SO WHY, WITH Jason Hill off to the NFL -- perhaps as a first-rounder -- does offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller have a gleam in his eye when he talks about Washington State's 2007 cast of receivers? There are three primary reasons. And one of them, Puyallup's Brandon Gibson, is poised to step out of Hill's shadow and into Pac-10 prime time.
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Last season, as a sophomore, Gibson was sixth in the Pac-10 in receiving yards, with 731 hashes, and second on the team in catches behind star slotback Michael Bumpus with 49.
As a true freshman in 2005 he started five games and caught some long balls from Alex Brink for TDs, an instant confidence booster.
Factor in that Gibson has had the opportunity to be the understudy for two of the most productive receivers in the league in Bumpus and Hill, and that has clearly helped light a fire in him. Some guys flourish when given that kind of opportunity, and Gibson's been one of them. It will not be a surprise if he further ratchets it up a few more notches on the success ladder in '07.
Levenseller, when asked at a dinner gathering of Cougars last month to describe the 6-1, 204-pound Gibson, didn't hesitate: "He's a great athlete, a pretty special player."
He's also worked hard.
Asked what he did during the just-concluded spring break, Gibson said he continued preparing for spring practices, which commence in Pullman on Thursday.
"I ran a lot and lifted a little. I wanted to get ready," he said. "I'm really excited for this spring, I can't wait. A lot of times your junior year is your biggest year. I'm really excited to be playing with a great group of receivers and quarterbacks. We're all able to score touchdowns and make big plays."
Gibson is expected to line up this season in the "X" spot, or flanker. He was the starting flanker the last two games of the '06 season when Hill was injured.
Bumpus figures to start in the slot and Charles Dillon at split end.
"If that's where I get put, that's where I'll play," Gibson said of the flanker post. "But it doesn't really matter to me -- I just want to help the team in any way that I can," said Gibson.
Part of what makes Gibson so valuable is his versatility. He is adept at playing all three receiver positions -- flanker, split end and slotback -- and was called upon to do just that after the Cougs suffered a crushing blow against Arizona late last year when both Hill and Bumpus were lost to leg injuries.
A cursory analysis of the flanker position at Washington State says that the flanker, or X back, has the most potential for deep balls.
But there's much more to it than that, says Gibson.
"You've got to block well, number one. You also have to want the ball and you've got be strong, able to beat their No. 1 corner," he said.
GIBSON AND HIS teammates have been partaking in voluntary workouts since last season ended. It's a combination of lifting, running and skelly drills. And then there's the independent work.
"I've been watching film a lot. I watch myself a lot, you have to if you're going to improve. So I watch myself and the moves I do and how the defensive back reacts to that."
Speaking to his outstanding athleticism, last off-season Gibson had another element built into his routine: basketball. Gibson, a standout hooper in high school, was working out with the Cougar basketball team.
IN REGARD TO SKELETON drills -- typically a 7-on-7 exercise that doesn't include linemen -- Gibson said he couldn't name the best cornerback he's gone up against this winter. He says they're all good, but he did note one defensive back who continually impresses with his work ethic and drive.
"I think Ryan Kensok is a guy who could definitely be a big-time player. Even though he's undersized, he's tough. He comes up and supports the run well and at the same time he can run with just about anybody. He's a big-time worker," said Gibson.
On the receiving end, Gibson says the Cougars' depth chart is loaded. One youngster, a
second-year freshman, is someone to keep an eye on, he said.
"Anthony Houston has a great frame. I think once he gets down all the plays and really learns our system of routes, I think he could be really special. He can really move and he was a really good athlete in high school so you can get the ball to him in a variety of ways."
Brandon Gibson profile