What we learned about Washington State in the spring as it prepares for the third season under Mike Leach.
Three things we learned in the spring:
1. Offensive line will have some beef. When Leach arrived, the offensive line simply didn't match up physically against teams in the Pac-12. The Cougars will replace three starters on the line, but for the first time in Leach's tenure, the unit will average more than 300 pounds across the board.
2. Falk, Bruggman competition will be good. There was a general sense that QB Tyler Bruggman was the heir apparent to Connor Halliday, but that perception isn't the same after a strong spring from Luke Falk, who was nowhere near the caliber of recruit. The two splits the reps with the second unit throughout the spring.
3. Depth on the DL. Ioanee Gauta is gone, but the Cougars return Toni Pole, Xavier Cooper and Destiny Vaeao, which presents the obvious strength of the defense. With Darryl Paulo, Robert Barber, Daniel Ekuale and Emmitt Su'a-Kalio the team should have improved depth up front.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Who will be the top two running backs? Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell, the team's top two backs from a season ago, are back, but that guarantees nothing. On Thursday, Leach told reporters Theron West and Jamal Morrow would be the primary backs.
2. How will young group of defensive backs develop? Only time will tell, but if the Cougars expect to take another step forward, it'll hinge on the ability of this group to develop quickly. Deone Bucannon is among five players gone from last season, and only safety Taylor Taliulu and cornerback Daquawn Brown saw extensive playing time last season.
3. Can Darryl Monroe be an all-conference caliber player? The unquestioned leader of the defense, Monroe was a steady force for the Cougars as a sophomore and has a chance to make a name for himself this season. With Cyrus Coen also back, the linebacker play should be improved.
One way-too-early prediction:
WSU will start 3-0. It begins with: Rutgers in Seattle; at Nevada; Portland State at home. It's an opening slate the Cougars will expect to navigate through without a loss before Oregon travels to Pullman in Week 4. A 3-6 Pac-12 record would be disappointing for the team and fanbase, but in this scenario it would still qualify the program for a second straight bowl.