This is the seventh in a series reviewing Pac-12 spring football camps. Today, Washington State.
Starters returning – 13 (6 on offense, 7 on defense), plus PK Andrew Furney.
Refresher on 2011 – Cougars fired fourth-year coach Paul Wulff after a late stretch run toward a bowl bid fell short. Despite blowout home victories over Idaho State and UNLV to start the season, matters got off to an ominous start when, on the third series against ISU, QB Jeff Tuel broke his collarbone. He would return for only another 1 ½ games in mid-season before a shoulder problem sidelined him for good. Meanwhile, after a comeback victory engineered by QB Marshall Lobbestael at Colorado, the Cougars blew a pivotal game at UCLA, leading to a five-game losing streak. QB Connor Halliday’s record-setting 494-yard night keyed an upset of Arizona State, but WSU fell in overtime to Utah and finally, in the Apple Cup, dropping it to 4-8 and leading to Wulff’s dismissal. WR Marquess Wilson had 1,388 yards catching the ball and RB Rickey Galvin rushed for 602 yards.
Coaching changes – WSU hired Mike Leach, two years out of coaching, and Leach imported an entirely new staff, cutting loose, among others, longtime Cougar WRs coach Mike Levenseller.
Major spring concerns – Familiarization with Leach’s passing system . . . finding stability on the OL . . . adjusting to a new 3-4 defensive scheme . . . developing young linebackers.
Developments – LBs C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi were booted from the team for legal run-ins (although Kaufusi’s marijuana charge was dismissed), leaving a strong area much thinner. WSU appears promising, but young, there with Chester Sua, Darryl Monroe (rehabbed from an Achilles tear last fall) and Eric Oertel . . . at OLB (“Buck” linebacker in the Leach system), Travis Long made a good transition from DE . . . freshman OL Denzell Dotson, enrolled only since January, was cited for DUI but remained on the team . . . in one scrimmage, the defense rolled up 12 sacks and forced four turnovers . . . Andrei Lintz, a tight end in the old offense, impressed with his pass-catching ability in the slot throughout, and other slot receivers like Gino Simone, Blair Bomber and Bennett Bontemps also caught a lot of balls . . . another outside receiver prospect showed promise — 6-2, 184-pound Drew Loftus of Kennewick, a RS freshman who transferred from Hawaii . . . QB David Gilbertson, penciled in for the No. 3 position, got most of the second-team reps with Halliday still limited after suffering a lacerated liver against Utah last November . . . PK Mike Bowlin, a transfer from Oregon (by way of JC), should provide improved punting and kickoffs, an area where WSU struggled mightily last year . . . Leach termed standout WR Wilson’s work ethic “average,” and at times, had him working with the backup units . . . some observers say the practice tempo and urgency seemed greater than a year ago . . . the pass-oriented Leach offense yields practices in which the quarterbacks are throwing constantly in varying drills and team activities . . . in the Leach system, outside receivers play only one side of the field – left or right . . . RB Leon Brooks got considerable work in a bid for playing time over Galvin . . . DBs Deone Bucannon and Damante Horton were the most consistent in the secondary . . . defense featured lots of blitzing in new coordinator Mike Breske’s 3-4 scheme . . . Xavier Cooper (6-4, 280), Wilson High product, ran with the first unit frequently at DT and DE . . . Jared Byers, who played fullback under the former staff, has been switched to ILB . . . offensive line featured (left to right) John Fullington, Zach Johnson (RS soph from Stanwood), Elliott Bosch (junior from Ferris), Dan Spitz and Rico Forbes. But Matt Goetz and Wade Jacobson sat out with injuries (Goetz played early) and figure in as probable starters, Goetz likely at center and Jacobson at one guard. JC recruits Sam Jones and Niu Sale also factor in in the fall.
Spring game – In front of 10,713 at Spokane’s Albi Stadium April 21, the defense beat the offense, 28-27, in a game notable for Tuel’s 19-for-21 effort passing, plus Wilson’s 149 yards on four receptions, including an 84-yard bomb early. Linebacker/defensive end Logan Mayes, who played with the second unit, had 4.5 sacks, including 2.5 against the No. 1 offense. A flock of players sat out with injury concerns, including at least eight potential starters.
2012 schedule – Like that of 2011, the ’12 schedule could be built for a good start. WSU opens at Brigham Young, Leach’s alma mater, followed by games with Eastern Washington, UNLV and Colorado. Then comes a date with Oregon Sept. 29 at CenturyLink Field. In an unprecedented move made for TV and Pac-12 scheduling restrictions, the Apple Cup is Nov. 23 in Pullman – Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, at a time to be determined.