COUGARS • UPDATED: 3:45 P.M.; 2:30 P.M. DEC. 25
Wandering around the Internet last night, I saw a football beat writer who offered his thoughts about starters next year for the school he covers. It seemed like a good idea, so I decided to try my hand at the same thing. What follows is a list of frontrunners for starting spots based on information gathered since the end of last season. In some cases I listed players at new positions, much of which is based on conversations with coaches from throughout the year. At other spots I made some leaps based on the same type of information. Only a couple of recruits are mentioned, because no one is signed yet. A lot can happen between now and next August, so take these thoughts for what they are, my best guess on the day before Christmas.
Quarterback: Marshall Lobbestael. That's all predicated on his health, of course. If he misses all spring and summer, then the position in up-in-the-air. Kevin Lopina, J.T. Levenseller and, if he signs, Jeff Tuel could all be in the mix. But Lobbestael is the one with the most promise.
Running back: James Montgomery. Dwight Tardy has started the past two years, but my guess is Montgomery, the transfer from Cal, may win the battle.
Wide receivers: Jeshua Anderson, Kevin Norrell and Jared Karstetter. This is an area where a recruit could come in and win a spot.
Left tackle: Zack Williams. The transfer from Pasadena City College was the best athlete among the offensive linemen. He's got a chance to be a star.
Left guard: B.J. Guerra. The Moses Lake grad came on strong at the end of last season at right guard. He seems better suited to this side, however.
Center: Kenny Alfred. He may be the only guy to return at the same position. He had some hip problems that were fixed this month.
Right guard: Micah Hannam. The coaches tried to move him here last year, but he turned out to be the best option at tackle. They'll probably try again. Hannam is recovering from a shoulder injury he played with most of last season.
Right tackle: Tyson Pencer. This is kind of a reach, but the redshirt freshman from British Columbia may be a future stud up front. If he can get his strength work in over the offseason – he suffered shoulder injuries that might slow him down – he'll be given every chance to start here. If he can't go, the Hannam is back here and Andrew Roxas gets a shot at guard.
Tight end: Tony Thompson. Again, all depends on his health. Skylar Stormo will also be in the picture as will JC prospect Peter Tuitupou who should be signed soon.
Kicker: Nico Grasu. Apple Cup hero.
Defensive end: Kevin Kooyman. A lot of this depends on the scheme WSU runs. Coach Paul Wulff said he would rather play a 4-3, but my guess is unless there are a bunch of JC defensive linemen who can play right away, there's going to be a lot of 3-3-5 look. But let's stay with the 4-3 and put Kooyman here.
Defensive tackle: Toby Turpin. The junior-to-be came on strong at the end of last year.
Defensive tackle: Bernard Wolfgramm. A knee injury suffered near the end of the season might slow him a little bit, but the coaches are high on this JC transfer who redshirted last season.
Defensive end: Jesse Feagin. If he gets his academics in order. Feagin had to redshirt due to grades but was tough to block on the scout team. If he's unavailable, Jessy Sanchez, another JC redshirt, is a possibility, though he also had shoulder surgery.
Outside linebacker: Louis Bland. This is a sure thing.
Middle linebacker: Andy Mattingly. This is just a hunch. Mattingly has always played on the outside, but there really isn't an obvious choice to replace Greg Trent. Mattingly is a straight ahead guy who just might blossom here, though there is some question whether he can cover sideline-to-sideline. The coaches also like Mike Ledgerwood, so he may start here and Mattingly may stay outside.
Outside linebacker: Cory Mackay. This is another hunch. The redshirt freshman is athletic and strong and needs to be on the field somewhere. He just needs to learn the schemes. If he can do that, he has shot to be a force. If he can't, look for Myron Beck back here.
Cornerback: Romeo Pellum. Started every game and was the best cover guy.
Strong safety: Chima Nwachukwu. Made seven starts. Was markedly better in the latter ones. Will be pushed by Tyree Toomer, who will also start if the Cougars play the 3-3-5.
Free safety: Xavier Hicks. One of the better defensive players last season.
Cornerback: Brandon Jones. Again, another hunch. The transfer from Cal will at least be in the mix, along with Tyrone Justin, Devin Giles and others.
Punter: Reid Forrest. One of the few locks.
Returner: Chantz Staden. Another player coming off injury, in Staden's case a really bad knee. If he can't go, expect Norrell to step in.
• What's the first thing that stands out here? To me, it's the number of players coming off injuries. It's easy to pick Lobbestael's as the most crucial, and that's true, but there are so many others. Every one who suffered one will go into spring as a question mark. But looking at this group, if they all pan out and some of the February signees can also help, this team has a chance to be improved.
Where are the biggest holes? Obviously, there is a weakness up front on defense. There are big losses in Matt Mullennix and A'i Ahmu, but there are some JC redshirts who have potential to fill the gaps. I'm interested in seeing how much weight these guys gain over the winter. It may tell a lot about their chances to compete in the Pac-10 next year.
The area of biggest strength will probably be the secondary. With the players coming back, a transfer or two and last year's freshmen being another year older, the competition for these spots is going to be the most intense on the team. My eyes will be focused here a lot during spring practice.
• UPDATE: ESPN's Andy Katz examines the Pac-10 basketball season thus far. His verdict on WSU? The Cougars really need to defeat LSU and they have work to do to make the NCAA tourney.
UPDATE NO. 2: A quick Christmas update, with a link to Bud Withers' story on the Cougars' game in Louisiana. Don't mind the bad headline.
• Those are my thoughts as of Christmas Eve. By March, when spring ball starts, every position could change. We'll see. Merry Christmas.