with some good play this spring, there was also inconsistency. The most noticeable by-product were the drops. Not as apparent as the catches but just as key to WR at Wazzu is blocking. Levenseller, who has sent a number of Coug receivers onto the pros, places a high level of importance on unselfishness, desire and ability to play physically and to effectively block. Based on the spring, the receivers collectively are looking to become more consistent in those areas as well.

In the briefest of terms, the "F" receivers at WSU are usually the smaller, quicker guys -- players who run precision intermediate routes, and who are -- laterally -- very athletic. The "X" receiver usually lines up farthest out and "Z" is the other outside guy. Both are deep threats and utilize taller receivers to stretch the field.

Anderson missed the spring and because of his track pursuits, he's also unable to spend the valuable time in the weight room others do. Still, he was Washington State's leading pass catcher in '08 and figures to make an impact again this year.

As a freshman, he looked like a rising star. Last year, battling injuries and not having gone through the same offseason regimen as his football teammates, he didn't have the kind of season many fans envisioned. Anderson has all the potential you could want but just like any other player, potential is just that until it's realized. And he's not the only guy for the Cougs at the X spot who could make some noise.

Blackledge is a mature, hard working and talented wideout who looks to have turned a corner. It will not be a surprise to see him take it to another level this year.

He's solidly built, is more and more becoming a precision route runner and is one of the better WR's at executing the stock and crackback blocks. Paul Wulff singled him out for praise for his offseason development, as well as his on-field work this spring.

Forzani is speed personified. He's raw as a receiver, Levy has work to do with him -- one example, Forzani this spring turned in a highlight reel grab...the very next play he followed it up with a drop of a catchable pass. But there's little question he can develop into a big playmaker for the Cougs if he continues to develop.

His ability to stretch the field, and/or to take guys with him and open up the underneath and other parts of the field, could be valuable this season. 

At the F receiver, Norrell (six starts in '08) played in every game last season as a true freshman. He didn't, like the entire WSU offense, put up big numbers last year but improved as the year went along.

He has the ability to very, very good this year and over the course of his Cougar career if he continues to work at it.

Solomon is one to watch in fall camp after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Like Blackledge, he's one of the more adept, physical blockers at receiver.

This spring he displayed on a regular basis why he could be hard to keep off the field in '09 -- he just kept getting better at the entire range of receiving skills, showing consistent improvement throughout. Not surprising, given that he has a tireless work ethic.

Johnson is another guy who could also contribute this season. The thing you most need to know about him is that he absolutely works his tail off.

At the Z spot, Karstetter (three starts) played in every game last season. He's a big target, and his Apple Cup grab will be replayed from now until forever. He's also physical and has gotten stronger this season.  But he's also still learning.

Outside receiver is an exposed position, a mistake out wide is laid bare in a way it's not as apparent at most other positions on a football team. And it's simply a hard position for a true frosh to play in the Pac-10. Both Karstetter and Norrell each showed some growing pains in their first year. But that could pay dividends in Year 2.

Simone, the top rated recruit coming out of the state of Washington in '09, is probably a natural F receiver but he might also be capable of doing some good things outside.

Simone moves well laterally, exactly what you want in an F receiver. And he looks to have the exact right mindset coming in -- a burning desire to work non-stop under Levy's tutelage.

Jackson, a walk-on who drew the most attention for his work as a cornerback in high school, will get his first look at receiver -- and he'll have a real opportunity to become a contributor because of the youth. He has extremely quick feet, which should serve him well in the slot.

AN OPTIMIST WOULD SAYAnderson has had his sophomore slump and will again remind fans of his freshman season, Blackledge is rising fast and Forzani can flat out fly. Norrell could be on his way to becoming a Mr. Clutch, Solomon is an underrate talent, Johnson could come off the bench and make some key grabs while Karstetter will take it to the next level. And Simone will make an impact his first year in the Pac-10.

A PESSIMIST WOULD SAYA young and inexperienced group, they will struggle at times this year. The drops from the spring will have to be cleaned up, and while Blackledge and Solomon appear the most polished blocking-wise, the stock and crackbacks need to improve across the board. Some wonder if the o-line will be hard-pressed to consistently give the Cougar QB enough time, and the receivers might be hard pressed to stretch the aerial attack.

STAR PLAYER:  To be determined.  If Anderson had a season in '08 like his freshman campaign, he's the clear choice. But having missed the offseason regimen, and with the Cougar players across the board showing big gains this offseason, the star receiver might not revel himself until well into fall camp.

UNIT STRENGTHSystem and stability. When a WR coach stays in one place for awhile, the players and offense benefit and Levenseller -- entering his 18th year on the WSU sidelines -- is one of the more respected receiver coaches among his coaching peers.  He has this year a big challenge in front of him with the youth in the cupboard.  But they have a clear understanding of what must be done to succeed. And there's a reason Levy has sent a bunch of Cougar receivers on to the professional ranks.

UNIT WEAKNESSExperience and depthHow fast Levy can put the polish on the collective corps will tell a lot about how successful the receivers are this year.

NOTABLE NOTE:  Washington State and Levenseller have, each of the last three years, put a receiver in the NFL -- Jason Hill, Michael Bumpus, Brandon Gibson.

WULFF: "A lot of young guys. It is really a position we have tried to overhaul and there are a lot of new faces that will have to play. We are still relatively inexperienced in some regards in terms of total amount of playing time in their career on gamedays...There is a core of players that need to work very hard, but they have a great attitude so we are excited to watch their development over the next few years."


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