Fall Camp: What we've learned about the Cougs

IOANE GAUTA

PULLMAN – When Washington State runs through their second scrimmage on Friday, new and critical data will come pouring in. But we've also already learned plenty about the 2013 Cougs this fall camp. And with the overall picture beginning to come into greater focus, here are some of those things that we've learned after 13 days of camping with the Cougs…

Not everyone can play WR:
It's become crystal clear that at wideout, the Cougars are stacked. Mike Leach likes to rotate 7-8 guys in his 4-receiver set but even then, some very good talent will be on the sidelines. Brett Bartolone and Gabe Marks are locks and you can probably toss Dominique Williams in there too. Isiah Myers, Bobby Ratliff and River Cracraft look like virtual sure-things. Right there, that's six guys for four starting spots. From our chair, there are four more guys fighting for the final 1-2 rotation spots. Rickey Galvin has had a good camp but a bad practice the other day. Robert Lewis is definitely in the mix, but he does have a redshirt year available. Vince Mayle has shown flashes, but also too many drops and his body language hasn't been the best at times lately. Kristoff Williams had a great day on Wednesday but he's been quiet other times. One final thought – the names on that 7-8 man rotation won't be set in stone, they could change around during the season.

John Fullington is just what the OL needs:
Senior John Fullington has battled his way back to the No. 1 right guard spot. He's been running with the 1s all of fall camp -- after a demotion this spring saw him play most all of the spring session with the 2s. Indeed, the 6-5, 301-pound Fullington has returned with a vengeance to the first string and is arguably the first half standout thus far on an improved Cougar o-line. It doesn't get much better than being able to watch a ticked off Cougar offensive lineman, seizing his old job back and cracking pads with renewed vigor.

The 290-pound BUCK experiment has been a huge success:
Destiny Vaeao looks to have the BUCK position nailed down tight. As noted in Wednesday's report, sophomore Kache Palacio ran with the 1s at the BUCK, Vaeao with the 2s, but that's been rare and was likely just to get him some first-string reps. Vaeao has had a great fall session, making a fluid transition from d-end and showing a keen understanding of the BUCK. Vaeao is a brick -- but he has speed too, the kind of which isn't seen with 6-4, 290 pounders. He has been shooting off the ball and become a consistent burden for the o-line. Some BUCKs, says d-coordinator Mike Breske, play with their hand up most of the time, others with their hand down. Which type will Vaeao be? Tune in for the opener at Auburn in a little over two weeks.

The LB and CB position battles have been a ruckus:
The best position battles to watch has been the royales at the WIL and SAM linebacker spots. Senior Justin Sagote and junior Cyrus Coen have been making the best cases lately at the WIL and SAM, respectively. Sophomore Tana Pritchard got a lot of early run at both spots – he's worked more with the 2s of late but he's still firmly in the fight. Another senior LB, Eric Oertel, had rarely worked at the No. 1 WIL at all until Wednesday – despite racking up 19 solo tackles in 2012. Who runs with the first unit in the scrimmage Friday is something to focus in on. Damante Horton recently getting dinged up, look for the battle to be further joined between true freshman CB Daquawn Brown and Horton, once Horton returns. Brown is fast becoming the talk of the camp defensively when it comes to the rookies. He has a ball-hawk mentality, lots of confidence and he can back it up – exactly what you want out on the island.

River Cracraft will see a lot of time this year:
The strongest true freshman candidate I've seen thus far has been wide receiver River Cracraft. He's been steadily climbing the ladder from Day One and has been getting a lot of time with the 1s. Cracraft has picked up Leach's offense quickly, almost uncannily so. His crisp route-running has caught my eye and he looks both comfortable and capable out there. About the only question mark with him, he doesn't have blazing speed. But about halfway through his first fall camp, Cracraft looks like he's going to be a dynamic receiving threat for Washington State for years to come. Brown and Cracraft are the only true freshmen that look like slam dunks to me to have their redshirts burned. There are others who are definitely in that discussion -- Gerard Wicks and, if he can return from a foot injury, Darius Lemora, are in that discussion, for example. But it's Brown and Cracraft who are making the early playing time decision easy for Leach at this point.

Looks like too much depth for David Bucannon to make a push:
Some were wondering if redshirt freshman safety David Bucannon would make a strong push this August. Instead, Bucannon has worked with the scout team defense most of the time, with minimal reps on the No. 2 unit. With brother Deone Bucannon the star of the show at one safety spot, and senior Anthony Carpenter moving back to safety, plus senior Casey Locker and sophomore Taylor Taliulu making plays this fall camp, and freshman safety Isaac Dotson also now in the cupboard, it's going to be hard for Bucannon to work his way into the two-deeps. Another guy with a lot of pre-fall camp buzz around him was Logan Mayes. With d-ends Toni Pole and Xavier Cooper having great camps, and Vaeao doing the same, Mayes has been running with the 2s mostly. But Mayes still seems likely to find his niche -- perhaps as a pass rushing specialist in ‘13?

The Cougar d-line is the most improved position group:
After finishing last season ranked 11th nationally in sacks, and eighth in tackles-for-loss, but lacking in consistency, DL coach Joe Salave'a has more experience and grit in the trenches for 2013. Senior Ioane Gauta has been a terror at NT this fall camp. The 285-pound boulder has constructed a road block up front. Out on the end, sophomore Cooper brings a swagger, confidence and results. And Pole has adjusted smartly in moving over to the other defensive end spot after playing at the nose. Factor in Vaeao and it's a jumbo front with pursuit, strength and quicks. The problem last year for the defense, and the d-line, was that they were good-to-great on one play, giving up something long the next. The 2013 vintage of the d-line has been showing much more consistency, and that this could be something fun to watch in '13.

NOTABLE NOTE:
When fall camp started, more than a few fans opined Wicks and/or Jamal Morrow might have their redshirt burned and become the Cougs' featured running back. The way it's trending, both might well keep that redshirt on this season. The RB battle right now is of a three-headed variety headed into Scrimmage No. 2. Sophomore Teondray Caldwell is probably still the frontrunner -- and no surprise there. But junior Marcus Mason has been coming on since spring, and probably surprising everyone but himself. The second surprise has been sophomore Jeremiah Laufasa, a walk on, who turned Leach's head earlier and has continued to play strong, smash-mouth, precision football. Friday's scrimmage could go a long ways towards putting together the puzzle... though how everyone will fit into the scheme of things probably won't be officially revealed by Leach and assistant Jim Mastro until shortly before the Auburn game.

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