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Washington State’s first-year coordinators, several new standouts set to make debut for fans at Cougs’ spring game

Washington State coach Jake Dickert smiles between plays during a scrimmage April 15 at Gesa Field in Pullman. The Cougars will stage their annual spring game at 3 p.m. Saturday.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Washington State will debut its first-year coordinators and several new standout players in front of an audience Saturday, when the Cougars take the field for their spring game.

WSU’s annual Crimson and Gray Game is set to begin at 3 p.m. at Gesa Field. Pac-12 Network will carry the broadcast.

New offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle will act as head coach of one team, consisting of the No. 1 offense and a mixture of defensive backups.

First-year defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding is in charge of the other sideline. WSU’s starting defense will pair with the second- and third-team offense. Second-year head coach Jake Dickert will survey his team from the field.

“We’re going to get good, competitive work on each side of the ball,” Dickert said. “Normal scoring, special teams – those types of things. It’ll be a fun game.”

The Cougars wrapped up their spring practices on Thursday. They worked behind closed doors over the past month. Now, they’ll put on a showcase for WSU fans.

“I just like it when guys have to go out there in a perceived big environment – a game day-type setup – and go out there and perform,” Dickert said. “It’s one thing to do it on the practice field. Can you take it in a bigger environment?”

WSU fans will get their first look at Arbuckle’s offense – a fast-paced, modified version of the Air Raid.

Attendees will get a glimpse of second-year starting quarterback Cameron Ward’s growth and the new players surrounding him, such as transfer receivers Josh Kelly, Kyle Williams and DT Sheffield, and true freshman early enrollee Carlos Hernandez .

“Just showing the fans why WSU brought me here and what they’re going to be expecting from me in the season,” Kelly said Thursday of his goals for the spring game. “Outside of that, just staying on time with the quarterback and the offense, and seeing how we do against our defense. It’s not the first time we have went live, but this is something that everybody will be able to see. So, just showing the world what the offense can bring this year.”

Offensive position battles to watch: wide receiver, tight end, right guard, left guard, left tackle and backup running back. Nine receivers are in the mix for playing time. Three tight ends are hoping to prove their value. Three big men are competing for first-team reps at the guard spots. Two Cougars are vying for starting snaps at left tackle. Two young tailbacks are jockeying for carries behind veteran Nakia Watson.

WSU’s offensive line struggled with protection issues last season and has performed to mixed results during camp. The Cougars have been putting emphasis on the deep ball over the past month. Will they find success on downfield passes? Arbuckle’s system leans on the pass, but WSU wants to run the ball effectively this season. How often will the Cougars go to the ground game?

WSU’s defensive system hasn’t changed much under Schmedding, but perhaps the Cougars will show off some of the new wrinkles installed by the Spokane native.

WSU didn’t make any fundamental changes to Dickert’s defensive scheme, but Schmedding was asked to add tweaks. Watch to see if Schmedding uses any new, disguised blitz packages.

The Cougars’ first-team defense includes new starters at linebacker, defensive tackle and cornerback.

Two transfer linebackers – Devin Richardson (Texas) and Ahmad McCullough (Maryland) – will introduce themselves . A work-in-progress defensive tackle position is worth watching. There’s also an intriguing competition for the No. 2 cornerback spot between senior Cam Lampkin and redshirt freshman Javan Robinson.

Headlining the defense is a deep and experienced group of edge rushers, captained by All-Pac-12 performers Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson.

“We have a standard that we want to set,” Stone said. “The guys know we’re going to run to the ball, we’re going to get takeaways, we’re going to strip the ball, going to try to affect the quarterback – everything that all great defenses try to do.

“We’re gonna go in on Saturday and be our best. I don’t think it’s an off-day. I don’t think it’s a time to relax. Any time you’re on that field, it’s a privilege and you have to treat it as such.”

Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review WSU receivers Dylan Paine and Tre Horner celebrate during a spring scrimmage on April 15 at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

Crimson, gray ready to clash

Cougars’ annual spring game set for Saturday afternoon