Nick Rolovich’s announcement of Jayden de Laura as Washington State’s starting quarterback took away some of the anticipation when it came to the release of the Cougars’ first depth chart.
But, as is the case with any new offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and coaching staff – especially with reporters and the general public kept away from preseason camp – the first depth chart uncovered many answers fans have been dying to know since early last month.
Other answers are still unknown.
Below are five reactions to the depth chart the Cougars released for the first game of the season at Oregon State.
QB1 is settled. What about QB2?
De Laura will take the first snap at Reser Stadium. Presuming that goes well, he’ll also take the second, third, fourth. Until Rolovich and offensive coordinator Brian Smith find reason to pull de Laura, be it at some point in Saturday’s game or down the road, the true freshman from Honolulu will be the Cougars’ starter.
But who’s the next man up?
That much isn’t clear. The depth chart lists redshirt freshman Gunner Cruz “OR” redshirt sophomore Cammon Cooper as potential backups, indicating either Rolovich isn’t willing to offer that information yet, or the signal-callers are still in an ongoing battle to see who emerges as the team’s top backup.
Maybe it’ll vary by opponent. If de Laura can’t go for one reason or another, and the Cougars are playing a team that’s giving the QB space to run, Cooper would probably be the most effective option. If they feel they can stretch the field vertically and beat their opponent downfield with the quick outside receivers, Cruz and his big arm may be the better bet.
For the first time since the Luke Falk era, there’s no “OR” between the QBs on WSU’s depth chart.
But that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of “ORs” altogether.
The Cougars haven’t chosen – or at least haven’t publicly revealed – who’s starting at both “edge” positions, both defensive tackle positions, both cornerback positions and strong safety.
The players on the defensive line will presumably rotate more than those in the secondary, so all four “edges” – Willie Taylor III, Will Rodgers III, Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr. – should see playing time Saturday, as well as defensive tackles Dallas Hobbs, Amir Mujahid, Ahmir Crowder and Christian Mejia.
At the cornerback spots, two newcomers, Jaylen Watson and Chau Smith-Wade, are still locked in position battles with returning players George Hicks III and Derrick Langford. The corners typically rotate in and out, but defensive coaches are more inclined to ride a single player through the game if he’s playing well enough.
From my end, the most surprising “OR” is the one sitting between free safeties Tyrese Ross and Chad Davis Jr. Most fans know Ross for the big hit he laid on Houston’s kick returner when the teams met at NRG Stadium last year, but Davis, a fellow Floridian, appears to be right there with him.
Four-pack of freshmen
We indicated a few weeks ago that a handful of true freshmen could see the field for the Cougars this season, given that all of them began learning Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense and Dickert’s 4-3 defense at nearly the same time as their older teammates.
Go figure, WSU is going with a rookie at the most important spot on the field.
Besides de Laura, three other true freshmen appeared on the depth chart: wide receivers Joey Hobert and Jay Wilkerson, along with cornerback Smith-Wade.
Hobert, at “Y,” and Wilkerson, at “Z,” are backups to Renard Bell and Jamire Calvin, respectively, and probably won’t see much field time unless the starters are injured.
For the reasons we already alluded to, Smith-Wade should get a chunk of snaps when the Cougars open against the Beavers on Saturday.
The “X” question
Based on their experience, talent and production in the Air Raid, Bell, Calvin and Travell Harris were overwhelming favorites to win starting jobs. Most figured that would also be the case for senior Calvin Jackson Jr.
According to the depth chart, Jackson and walk-on Lucas Bacon, a Spokane native and Mead High School product, are still tangled up in a position battle at the “X” outside receiver spot.
Jackson has 36 receptions, 404 receiving yards and three touchdowns, which is 36 receptions, 404 receiving yards and three touchdowns more than Bacon.
But coaches have been complimentary of Bacon through fall camp.
He’s a bigger option at 6-foot-2 and the only scrimmage footage we’ve seen of Jackson was the senior fumbling after the catch.
Keep an eye on who takes the field at the outside receiver position on the left side of the formation Saturday night.
Kicking it off
We’ve mentioned all of the position battles. Now, to the most riveting.
The Cougars are still uncertain who’ll kick off against Oregon State, but we know one thing: It won’t be reigning Lou Groza Award finalist Blake Mazza. Not to worry: Mazza’s healthy and active, but new special teams coach Michael Ghobrial seems to prefer his All-Pac-12 place-kicker doing just that – and only that.
It’ll either be the team’s All-Pac-12-caliber punter, Oscar Draguicevich III, or walk-on Andrew Boyle, kicking off for the Cougars this year.