Last in a series on Pac-12 spring-football camps. Today, Washington State.
Starters returning – 16 (8 offense, 8 defense), plus P Mike Bowlin and PK Andrew Furney.
Refresher on 2012 – With much anticipation for the Mike Leach regime, Cougars flopped badly in their opener at BYU, lost as a big favorite at home against Colorado, and slogged through an eight-game losing streak. Then they fell behind Washington by 18 points in the fourth quarter before scrapping back for an overtime victory to finish 3-9.
Coaching changes – When Eric Morris left as inside receivers coach to go to Texas Tech, Leach replaced him with David Yost, for the past 12 years an assistant at Missouri. Linebackers coach Jeff Choate, who departed for UTEP and then Florida, was replaced by Ken Wilson, who came after a long tenure at Nevada.
Major spring concerns – Figuring out the QB position that played a part in WSU’s struggles in 2012 . . . fostering competition on the offensive line, where there was little last season . . . improving at CB, where the Cougars have had mediocre play for several years.
Developments – Connor Halliday, who had a 15-13 TD-interception ratio last season in an off-again, on-again role with graduated Jeff Tuel, seems to have the edge at QB, but Austin Apodaca, RS freshman (6-3, 191), could challenge him in the fall . . . the O-line, which frustrated Leach last year partly because there was little depth to push the starters, has many more candidates. Leach said recently four walk-ons would start if WSU played a game now – LT Gunnar Eklund, LG and Montana transfer Joe Dahl, C Elliott Bosch and RG Zach Brevick. The fifth player might be Rico Forbes, who missed 2012 with a knee injury. But others who figure in include John Fullington, Matt Goetz, Eduardo Middleton, Jake Rodgers (who sat out spring) and JC transfer Jacob Seydel . . . WR Gabe Marks was best among receivers . . . SB Ricky Galvin returned from a broken arm and has the inside track on a slot position . . . D-line had injuries to Toni Pole, who had the long OT interception in the Apple Cup; and Ioane Gauta, but both should be ready in the fall . . . getting limited time were D-linemen Robert Barber, who had a knee injury early last year, and Destiny Vaeao, so Darryl Paulo got heavy work at NT . . . depth at the LB spots might be best on the team, with Tana Pritchard and Justin Sagote battling at WLB; Darryl Monroe leading Jared Byers and Jeremiah Allison at MLB; Cyrus Coen ahead of Eric Oertel at SLB; and Logan Mayes (who sat out spring with a leg injury) penciled in atop rising soph Kache Palacio and JC transfer Ivan McLennan at departed Travis Long’s Buck LB spot . . . making a move at CB was Rahmel Dockery, RS freshman who was converted last year from WR . . . S Deone Bucannon, one of WSU’s top defenders, sat out spring with an injury but will return in the fall . . . Cougars had a 2.68 team GPA in the fall, their highest ever . . . offense seems almost certain to improve, after finishing 11th in Pac-12 in scoring at 20.4 ppg, and allowing 57 sacks, which makes it 243 over the past five years . . . defense was sporadically salty in 2012, sixth against the run at 163.2 . . . Leach seemed pleased at the end of the spring session, telling the Spokane Spokesman-Review, “We’re better at every position. A ton of these guys were here last year. They just developed. They improved.”
Spring game – In front of 8,340 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Halliday was 38 of 58 for 406 yards with two interceptions. A perturbed Leach changed the second-half format from a running clock to a football-timed one.
2013 schedule – Cougars open on the road against a pair of traditional powers that struggled in 2012, Auburn and USC. The Seattle traditional is against Stanford Sept. 28 at CenturyLink Field, and WSU plays only three league games in Pullman, against Oregon State, ASU and Utah. The Cougars miss UCLA and Colorado.