WHEN PAUL WULFF opens fall camp two weeks from Sunday, five true freshmen will be competing for turns at wideout. All that youth speaks to to the emphasis WSU put on the postion this past recruiting cycle, but it also belies the level of experience the Cougars return on the flanks this season. In CF.C's ongoing series leading to the start of camp Aug. 8, we today analyze the receiver position.
The Cougars, while full of fresh faces at receiver, also return their top four pass-catchers from last season. Collectively, Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone, Jeffrey Solomon and Daniel Blackledge accounted for 156 receptions, 9 TDs and 1,380 yards.
Karstetter, who will be a junior this season, played with more and more confidence as his sophomore campaign went along. He won nearly every "jump ball" and had a clear, This is MINE attitude when the ball was thrown his way. He led the Cougs with 38 catches for 560 yards and 6 TDs.
He has excellent size (6-4) and he’s been in Mike Levenseller’s system for two seasons.
Simone, a sophomore this season, started 11 games a year ago and caught passes in 10 of them for a total of 36 for 330 yards.
With a Pac-10 year now under his belt, some close observers believe Simone could be in store for a big statistical season in '10.
Karstetter and Simone are tireless workers, as are seniors Blackledge and Solomon.
The latter two, if they can stay healthy, are both capable of breakout-type performances. Solomon caught 25 balls last season and Blackledge 23.
Another bright spot going into fall camp is that the incoming freshmen are, to a man, uber-athletic. Bobby Ratliff, Marquess Wilson, Blair Bomber, Kristoff Williams and Isiah Barton all bring something different to the table, be it speed, route running or soft hands in traffic. Given the numbers Levenseller has to work with in the wideout corps, look for at least two of these youngsters to play right away.
There were far too many dropped passes this spring. That was a surprise because the four veterans listed above all have good hands and Simone, in particular, is known for his glue-like grasp.
Blackledge and Solomon have rarely been healthy while at WSU, so a relatively injury-free year by one or both could pay large dividends. The freshmen, as a group, offer reason for excitement but facts are facts: they are rookies.
The most glaring weakness coming out of spring was the lack of a deep threat to keep safeties from cheating toward the line. Barton and others could emerge in fall camp and fill that role.
Will Karstetter take that next step in his third season and become one of the Pac-10’s top receiving threats?
How much will Simone improve and how will that translate to moving the chains?
Can Blackledge and Solomon stay healthy?
Who among the five freshmen will show they’re ready to play now and most importantly -- at a high level?
Where will WSU’s deep threat come from?
Are the drops of spring a thing of the past?
Can the newcomers block? It's a skill that’s a must for receivers in Levenseller’s charge.
Levenseller usually spends some time during spring ball with the running backs and tight ends, working with them on their pass catching technique and routes. Not this spring. He was locked in with the wideouts. And while they did some good things and finished on a high note, they didn’t meet Levenseller’s high standards. While the five incoming frosh will no doubt be learning on the job, the veterans should hit the ground running when fall camp opens Aug. 8. It would be a surprise if they’re not firing on all cylinders by the time the opener arrives, and that should pay dividends for WSU this year in some ways it did not in ’09.