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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cougars use practices to check out players at different positions

Washington State head coach Mike Leach is working to blend players into the best combinations. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

PULLMAN – The 15 practices allotted to college football teams are useful for developing skilled players but also for finding better uses for the skill already on the team.

Seeing players tried out at new spots on the field is a trademark of spring. Washington State has already made some position switches to get its most talented players on the field concurrently.

On the defensive side, especially, second-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has long had a goal of fielding the fastest possible defense, and is willing to tinker with positions in pursuit of that goal.

Especially when such moves also allow him to get more experience on the field as well as speed.

“As you go through it, you need guys that can run, but you also need guys that can run who are guys that can trust,” Grinch said. “You’ve got to marry those two.”

Much of the speculation heading into next season centered around who would line up at safety alongside Shalom Luani, a junior college transfer who emerged as one of the team’s best players last season.

The answer, at least during the team’s first practice on Thursday, was Charleston White, who began last season atop the cornerback depth chart. Derrien Molton and Marcellus Pippins won the starting cornerback jobs during the season, but White, who was always a larger cornerback at 6-foot and 195 pounds, has long arms and quickness, giving the Cougars a particularly ranging secondary.

Whether he excels will come down to two factors. First, he has to show he can give instructions rather than receive them. Is he able to effectively make calls and align the defense?

“At corner I get a call, at safety I’ve got to make them,” White said.

And while moving a cornerback to safety should theoretically put more speed on the field and make the Cougars better in coverage, he still has to show he can handle the more physically rigorous position.

“That will be the telltale for him, when we get the pads on,” Grinch said. “Not just coverage, because when you move a corner to a safety spot, ideally, you improve coverage-wise. But in a physical sense, at the point of attack, run game-wise, can you hold up?”

On offense, Kyrin Priester has moved to an inside receiver position. After backing up Dom Williams at X-receiver last year, Priester will play Y-receiver, in part because the Cougars have some new players on the outside.

“He’s fast and he runs well. Also, he’s a thick strong guy,” head coach Mike Leach said. “I think he’s versatile enough to play inside or outside and then some of those young guys are better outside.”

Whereas Priester has the speed to play inside, the Cougars have recruited some taller, lanky receivers in the last couple of classes who are just better fits outside, where the passes are higher and come with more loft.

CJ Dimry stands 6-5, while Isaiah Johnson, a freshman, is 6-3 and already contending for playing time.

Priester has the speed to play inside, but at 6-1, 194 pounds and with natural strength, he’s more solidly built than the Y-receivers WSU has used in the past. That makes him uniquely equipped to handle those inside passes, which, while not defended closely by a cornerback like the outside receivers, have much bigger would-be tacklers lurking nearby.

“It is a lot more violent,” Priester said. “You’ve got to catch the ball, protect yourself and get upfield. Those guys are a lot bigger and a lot stronger, so they come with a lot more power and the hits are a lot harder.”