Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Rain 36° Rain

SportsLink

The lights are on in Pullman thanks to a reservoir of depth

WSU receiver Gabe Marks (9) reacts after an official blew a whistle prematurely on a play against Arizona State during the first half of a Pac-12 college football game on Saturday, Nov 7, 2015, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
WSU receiver Gabe Marks (9) reacts after an official blew a whistle prematurely on a play against Arizona State during the first half of a Pac-12 college football game on Saturday, Nov 7, 2015, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • If you lived through the Dark Ages of Washington State University football, then you must be pretty excited these days, right? And well you should be. Read on.

••••••••••

• You know what I mean about the Dark Ages, right? There have been a few of them. The late 1960s. The mid-1970s. Three years in the mid-80s. The three years in the late 90s. And then the most recent, those three lost seasons as the first decade of this century played out. Pitch black. But the power is back on in Pullman. Electricity is in the air. The present is bright. No, it’s not the nine wins of last year that makes us say that. It’s nine guys who were on the Martin Stadium turf yesterday during a spirited spring practice. Some you have heard of – a lot. Quarterback Luke Falk, who looks more in control this time around. Always-jumping-around receiver Gabe Marks, who instigates more fights than Don King ever did. Safety Shalom Luani, who continues a long WSU tradition of silver bullets in the middle of the secondary. Big Robert Barber, who is being called upon to step up and fill the middle of the defensive line. Those guys, and others, are givens. But there are so many other players on the field who are standing out and that’s the main difference in this Washington State group – and why there’s a new brightness in Pullman. Depth isn’t easy to build. Quality depth is even harder. You saw the former last year. You should experience the latter in the upcoming one. Here are five more guys I focused on yesterday. Some of them are depth guys. Others, budding stars. But they all have a shot at contributing in the fall. And, someday, step into the bright lights.

• Isaiah Johnson: Hard to believe this Florida wide receiver should be getting ready for the prom. Johnson graduated early from William T. Dwyer High – the same school that gave WSU Tavares Martin – and is at spring workouts. At 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, he looks like a college senior, not a high school one. But don’t be deceived. Johnson is just a freshman and he has a lot to learn. Instruction is being thrown at him and he has to absorb it to make a mark quickly. Judging by how he listened during practice, how he went about his business putting that instruction into practice, it’s a pretty good bet he will.

• James Williams: You’ve probably heard of the freshman running back who redshirted last season. He tore up the Thursday night scrimmages. He’s doing the same at times this spring. Williams is 5-11 and 195 pounds. Not huge, but solid enough to take a Pac-12-caliber hit. But what he’s really special at is avoiding them. It’s been years since I’ve seen a WSU running back that can consistently make a defender whiff in the confined space of a line-of-scrimmage hole. Williams can do that. And then run away from people. He has a shot at being something special.

• Frankie Luvu and Nnamdi Oguayo: If builds guaranteed success, then these two linebackers would be dead-solid locks. Both 6-3 guys look the part, with Luvu bigger at 239 pounds, but, playing inside, he needs to be. He and Oguayo, who weighs 218 pounds, have one attribute that was missing in all of WSU’s Dark Ages, including the most recent one: speed. If there is one element that stands out with this defense, it’s an upgrade in how quickly it moves. Maybe it’s due to coordinator Alex Grinch’s scheme, its simply learning curve and how well it’s taught. Maybe. Or maybe it’s because everyone can run. Both Luvu and Oguayo just plain get around, like a Porsche or a BMW among a bunch of Nissans. Luvu, who will be a junior, should contribute next fall. Oguayo, who redshirted last season as a freshman, might hold his rush linebacker coming out party a little farther down the road. But no matter when he arrives, he will have gotten there quickly.

• Garrett McBroom: The 6-3, 276-pound junior college transfer has stepped right in on the defensive line. He was the star of a recent video clip that made the social media rounds bull-rushing a poor offensive lineman during a drill. But McBroom’s real strength seems to be his ability to get off the ball. When he does that, he’s a handful. In one series yesterday he was the quickest guy up front on either line three consecutive times. Predictably, he disrupted everything. The fourth snap? He got a slow start. And was manhandled. Like any JC transfer, McBroom is going through a learning process. Whether he’ll learn quickly enough to contribute against Eastern Washington in the opener is something to watch.

• There were more guys to watch out there as well, and that’s sort of the point. In the not-too-long-gone past, not a lot got done during spring, mainly because there weren’t enough quality folks on campus to do really in-depth work. That’s not the case anymore. Unlike some spring workouts I was paid to watch, yesterday’s seemed more like a fall practice. There may not be a game for five months, but the work needed to get ready for it? That’s happening now. In the bright light of sunny days.

•••

• WSU: Jacob Thorpe watches these guys every day, so his analysis is probably a little more spot on. He has his views of yesterday’s practice in this blog post. And he has a video of Mike Leach after practice. ... The Times’ Stefanie Loh was also at practice and has this story. ... The baseball team opened a home Pac-12 series with Arizona State by getting pounded 10-1.

• Gonzaga: In our seemingly daily former Zag news, we present this story on Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler.

• EWU: The Eagles opened spring football practice yesterday and Jim Allen was there. He has this story on the first practice and video of a Beau Baldwin interview.

• Empire: Yes, the IFL season is still going on. After back-to-back bye weeks for the Empire, you may have forgotten. Jim Meehan has an advance of tonight’s home game vs. Iowa while John Blanchette examines the similarities in the franchises in this column.

• Preps: It was a beautiful spring day yesterday. So why not cover baseball and softball games? Greg Lee has the latter as Shadle Park got past U-Hi, and Tom Clouse the former, with G-Prep topping Mt. Spokane.

• Seahawks: The Hawks have to replace Marshawn Lynch. There are some in-house candidates. How about guys from outside the building? ... Seattle has a reputation as being a tough team to play against.

• Mariners: Opening day is just around the weekend, which is a good thing – if you are ready. Hisashi Iwakuma is after his last spring start yesterday. As is the newest member of the bullpen. But other relievers are not going to ready next week or anytime soon. ... Chris Taylor is back with Tacoma trying to get himself ready if the M’s call again. ... How would you define progress this year in Seattle?

• Sounders: Some Sounders returned this week from international duty. Some of them were happy. Others not so much.

•••

• You know, watching a college football practice hasn’t changed much in the years since I’ve retired from full-time duty. It’s still as boring as ever. I kid. Somewhat. Until later ...



Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

Follow Vince online:






Looking for a Grip on Sports?

Vince Grippi's daily take on all things regional sports has been moved to our main sports section online. You can find a collection of these columns here.