March 31, 2010 in Sports

Cougars carry depth at wide receiver

Four veteran players vie for three starting spots
By The Spokesman-Review
 

PULLMAN – Mike Levenseller knows there’s a basic math question in there somewhere.

Levenseller, Washington State University’s longtime receivers coach, has four scholarship players available this spring. There are three starting spots. So how do you get four into three?

The simple answer is you don’t.

“We’re in a three-man set, there are still four starters,” Levenseller said Tuesday, listing Daniel Blackledge, Jeffrey Solomon, Jared Karstetter and Gino Simone. “And that’s kind of fun.”

Ask any of the many receivers the straight-speaking Levenseller has sent on to the NFL over the years and it would be a surprise if any of them would label him a glass-half-full type of guy. But he is this spring.

Through defections, transfers and desires to play other sports, a once-deep receiving corps is left with the four listed above and, for the spring anyway, a handful of walk-on additions.

That’s fine by Levenseller.

“With the ones, I think we can get a lot done,” he said. “For one thing, they are getting all the reps. I’m actually really pleased with this spring. I can give a lot of individual time in video and on the field. I don’t have to move through it really fast, I can spend quite a bit of time.”

There is help coming, of course, with Levenseller expecting junior college receiver Isiah Barton to contribute immediately, and at least two of the five incoming scholarship freshmen helping as well.

But for now, there are nine players listed as wide receivers on the roster.

The Cougars practiced Tuesday for the fourth time this spring, but this one was different. The team headed out to Martin Stadium for the workout and scrimmaged for more than 30 minutes to end practice.

Though the second groups matched up for a couple of possessions – former walk-on-cornerback-turned- receiver Shane Thomas and Esa Blackwell each caught a Marshall Lobbestael pass – for most of the time it was the ones vs. the ones.

And that meant the scholarship quartet rotated through 19 snaps, which was fine by Levenseller and slot receiver Gino Simone.

“The name of our game this spring is going to be toughness, and that’s what Levy’s been preaching,” said Simone, who had the longest reception of the day, an 18-yard hookup with Jeff Tuel. “We’ve just got to come out ready to go every day and take every rep, because we need to do that out of necessity. We only have two groups of guys who are able to (play).”

Levenseller’s four starters all caught at least 23 passes last season, but it’s the trait Simone alluded to that has their coach’s attention.

“Hey, this is a tough man’s game,” Levenseller said. “At least I feel like I have four guys who can hang in there. … We have four guys who have hung in there through everything and they are the ones left standing.

“They’re the toughest mentally and physically.”

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