PULLMAN – Elsewhere in the country, the official release depth charts can be one of the most anticipated parts of the lead-up to the college football season.
At Washington State, though, the two-deep is not much more than a restructured, reorganized version of the team roster. Rather than giving away starters and backups at every position, coach Mike Leach uses the “OR” designation between two or three players at spots where there isn’t an obvious No. 1.
Even as Gardner Minshew was gaining steam as a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2018, the eventual Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year was still listed as one of three possible starters on the Cougars’ depth chart late in the season: Gardner Minsew OR Anthony Gordon OR Trey Tinsley.
So, as the season approaches, we give you our idea of what WSU’s three-deep will like when the Cougars host New Mexico State on Aug. 31, with in-depth looks at every position on offense.
1. No. 16 Anthony Gordon, R.Sr. (6-3, 210)
2. No. 4 Gage Gubrud, Gr. (6-2, 208)
3. No. 10 Trey Tinsley, R.Sr. (6-3, 215)
Summary: Gubrud’s development in the Air Raid offense was stunted by a foot/ankle injury that precluded the Eastern Washington graduate transfer from competing in spring drills. It’s fair to wonder how beneficial that period might have been for Gubrud, who not only would’ve been getting hundreds of his own reps, but also taken hundreds away from Gordon.
Then again, how valuable is one month? Gordon’s accumulated three years’ worth of Air Raid knowledge, sitting in the same film room as Leach, Luke Falk and Minshew, picking the brain of the coach who co-authored the offense and taking cues from two quarterbacks who’ve mastered it.
“I think he’s continued to improve,” Leach said of Gordon. “The biggest thing is consistency. He’s gotten consistent. He’s always been able to unload the ball quickly and he’s gotten real steady with his reads. He’s done a real good job of reading the field.”
Gordon’s progression as an Air Raid signal-caller has been impressive – almost as much as his patience. While the redshirt senior has a ways to go before he can be mentioned in the same breath as Falk or Minshew, there’s no reason he can’t produce the same passing totals as both of his predecessors, especially with the army of receivers he’ll have and the strength of his offensive line.
Having a former FCS All-American who was considered by some the top quarterback at that level as your No. 2 isn’t a terribly bad deal, either. I don’t expect Gubrud will spend the entirety of his final college season warming the Cougars’ bench and his mobility could allow WSU to do a few different things in certain scenarios.
I list Tinsley as the third-stringer because he’d be the next man up if anything happened to the first two. If the Cougars can take a big, early lead on either of their first opponents, I’d imagine redshirt freshman Cammon Cooper – potentially the front-runner to win the job in 2020 – will get into the game after Gubrud and ahead of Tinsley as WSU starts to zero in on the future.
1. No. 21 Max Borghi, So. (5-10, 197)
2. No. 16 Deon McIntosh, R.Jr. (6-0, 190)
3. No. 39 Clay Markoff, R.Jr. (5-9, 227)
Summary: Until coaches and writers finally decide to lump Air Raid running backs into the same category as the league’s more traditional backs, Borghi might have to settle for honorable mention when the Pac-12’s all-league awards come out at the end of the season. If given the choice to trade Borghi for Eno Benjamin, J.J. Taylor or Jermar Jefferson, the Cougars wouldn’t blink and hold onto their fast, physical and skilled sophomore.
“He’s always been confident, but it’s grown and now he’s kind of taken on a little more of a leadership role, especially within the group,” running backs coach Eric Mele said of Borghi. “Really working on being intentional with little things in practice. How is he going to get out of certain tackles? How is he going to stem a certain defender, set up his blocks? That type of thing. So I think you’re going to see another fairly sizable jump from year one to year two from him.”
The addition of former Notre Dame and East Mississippi Community College tailback McIntosh not only gives the group depth it didn’t have in the spring, but solid depth. McIntosh could be the No. 1 option at a handful of Power Five schools and he’s well-versed in the Air Raid, having played in it at Florida’s Cardinal Gibbons High.
It appears that Markoff, a former walk-on who shed his fullback label this fall, will play some sort of role in the offense. He’s cut significant weight without losing his power.
1. No. 85 Calvin Jackson Jr., R.Sr. (5-10, 185)
2. No. 1 Tay Martin, Jr. (6-3, 186)
3. No. 88 Rodrick Fisher, R.Fr. (6-2, 195)
Summary: “X” is the deepest single position group on this team and Fisher reinforced that multiple times during preseason camp, reeling in more catches than any other receiver in both of the team’s scrimmages. Still, something would need to happen to the other two for the redshirt freshman to see the field, unless Leach opts to rotate three players.
When he’s at his best, Martin might be a top-five receiver in the conference. If he can get there more often than not, he’ll have a chance to leave school early for the NFL. Jackson was more reliable in the spring, though, and while Martin is a better deep threat, Jackson can turn a short tunnel screen into a 30- or 40-yard gain. Fisher is thought to be the faster player on the roster and also has an explosive tendency to his game.
If the Cougars can somehow package all three skill sets together, Gordon will have a luxury of riches on that side of the field.
1. No. 9 Renard Bell, R.Jr. (5-8, 162)
2. No. 5 Travell Harris, R.So. (5-9, 180)
3. No. 80 Billy Pospisil, Fr. (5-10, 192)
Summary: WSU can’t go wrong at the “H” spot, either. Bell and Harris are interchangeable as starters, combining for 47 catches, 511 yards and six touchdowns in 2019. The slot receivers occasionally get lost in the mix and “H” traditionally hasn’t been as productive as “Y” at WSU, but Bell and Harris are easily two of the team’s best athletes and you’ll be hard-pressed to catch either in a footrace.
Pospisil, a former prep teammate of Borghi’s, was a highly productive receiver at Colorado’s Pomona High, and could reach the four-game threshold while preserving his redshirt if the Cougars can win a few games in blowout fashion.
1. No. 6 Jamire Calvin, Jr. (5-10, 160)
2. No. 19 Brandon Arconado, Sr. (6-0, 193)
3. No. 17 Kassidy Woods, R.Fr. (6-4, 225)
Summary: There should be an asterisk next to Calvin’s name because the two-year starter still has yet to practice due to a lower-body injury. But Calvin wasn’t wearing his boot on the final day of open practice, which indicates he could return soon, and my hunch is that he’ll at least be back by the time the Cougars open Pac-12 play in week four against UCLA.
Arconado and Woods have been splitting reps at “Y” and will have to hold the position when the Cougars start the year. Arconado’s a seasoned senior who’s finally getting an opportunity to play for the team he walked on to four years ago. He has solid hands and is one of the team’s best blocking wideouts.
Woods has provided one of the top storylines this spring/fall after the big redshirt freshman made a switch from outside to inside, giving WSU a 6-4 threat at a position usually designed for players 6-0 and under.
“I go around and I call him our little Antonio Gates,” cornerback Marcus Strong said in the spring. “He’s all inside, big dude at the slot. I think it’s going to be real good for Kassidy, slot playing up against those linebackers. It’s going to be a real good fit.”
1. No. 8 Easop Winston Jr., R.Sr. (6-0, 192)
2. No. 12 Dezmon Patmon, Sr. (6-4, 228)
3. No. 83 Brandon Gray, R.Fr. (6-5, 202)
Summary: The wide receiver corps is considered to be among the top 10 in the nation and it could potentially be top five. Patmon is the group’s only Biletnikoff Watch List honoree. He and Winston Jr. give WSU a 1A, 1B duo at the “Z” spot that generated 113 catches, 1,470 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018.
Patmon, continually challenged by WSU coaches to play as big as his 6-4, 228-pound frame suggests, shouldn’t be pushed off the ball by any defensive back in the conference and could be the best red zone threat the Cougars have had in years.
“I still wish he would play with more emotion for such a big guy,” outside receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “I wish he’d play a little bigger. … He’s had a good summer and he’s set for a big season.”
Winston Jr. matched Martin for the team lead in touchdowns (eight) last season and may have finished with the conference’s best catch-to-drop ratio, hauling in 52 passes while dropping one.
With luck, fans will get a glimpse of Gray, who’s a younger – but not smaller – version of Patmon and could see some spot minutes in 2019 when the Cougars are up big.
1. No. 63 Liam Ryan, R.Jr. (6-5, 300)
2. No. 75 Cade Beresford, R.Fr. (6-7, 297)
3. No. 66 Ma’ake Fifita, Fr. (6-5, 295)
Summary: Ryan, the vocal and emotional leader of not only the offensive line but offense as a whole, will make his first career starts at left tackle this season, though he’s hardly a newbie. Ryan was the team’s starting left guard last season and when he wasn’t doing that in practice, he was often backing up Andre Dillard at left tackle.
“The other thing people don’t understand is our splits our so big, half the time he’s basically blocking like a tackle anyways,” O-line coach Mason Miller said. “So it’s not that big a deal to me.”
Beresford, a Woodinville (Washington) High product like Dillard, has been the backup at left tackle most of camp, but Jarrett Kingston, the backup right tackle, might be the player the Cougars go to if something happened to either starting tackle.
1. No. 74 Robert Valencia, R.Sr. (6-6, 300)
2. No. 68 Jimmy Price, Jr. (6-5, 300)
3. No. 79 Blake McDonald, R.Fr. (6-5, 295)
Summary: Valencia’s sixth-year NCAA waiver was a mid-February surprise for the Cougars, who’ve been on the positive end of that three times in the last two years (Valencia, Gubrud and Peyton Pelluer).
Most will say the Cougars return four of their five starters and factually, that’s correct. But I looked at Valencia as a sixth starter last season who could have filled in at either guard spot and the offensive front probably wouldn’t have witnessed much of a dropoff, either short term – which we saw in the Alamo Bowl when he replaced Josh Watson – or long term.
Price, a Tyler Junior College transfer, battled an injury in fall camp but has since returned to the second-string O-line.
1. No. 69 Fred Mauigoa, Sr. (6-3, 310)
2. No. 59 Brian Greene, R.So. (6-3, 300)
3. No. 77 Konner Gomness, Fr. (6-4, 273)
Summary: It’s been awhile since the Cougars have had to worry about the center position – probably an underrated part of the team’s success these last five to six years. Mauigoa, the two-time Rimington Award watch list candidate, is a three-year starter and a model of consistency at the position.
His backup has earned some praise this camp as well. Greene, a Yakima native, has been Mauigoa’s No. 2 for two seasons and looks primed to take over the position in 2020. But Greene is also valuable as a backup offensive guard and has played tons of right guard this past week. If either of the guards got hurt, Greene, who’s probably the team’s sixth-best offensive lineman, could be the one to fill the void.
“His (progress) started shortly after he walked on here,” Leach said. “He looked kind of promising as a pass protector and then would sometimes get overpowered and then he got better and better at that, so then we put him inside and he’s done a good job playing center.”
1. No. 65 Josh Watson, R.Jr. (6-4, 300)
2. No. 61 Hunter Mayginnes, R.Fr. (6-5, 307)
3. No. 78 Syr Riley, R.Fr. (6-4, 317)
Summary: Watson was probably the least-heralded member of last year’s starting offensive line – granted, it was his first season as a starter – but he’ll presumably finish his career with more than 35 starts under his belt. Similar to most WSU blockers, he’s made impressive weight gains, picking up 35 pounds since arriving in Pullman from Cascade High in Everett.
Mayginnes has the versatility to play on the interior and outside – and the Cougars have experimented with him at a few positions – but right guard is where he’s spent the majority of this preseason camp.
1. No. 72 Abe Lucas, R.So. (6-7, 324)
2. No. 52 Jarrett Kingston, R.Fr. (6-5, 296)
3. No. 71 Patrick Utschinksi, Fr. (6-7, 270)
Summary: The player Dillard referred to as “some kind of demigod” last season returns to anchor the right side of WSU’s offensive line. Lucas was a Freshman All-American in 2018 and is the model of how the Cougars have recruited smaller, more athletic linemen, then transform them once they get on campus.
When Lucas arrived on the Palouse, he weighed 256 pounds. On the team’s updated roster, the redshirt sophomore is listed at 324 and he figures to be an all-conference candidate in 2019 who may not be too far off from following in the footsteps of Dillard, Cole Madison and Joe Dahl.
Kingston seems to be another one of Miller’s favorite backups and he can also play at guard or tackle.