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What's goin' on: Washington State spring practice begins

March 24th: The establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603, the beginning of the New York City Subway in 1900, the Great Escape in 1944, and Cougar spring ball in 2016.

William Mancebo/Getty Images


Sorry... I couldn't help myself. Tell me He-Man, what is going on?

Well...

It's always popular to talk about the quarterback. But often times that's nothing more than sports media over-glorifying an already glamorous position because, heck, talking about quarterbacks will get you endless clicks on ESPN as opposed to an analysis about, say, what makes for an ideal 3-technique DT in a 4-3 over.

But if we're gonna consider under what circumstances quarterbacks really are as super duper mega ultra important as we like to drag on about, then it would be difficult to find a system more reliant on near-perfect play from the QB than the air raid. I.e. Mike Leach. I.e. Washington State. I don't think it can be over-emphasized how important Luke Falk was to the 2015 Cougs. I also think potentially his most under-appreciated role was how intelligent he was when it came to ball distribution, something that involves evaluating sometimes up to 60% more targets' availability on a play than a QB running a more traditional offense due to the air raid's propensity to use four or even five receiver sets. That. Is a lot of decision making.

But Gabey? Falk is only a junior next year! That position is settled during the Wazzu spring camp! I just wasted two paragraphs reading you talk about abstract quarterback-ish bologna!

Yes, thanks. I was getting to that, if you would just calm down. Goodness. Stop being so impatient, you fool.

Anyways. You know when split-second decision making, setting your feet accordingly, and releasing the ball so that it is exactly in position to be caught and lead a receiver away from the nearest defender is difficult?

When you're getting clobbered from your blindside because your ass-kicking LT and LG just graduated and moved on to the NFL and so you have some green kids getting overpowered by the heir to DeForest Buckner and leaving you to get pulverized by Pac 12 defenses. That's when it gets difficult. Happy?

In other words, what happens to the left of the line?

At the end of last season, Cody O'Connell and Andre Dillard were listed as the backups for Gunnar Eklund and Joe Dahl at LG and LT. Dillard came into WSU really, really, small for an offensive lineman. Like, 245 pounds small. The good news is that he's gained about a bajillion pounds since then, which is totally a real number and, although still one of the lightest guys on the line, I'll always prefer masses of lean muscle and the high concentration of fast-twitch muscle fibers that come with that. Especially since, in the three games in which Dillard played in 2015, his quick feet and hands really stood out. I don't think it's a stretch to say he held his own in Dahl's absence, and I'm not just saying that because we rep the same high school.

O'Connell, on the other hand, is one big dude. At 351 pounds, he's 25 pounds heavier than WSU's second heaviest lineman. He's also two inches taller than the second tallest lineman, and four inches taller than the O-line average. Also unlike Dillard, we haven't really gotten to see him play.

The tentative prediction going around seems to be that these two could well end up being the starters, but if we know anything about Mike Leach it's that nobody gets the job by default. Hence, how things pan out for the left side during spring practice likely will have implications moving into fall camp and the 2016 season.

Stable of stars

On the flip side, the Cougars are not lacking in the slightest where running backs are concerned. For a team that passes so much, this is an entertainingly ironic non-issue to have. Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, and Keith Harrington, as well as redshirt freshman James Williams are studs. If MGM in the '30s had the best stable of stars, WSU in 2016 has the best stable of backs. (Also, check out CougCenter's thing on James Williams from a few months ago. This guy could be really fun to watch for the next four years.)

Also interesting will be whether, as the left side of the line are retooling, the Cougs prepare to shift ever-so-slightly towards giving the RBs more responsibility both in terms of possession and helping with the pass rush. Either way, the individual talent of this group should make them challenge each other to get even better. I'm excited for the running backs, can you tell?

Alex Grinch's D-barrier used to enclose a piece of land

Oh God. I'm so sorry. That is the single worst pun to ever happen, and for that I apologize.

In all seriousness though, the success of the 2015 Cougars is very much a credit to new DC Alex Grinch. Their average turnover margin per game improved dramatically from -1.5 in 2014 to +.01 in 2015. Their average points allowed per game improved from 38.6 in 2014 to 27.7 2015. Impressive.

So on a defense that improved drastically thanks to the mind of the guy who stole Christmas (right?) where does it go from here? Grinch clearly has prioritized solid fundamentals as far as strong tackling and attempting to strip the football, but the front seven will be losing not an insignificant amount of the roster. Of those starters, only NT Robert Barber, LB Parker Henry, and LB Peyton Pelleur return. The good news is that the secondary's starters are all intact minus SS Taylor Taliulu.

Perhaps 2016 JuCo signee DL Garrett McBroom can minimize the impact of the line's losses. The sheer volume of departures though means that spring could end up with some relatively unfamiliar faces making a name for themselves. If Grinch's first test was figuring out how to improve a defense that was giving up 39 points per game, his second test is replacing these guys. That seems to me to be the biggest determinant in how much WSU is able to build on last season.

One last thing...

You know those helmets where each player has their number decal on it instead of the Cougar logo? Those are dumb. That is objectively true. The Coug logo with the red on red on red? Classic. Dear whoever does Wazzu's uniform stuff:

Sexy
This is sexy. Seriously, how classic is that?

But this:

Gross.
Ew. Gross. I think I just threw up in my mouth.

I rest my case.

'Til next time: Do good things; don't do bad things. Go Cougs.