PULLMAN – Bobby Ratliff made an observation after Monday’s practice, when he was finished catching fade routes from an assistant, which summarized how most view Washington State’s receiving corps.
Most who have watched them practice, anyway.
“I just feel like as a whole, we’re a lot more deep than we were last year,” said the redshirt sophomore receiver from Etiwanda, Calif. “We have so many different receivers that can actually play in game-mode type of feel, so it’s a lot more competition this year than it was last year.”
The strongest group on WSU’s two-deep – fluid as it may be – is likely its receivers, who possess the team’s most talented proven player and perhaps its most promising.
The proven, of course, is Marquess Wilson, an All-American candidate who went for 1,388 yards last season on 82 catches as a sophomore.
The promising, then, is true freshman Gabe Marks, a 6-foot, 167-pound outside receiver who might be having the best camp of any player on the team.
“Gabe came in here as the most polished high school kid I’ve ever seen,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Connor Halliday said. “Route running, catching the ball – everything.”
Marks has impressed early and often enough that he’s routinely worked out at WSU’s “X” outside receiver spot opposite Wilson (who plays the “Z”) with the first-team offense, a sign that Marks is very much in the mix to start this season.
“I think we’ve still got room for some guys to jockey around for positions,” outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons said. “That thing is really a never-ending shuffle, because it’s going to be only as good as your last play. That’s kind of the atmosphere that I want to create for this kind of thing.”
They’ve created depth, at least, though not necessarily through on-field experience. The graduation of Jared Karstetter and Isiah Barton – two players who accounted for roughly 37 percent of WSU’s receptions and a shade less than 35 percent of its receiving yards last season – leaves the Cougars with only two receivers who caught double-digit passes a year ago.
One is Wilson, and the other is Ratliff, who is part of the rotation at the “Y” inside receiver spot.
There, coach Mike Leach likes what he’s found.
Redshirt senior Andrei Lintz, an afterthought last season as a tight end (seven catches for 76 yards), immediately impressed coaches with his combination of size and speed and has emerged as a no-brainer starter on the inside.
The fourth spot – the second inside receiver position, known as the “H” – appears less certain. Converted running back Rickey Galvin lined up there for much of Tuesday’s practice with the first unit, though senior Gino Simone and walk-on junior Bennett Bontemps have also seen their share of reps. And Galvin has bounced between the “Y” and the “H.”
“We’ve got a good thing going right now,” inside receivers coach Eric Morris said. “We’re shuffling some guys around right now for that reason, so guys can learn two or three positions. Ultimately, it’s a running board that we keep up with once or twice a week, who our best eight receivers on the team are, and that’s what we’re striving to do is find those top eight and get them on the field the best we can.”
True freshman Brett Bartolone also seems poised to see the field plenty as a slot receiver. Kristoff Williams, though slowed by injury recently, should factor in on the outside with Marks, along with sophomore Isiah Myers.
“Those guys have earned those chances; they’ve played hard,” Simmons said of the younger receivers. “When Kristoff gets back into the mix, we’ll see where they go from there, but those guys have played well. They’ve earned everything that they’ve gotten.”
“We did lose Karstetter,” Ratliff said. “That was a big loss for us, but we gained Gabe, we got Brett Bartolone, and a lot of us grew up more.”