Washington State released its first depth chart of the season Monday, providing clarity at a number of positions while perhaps adding confusion to others. We try to make sense of it all, with 10 takeaways from the Cougars’ opening week two-deep.
1. “OR” tracker: Leach and the coaches usually won’t show their hand if they aren’t required to. So, instead of revealing every starter, backup and third-stringer, the Cougars use the designation “OR” to indicate positions where the competition is close – or positions where coaches aren’t ready to give away hints to the opponent. We count 16 of those “ORs” on the first depth chart.
2. Gordon’s gig: Though Leach is placing an “OR” between Anthony Gordon and Gage Gubrud, then another between Gubrud and Trey Tinsley, the coach confirmed he’d be starting Gordon in the season opener. Gubrud is the presumed backup, followed by Tinsley and then redshirt freshman Cammon Cooper, who isn’t listed on the depth chart.
3. Nose tackle settled … After three weeks of preseason camp, it isn’t too surprising to see Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei’s name above Lamonte McDougle’s on the depth chart. The redshirt senior who goes by “Misi” was a step ahead of McDougle in the spring, then kept his spot during training camp. More shocking may be the “OR” between the West Virginia transfer and Dallas Hobbs, who’s also been a pleasant surprise this camp. Either way, it’s a sign of the depth the Cougars have stumbled on at the position.
4. … But cornerback still undecided: At one of WSU’s cornerback positions, there’s an established vet, senior Marcus Strong. At the other, it appears the Cougars will go with either redshirt sophomore Armani Marsh or junior George Hicks III. Neither has significant game experience, but Hicks has more than Marsh, playing in 16 career games opposed to Marsh’s five. Based on the last few weeks, and the fact that Marsh’s name is higher than Hicks’, I anticipate the Spokane native and former walk-on will get the starting nod. But both should see plenty of field time.
5. “Who is Hank Pladson?” Not my question, but courtesy of a Twitter follower who probably isn’t the only one curious about WSU’s second-string “Will” linebacker. Pladson, a redshirt freshman preferred walk-on, got the nod over converted “Rush” linebacker Dominick Silvels. That’s surprising given Silvels’ game experience – he made three starts in 2018 – but Pladson has been a consistent playmaker since spring and coaches may be rewarding that, along with his effort.
6. Youth movement: The Cougars will count on redshirt juniors and seniors at a majority of positions, but the program’s steady growth on the recruiting trail is evident by how many freshmen are listed on the depth chart. It includes two true freshmen, running back Jouvensly Bazil and long snapper Simon Samarzich, along with several redshirt freshmen: “Y” receiver Kassidy Woods, “X” receiver Rodrick Fisher, left tackle Cade Beresford, right guard Hunter Mayginnes, right tackle Jarrett Kingston, defensive tackle Ahmir Crowder, “Rush” linebacker Ron Stone Jr., “Will” linebacker Hank Pladson, nickel Pat Nunn, strong safety Tyrese Ross and long snapper Tyler Williams.
7. Backfield rotation: True sophomore Max Borghi is the No. 1 running back and has been since James Williams declared early for the NFL draft. But junior college transfer Deon McIntosh isn’t listed as the clear-cut No. 2. McIntosh is also sharing that distinction with Clay Markoff and Bazil, though I suspect it’ll still be McIntosh getting the carries Borghi doesn’t get.
8. Whole lotta “X”: Deepest position group of the Mike Leach era? “X” wide receiver will certainly throw its name in the hat. When he’s at his best, Tay Martin is a top-five wideout in the Pac-12 Conference, but position mates Calvin Jackson Jr. and Fisher have played so well, coaches chose to slip in a few “ORs” just for good measure. I’d expect Martin will have the best numbers when all is said and done, but all three should see time in the rotation.
9. Safety overhaul: With Skyler Thomas’ move to nickel and Jalen Thompson’s midsummer departure, the Cougars are overhauling the safety position. As expected, it’ll be a pair of junior college transfers, Bryce Beekman and Daniel Isom respectively starting at the free and strong safety positions. Beekman was the fourth-rated JC safety in the country, according to ESPN.com, and Isom was ranked No. 8 among cornerbacks.
10. Oh, snap! The long snapper competition (yes, there is one) between Williams and Samarzich hadn’t been decided as of last week when special teams coach Matt Brock met with reporters. Brock said coaches would make a call on that this week. If it’s Samarzich, he’ll be the only true freshman starting on offense, defense or special teams.
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