First, here's what we do know:
Despite Leach's insistence otherwise, the quarterback spot is nailed down tighter than the security cameras at the Moscow Wal-Mart.
The receiving corps is loaded and the running back position runs four deep (and likely five with the addition of Theron West).
The offensive line returns three bona fide starters in John Fullington, Wade Jacobson and Matt Goetz. And the other two starting spots will be filled from among part-time 2011 starter Dan Spitz, up-and-coming Jake Rodgers, touted JC transfer Niu Sale and promising 2011 redshirt Rico Forbes.
The secondary is set, or is it? Veteran starters Deone Bucannon and Tyree Toomer are at safety, Daniel Simmons is at one corner and Damante Horton the other -- unless Nolan Washington and/or Casey Locker turns in a stellar August. (Keep your eyes peeled at safety, with Toomer/Locker the most likely to see competition from the new faces: Feddie Davey, Taylor Taliulu and David Bucannon are all capable of making an early impact.)
Now here's what we don't know:
Can uber-talented Travis Long hold down the front seven when he's surrounded by a proverbial No-Name Defense?
That's only one question, but the tributaries flowing from it are numerous.
If the opener at BYU were tomorrow, the six projected starters around Long in the front seven would bring exactly 61 collective tackles with them from WSU's 4-7 campaign a year ago. For perspective: That's 19 fewer stops than Deone Bucannon registered all by himself.
Of the down linemen, Xavier Cooper redshirted last season, Kalafitoni Pole made three starts and Lenard Williams six. Of the linebackers, Chester Su'a made four 2011 starts, while Darryl Monroe blew out his Achilles in the season opener, and Eric Oertel was bouncing between special teams, running back and linebacker.
In other words, the Ol' Pirate needs this largely untested bunch -- with the help of some intriguing new talent plus last year's freshmen -- to gain their sea legs quickly lest the grog-filled masses start belly-aching about the dismissals of starters Sekope Kaufusi, C.J. Mizell and Anthony Laurenzi.
Of the newcomers, 6-3, 305-pound nose tackle Ioane Gauta, a JC transfer from Fullerton College, figures to have an opportunity for instant impact now that Laurenzi is gone. The nose in a 3-4 defense plays the gap between center and guard and must be able to handle constant double teams while at the same time having the feet to chase a back down the line. Handling the double teams, though, is critical because it keeps opposing offensive linemen off your linebackers. That's important generally, but especially so with the largely unproven LB corps the Cougars will have.
Another newcomer to keep an eye on for instant PT is Justin Sagote, a 6-2, 225 pound middle linebacker from San Mateo College.
Leach has said consistently that his team needs to develop depth. On Thursday, he'll take the first step toward getting there.
At Texas Tech, Leach closed practices to the public during the regular season but not in fall camp and that will be his plan at WSU this season as well. Look for practices to remain open until on or around August 26. In the meantime, Cougfan.com will have two reporters covering the action wall-to-wall in Adam Lewis and Joe Doyle.
The NCAA allows a maximum of 29 on-field practices before the first game. Leach doesn't conduct two-a-days, so if the Cougars practice each day between Thursday and the season opener in Provo they'll get in 28 days.
THE ROOKIES REPORT tomorrow and the veterans on Wednesday, and then the countdown to the nationally televised August 30 launch of the Mike Leach Era at Washington State will begin with the first practice of fall camp on Thursday. The questions entering these sessions are surprisingly limited. But while moderately contained, they are of the loom large variety.
Aside from Travis Long, most pressing questions for WSU involve the defense's front seven