Spring football for Washington State is nearing its conclusion.
As is always the case, the highlight of spring camp is the final scrimmage and the opportunity to gauge where the team is at as well as how much promise it holds for the coming season.
So what should Cougar fans be looking for Saturday afternoon?
If you are fortunate enough to attend the scrimmage scheduled for 2pm at Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium, expect a great football fix. Second best way to take in the scrimmage will be tuning into Pac-12 Networks for the televised broadcast.
This is the second spring practice under the leadership of Coach Mike Leach. With few exceptions, it’s the same coaching staff working to install a system proven effective in the past.
How is Coach Leach doing? Catch the scrimmage tomorrow so you can judge for yourselves.
That said, expect to see both offensive and defensive units moving more efficiently and at a quicker pace. By the end of last season guys were becoming comfortable with their individual responsibilities. Collectively, WSU was extremely competitive in the second half of 2012 which culminated with a tremendous victory in the annual Apple Cup.
By their very nature, football players are intensely competitive. Though a scrimmage is just a simulated game, players efforts will be immortalized on video tape for analysis by the coaching staff. Student-athletes will be competing for depth chart position which translates into playing time when the ball is teed up next August 31st against Auburn. In other words, make no mistake, guys will be bringing intensity to the scrimmage.
Cougar fans will be looking for some answers to solve issues which led to a 3-9 record last year.
The obvious place to look first as to whether or not this team has improved with be the line play on both sides of the ball.
Without better performance by the offensive line, Washington State isn’t going to win many more games than last season when there was basically six guys to cover five positions. Depth was a key issue to the sub-par OL play in 2012. From my view, size and athleticism were at the heart of the problem. This spring Coach Leach appears to have ten solid players to cover the five slots. Improvement?
The defensive line was adequate in 2012, but that level of play won’t translate into many wins at the Pac-12 level. There will be a blend of new and old faces across the defensive front Saturday. Unfortunately two of the Cougars best hosses won’t be in the trenches showcasing their ability. Both Kalafitoni Pole and Ioane Gauta will be watching from the sidelines. As Coach Leach would respond if asked, “They’re fine, they’re great. Doing just what we want them to be doing”, or words to that effect.
Before becoming effusive over the progress of the OL after watching tomorrow’s scrimmage, keep in mind Pole and Gauta won’t be up front disrupting the execution of the offense.
No question the focus of most fans will be on the battle for starting quarterback between Connor Halliday and Austin Apodoca. The two have had moments of brilliance during this spring. Halliday seems to have toned down his propensity to force play and has done a better job at running the Air Raid offense. Apodoca got off to a slow start but has come on strong of late.
If you’re looking for a Coug who seems destined to make repeated appearances on ESPN’s Top Ten Plays, look no further than wide receiver #84 Gabe Marks. On the heels of a good freshman campaign, Marks is bigger, stronger, quicker and running better routes this spring. In terms of the stars from the 2012 WSU offense, Marks has already made me forget the name of the forgotten WR who hopes to catch on in the NFL. What was his name? No matter, Gabe Marks is poised to be the next great receiver coming out of Washington State and Coach Leach’s high powered offense.
While you’re keeping an eye on the play of Marks, don’t overlook his high school teammate, running back Teondray Caldwell who wears #34. This young man has the talent to convince the coaching staff Rickey Galvin should switch to WR. And Galvin is a guy who has the potential to finish a play in the end zone each and every time he touches the football.
Based on pure athletic talent and love for the game, the student-athlete I’d suggest you check out on defense is converted WR/KR #31 Rahmel Dockery now playing corner back. Dockery wasn’t even listed on the initial spring depth chart but has made the most of his opportunities during practice. This is a guy who was arguably the best high school player in the state based on spectacular play on offense. When he arrived in Pullman, the coaching staff definitely wanted to get Dockery on the field, but with tremendous depth in the receiving corps he might not get serious playing time for a couple of years. Coach Leach convinced him to apply his athletic skills to learning the craft of shutting down guys who are used to making highlight reels with spectacular catches. Given how far Dockery has progressed this spring, his future is spotlight bright as a corner for the Cougs.
Final thought on what to watch for, don’t turn away when WSU punter Mike Bowlin and place kicker Andrew Furney are on the field. Bowlin and Furney were bright spots for the Cougs last season and have put in the work necessary to be even better in 2013.
Are you ready for some Cougar football?