PULLMAN – As a disappointing season wore on last fall, injuries and a lack of productivity combined to make the tight end position almost irrelevant in the Washington State University offense.
By the time the Apple Cup rolled around, WSU was relying almost exclusively on three wide-out sets, with a fullback or H-back thrown in when needed.
But that has changed this spring, by design. The tight end spot is back and should be a fixture in the fall.
“We expect them to produce,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said Thursday, after the Cougars had finished their fourth of five spring practice weeks.
With last year’s starter Tony Thompson lost to graduation, replacements had to be found. A couple of redshirt sophomores, Skylar Stormo and Andrei Lintz, along with senior Zach Tatman, stepped up.
“Both Skylar and Andrei have improved their game,” Wulff said. “They had to and they needed to and they have. It’s been good to see those guys play a lot of football.
“And Zach Tatman was doing fine until he hurt his knee.”
The 6-foot-5, 242-pound Tatman, who is still waiting to hear if the NCAA will grant him an expected sixth year of eligibility, strained his medial collateral ligament Tuesday and will not practice the rest of the spring.
But it is Stormo who has caught everyone’s eye.
The Everett native added about 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason – he’s 6-5 and 257 pounds – which has turned a weakness – a lack of confidence – into a strength.
“He’s made the biggest strides,” tight ends coach Rich Rasmussen said. “He’s got a better grasp of the offense and he’s finally playing with some confidence. That was his big hurdle he had to get over a year ago.”
“I take everything a little too serious at times,” Stormo said. “I’m hard on myself. That was tough last year. I got to play, made some mistakes and kind of got down on myself.
“But this year it seems it’s getting a little slower to me. It feels like I’m starting to see things better.”
It’s easy to see Stormo spent some time in the weight room.
“I feel like now, more than ever, I have the skills to play,” he said. “Another year under my belt with (strength) coach (Darin) Lovat really added a lot. I can really tell the change.”
“A lot of his confidence has come with the strength he’s added in the weight room,” Rasmussen said.
With Stormo playing better, Lintz, at 6-5 and 245 pounds, has added another position to his playbook, playing some at the fullback/H-back spot held down by 6-foot, 224-pound walk-on Jared Byers.
“Andrei has made some significant progress, so we’re mixing and matching him a bit, cross-training him just so we have some depth,” Rasmussen said.
In the fall, four-star recruit Aaron Dunn from Mead High will also be in the mix, giving the Cougars more depth. There is so much confidence in the group now, even with Tatman’s injury, 6-4, 242-pound redshirt freshman walk-on Elliot Bosch was moved inside Thursday and worked at center and guard.
“As a group, we’re pretty fresh,” Stormo said, pointing out the inexperience. “But we’re doing some good things.”