The last time fans had a chance to see the Washington State football team the Cougars let a 15-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate in their 48-45 New Mexico Bowl loss to Colorado State.
The manner of WSU’s loss overshadowed the school’s first bowl game in a decade. But spring practices begin on Thursday and the Cougars will officially put last season’s unnerving finish behind them. Washington State was young last season and returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. Still, the Cougars graduated some significant contributors on both sides of the ball meaning that the upcoming 15 practices will be critical for determining their replacements.
With that in mind here are five position battles to keep an eye on this spring.
SS Strong safety: This is the one position where the Cougars are almost certain to take a step back this season. The “next man up” philosophy doesn’t really work when you’re replacing an All-American like Deone Bucannon.
But the coaches think highly of Isaac Dotson, who enters spring as the starter, and Darius Lemora, who had some exceptional practices last season. Keep an eye on Bucannon’s little brother, David Bucannon.
While the younger brother enters spring third on the depth chart, he showed off impressive range during an underclassmen scrimmage last season.
If someone emerges and makes strong safety a position of strength for the Cougars defense again this year it could impact next season as much as anything else that happens this spring.
K Kicker: Over the past four years the Cougars bet their fate on the leg of kicker Andrew Furney and more often than not he delivered.
He hit the winning field goal against Washington in 2012 and set the school record for field-goal percentage as a sophomore.
WSU would love to have the luxury of such a reliable kicker again this season, making the competition between freshman Erik Powell and junior Wes Concepcion worth keeping an eye on.
CB Cornerback: Damante Horton and Nolan Washington both put together strong senior campaigns for the Cougars last season and both are gone.
Daquawn Brown is the obvious candidate to lock down one cornerback spot after an impressive freshman campaign that saw him start four games and make 50 tackles.
However, Brown was recently charged with second-degree felony assault and misdemeanor assault and was accused of hitting a woman, which could jeopardize his status on the team.
Marcellus Pippins, Charleston White and Tracy Clark will battle it out for one, if not both, of the cornerback spots.
Athletic freshman Deion Singleton is one to watch as well.
RB Running back: The Cougars may not utilize the running game as much as most teams but it is still an important position in the WSU offense. In addition to 87 carries last season Marcus Mason had 52 receptions, and combined to put up over 800 yards on the ground and through the air.
So why is this a position battle? Because redshirt freshmen Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks looked too good to keep off the field in practice last season, and Theron West looked great in the bowl game with three rushes for 17 yards, three receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown, while also blocking a kick.
OL Offensive Line: The Cougars lost three senior offensive linemen last year and indications are that nobody will have much experience at their position. That’s because the early spring depth chart shows Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund having swapped their positions from last season, with Dahl at left tackle and Eklund at left guard. The two made the switch for the bowl game and the coaches appear to like the change.
The coaches have praised both Sam Flor and Riley Sorenson in the past and the two sophomores will battle it out for the starting center position. On the right side of the line Jacob Seydel will try to hold on to the right guard spot and Cole Madison appears to have locked down the starting spot at right tackle.