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June 11, 2013

Spring Review: Washington State Q & A




UDUBNation.com's Kaelyn Sayles had a chance to catch up with Britton Ransford at the Washington State site to talk about the upcoming season and what we can learn about the Cougars from spring football practice.

Washington plays Washington State in the annual Apple Cup on November 29 at Husky Stadium. The game will air live on FOX. The last time these two teams met, the Cougars beat the Dawgs 31-28 in overtime to win the Apple Cup in Pullman.

Here are Ransford's responses to the post-spring assessment questions.

Q: What was a major theme of spring practice?

Competition. Competing has been a major theme since Mike Leach arrived in Pullman. Still in the midst of a complete rebuild, the coaching staff has preached competition and has made it clear that no job is safe. From quarterback to the offensive line and the defensive secondary, positional battles, coupled with injuries, allowed a handful of players buried on the depth chart to make a name for themselves this spring. Heading into offseason workouts, those competitions can only help a team that is still searching for an identity at several key positions.

Q: Who were some standouts on offense? Any breakout performers?

WR Gabe Marks. The sophomore was arguably the most impressive receiver last spring as a true freshman and had a decent freshman campaign in 2012 but trailed off towards the end of the year. However, arriving ten pounds heavier this spring, Marks fully established himself as the top receiver on the roster and looks poised to have a solid sophomore season. He has -- for lack of a more cliche word -- a swagger about him that oozes confidence and he built a great rapport with junior quarterback Connor Halliday during the spring slate.

OT Rico Forbes. The fifth-year senior offensive tackle has struggled with injuries throughout his career at Washington State. His second ACL tear last spring caused him to miss all of 2012 but the 6-foot-6, 283-pounder cemented himself as starting right tackle this spring. Given Forbes can remain healthy throughout the offseason, he has the potential to establish himself as one of the better tackles in the conference.

OG Joe Dahl. If there was a breakout performer on the offensive side of the ball it has to be the third-year sophomore who walked-on last January after transferring from Montana. Dahl is listed at 6-foot-4, 290-pounds and ended the spring as the starting left guard ahead of three-year starter John Fullington.

Q: Who were some standouts on defense? Any breakout performers?

LB Darryl Monroe. The redshirt sophomore made a statement this spring as the leader of the Cougars' defense that loses all-conference starter Travis Long. Monroe was named to the honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a middle linebacker last season and picked up right where he left off. The 6-foot-1, 235-pounder has all the makings of a star linebacker and looks to build upon his breakout freshman season.

DL Xavier Cooper. Also a redshirt sophomore, Cooper consistently found himself in the offensive backfield throughout the spring. Taking advantage of increased reps due to injuries, the 6-foot-4, 298-pound defensive end built on a solid freshman season and exuded noticeable confidence, which he lacked last spring. Cooper appears to have a stranglehold on the starting defensive end position in the Cougars 3-4 defense.

LB Tana Pritchard. As a redshirt freshman, Pritchard played sparingly on defense and saw most of his time on special teams. The converted wide receiver, however, turned heads this spring at the weakside linebacker spot and ended the spring pushing senior starting linebacker Justin Sagote for playing time. The 6-foot-3, 217-pound linebacker has all the tools you look for at the position and will be right in the thick of things at the SAM and WILL linebacker positions this fall.

Q: What areas still need work before the season starts? Some weaknesses?

Defensive backs. Despite boasting seniors Deone Bucannon, Nolan Washington and Damonte Horton in the secondary, the Cougars once again struggled this spring. Bucannon is the anchor in the defensive backfield but lackluster performance and a lack of adjustments resulted in a very underwhelming spring for a position group expected to make major strides in 2013.

Incoming freshman cornerback Daquawn Brown could push for playing time and second-year freshmen Alex Jackson and Rahmel Dockery, who are both converted wide receivers, will also be in the mix. However, a combination of unproven freshman and underachieving upperclassmen signals some concern heading into fall camp.

Junior college transfer Paris Taylor, who was a late addition to the 2013 class last month, is also someone to watch out for in fall camp. The ranging safety arrived after spring practices concluded. He could immediately challenge Casey Locker for the starting safety spot opposite Bucannon.

Quarterback. Leach has yet to name a starting quarterback, per usual, as redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca and Halliday saw the majority of reps this spring. Halliday saw most of the work with the starting offense but Apodaca proved he will be given a fair shot come fall camp.

Incoming four-star freshman quarterback Tyler Bruggman looks primed for a redshirt season. It's worth mentioning, however, that if Halliday and Apodaca can't hammer down their accuracy and consistency, Bruggman could be thrust into the conversation.

Offensive line and running game. Washington State's running game, or lack thereof, has been well-documented. After a dreadful 2012 season that saw the Cougars rank dead last in the FCS in every rushing category, the focus this offseason figures to centralize around how to fix the ground game.

With added depth along the offensive line and increased competition, the offensive line as a whole should be improved. Granted, new spacing schemes wreaked havoc in the rushing department last season, running backs should be more familiar with the blocking scheme and the offensive line will be better suited for their blocking assignments.

Whether the unit improves in 2013 is still up in the air. Regardless, the running game is still a major weakness in an otherwise improved offense.

Q: What are some strengths for this team as a whole?

Overall comfort and timing within the offense. The Air Raid is all about repetitions and timing. You could tell immediately that the offense was flowing with more precision and execution. At times the offense struggled but overall the passing game, in particular, was snappy and on-point.

Wide receivers. The deepest position group is the wide receiver position. Marks leads an impressive cast of wideouts including Dominique Williams, Kristoff Williams, Bobby Ratliff and Brett Bartolone.

Junior college transfer Vince Mayle was a top-five wide receiver in the junior college ranks last season and is expected to compete for a starting job right away. At 6-foot-3, 220-pounds he could be a matchup nightmare with weapons surrounding him in the passing game.

Q: Any injuries or personnel news that can be talked about?

Injuries depleted the depth chart by the end of spring but all of the scholarship players that saw time on the sidelines are expected to be ready to go by the beginning of fall camp.

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Britton Ransford graduated in 2012 from Washington State University with a degree in Sport Management and Communications. Prior to working at Rivals, he blogged for several websites including Pac-12 Sports Watch and Northwest Sports Beat. Passionate about sports media and athletic administration, he plans on pursuing a career in sports information at the collegiate level.

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