During an interview after Washington State’s extended series of 11-on-11 football drills Saturday, offensive coordinator Brian Smith mentioned five players by name.
None of them has started a game for the Cougars.
His defensive counterpart, Jake Dickert, then stepped to the microphone and, during his Q&A, mentioned 10 players by name.
Nine of them have never started a game.
It was no coincidence. The Cougars open their season with nine consecutive contests before a bye, and in the meantime they want to be as deep and rotation-oriented as possible.
So some of their premier players saw limited action as the Cougars traded blows in a situational set of drills at Gesa Field midway through preseason workouts. They open at 8 p.m. Sept. 4 at home against Utah State.
The other major theme, of course, was the ongoing quarterback battle between Jayden de Laura, Camm Cooper and Jarrett Guarantano. Coaches had talked about narrowing the field to two this past week, but it apparently hasn’t happened.
“It’s still really close — there are guys that are starting to separate a little bit,” Smith said without naming names. “We would like to move it closer to two this next week and start getting a couple of guys more reps with the 1’s.”
At other positions, the emphasis is on developing depth. For example, the Cougs’ veteran trio of edge rushers — Brennan Jackson, Willie Taylor III and Ron Stone Jr. — is often yielding the floor to less seasoned players like Andrew Edson, Raam Stevenson, Moon Ashby and Lawrence Falatea.
“In today’s football, there are only so many live reps,” Dickert said, referring to the game’s renewed emphasis on avoiding injuries in practice. “So the guys that are proven and we know what they’re going to give us every Saturday — I don’t need to see them. It’s that balance of getting them some live tackles yet making sure we get to evaluate those 2s and 3s and ‘Who can we rely on when somebody goes down?’”
By the end of their pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Cougars almost were depleted of healthy defensive linemen and running low on effective receivers. That’s why they signed six D-linemen and four receivers in December, and one reason why so many youngsters have drawn attention during preseason camp.
They include true freshman linebacker Francisco Mauigoa, who “has come in here and picked up our defense probably — coaching his defense for the last 10 years — better than any linebacker I’ve coached,” Dickert said. “It’s been amazing. I think you’ll see him on the field steadily this season.”
In a similar category is true freshman receiver De’Zhaun Stribling, a 6-foot-2 Hawaiian who’ll likely start at one of the two outside positions. To Smith, Stribling and transfer running back Nakia Watson have been among the offense’s most welcome additions.
In all, the offense seemed less disappointed in the drills on this date than it had been after a more explicit scrimmage the previous week. The unit committed fewer self-inflicted errors and, as Dickert pointed out, the quarterbacks probably were not “sacked” as many times as the session’s touch-sack format suggested.
“Jayden de Laura gets out of half of those,” he said, laughing. “We’ve all seen that. Camm — all those guys.”
His allusion to de Laura marked the first time either coordinator had mentioned a 2020 Coug starter.
Grummert may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2290.