2014 Wash State Preview: What You Must Know
Washington State WR Gabe Marks
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Washington State (Getty Images)
Washington State Preview
What You Need To Know...
Washington State Preview
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer
What You Need To Know About The Offense: It's now Year 3 for Mike Leach's Air Raid on the Palouse, so the system is no longer such a foreign entity to the personnel. Everyone hopes to benefit from the return of senior QB Connor Halliday, the feast-or-famine triggerman who threw 34 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions in 2013. He'll get plenty of support on the outside from a deep and improving collection of receivers that includes Gabe Marks, Dominique Williams, River Cracraft, Kristoff Williams and Vince Mayle, who all caught at least 40 balls last year. The Cougars are about as balanced as a two-legged stool, so the battle at running back will have little impact on the offense's eventual production and efficiency. Far more consequential will be the play of an offensive line that's been jumbled considerably since the end of last season. Leach likes the improving size and strength of the unit, but it still needs to win more battles at the point of attack.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Baby steps. It's the proper measurement for coordinator Mike Breske, whose D is bad, but getting better over time. The Cougars are still going to get trucked by the better offenses in the Pac-12. But they're bigger in the trenches, more experienced and better prepared than before the new staff arrived in 2012. Plus, Wazzu will compensate with turnovers, ranking No. 10 nationally in takeaways a year ago. Breske's top priority this offseason will be retooling a secondary that'll be hard-pressed to handle the graduations of first-round draft pick Deone Bucannon and pickpocket Damante Hornton. Wazzu will need a big year out of the front seven to lessen the load on the young DBs. Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen will once again anchor the second level, while the D-line could be surprisingly tough this season. Xavier Cooper heads a group that loses just one regular, and has the size, strength and know-how to prevent the opposition from running all over them for a change.
Players You Need To Know 1. QB Connor Halliday, Sr.
Now that Halliday has authored his most prolific season as a Cougar, the hope in Pullman is that the best is yet to come for the senior. There were ups-and-downs, to be sure, in 2013. But Halliday now has a ton of experience in the Air Raid, which should allow him to fend off the young contenders, like Tyler Bruggman. The busiest quarterback in America completed 449-of-714 throws for a school-record 4,597 yards, 34 touchdowns and 22 picks. Halliday slings it too often to be mistake-free, but he has to make better decisions this year.
2. DT Xavier Cooper, Jr.
Built like a tackle. Moves like a strongside end. While Cooper is a powerfully-assembled 6-4, 298-pound interior lineman, his production in opposing backfields speaks to his disruptive skill set. The third-year starter led all Wazzu linemen with 50 tackles, including team-highs with 13.5 stops for loss and five. Cooper gets off the snap in a hurry, never quits on a play and closes fast in backside pursuit. With two years of eligibility remaining, has the time and the physical ability to use Pullman as a stepping stone to the pros.
3. LB Darryl Monroe, Jr.
At the heart of the Washington State defense is Monroe, a tackling machine from middle linebacker. He's racked up 174 stops in his first two seasons, including a career-high 94 in 2013 to along with eight tackles for loss, two sacks, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. The 6-1, 230-pound Orlando, Fla. native is extremely instinctive and stout at the point of attack. Monroe is eyeing his first 100-tackle season and a little more love from All-Pac-12 voters in the postseason.
4. WR Gabe Marks, Jr.
Marks has begun to live up to the hype that surrounded his signing in 2012. In his first two seasons, he's caught 123 passes, including a team-high 74 for 807 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He's a dangerous open-field receiver, fluidly gliding past opposing defenders. Marks' biggest areas for improvement will come away from the field. He has to add more meat to a 6-0, 179-pound frame, and resolve legal issues stemming from a Feb. 9 arrest.
5. WR Dominique Williams, Jr.
No, Williams didn't quite deliver the season many expected. Yes, he still possesses the talent to star in the Pac-12 before going on to play in the NFL. The projected starter at "X" showed flashes of his big-play potential, but was just sixth on the team with 40 catches for 647 yards and seven touchdowns. Williams is a long-striding 6-2, 188-pounder, with the speed to get behind the secondary. He just needs to be more consistent than a year ago, when he had less than 10 yards receiving in three games.
6. WR River Cracraft, Soph.
Cracraft was one of the really pleasant surprises on the Palouse last fall. In his first season out of Santa Margarita (Calif.) High School, he quickly grabbed the inside "Y" job and went on to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12. Somewhat of an afterthought before the season began, the sure-handed 6-0, 197-pounder caught 46 passes for 614 yards and three scores. Cracraft, who's savvy beyond his years, will keep getting better and more dangerous as he gets additional reps in Mike Leach's offense.
7. LB Cyrus Coen, Sr.
Lining up at strongside for a third consecutive season will be Coen, who was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2012. The nephew of legendary Cougar QB Jack Thompson earned his third letter since walking on at Wazzu, finishing his junior season with 60 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and three sacks. Although the 6-0, 211-pound Coen doesn't fit the blueprint at the position, he plays with the kind of passion, range and determination that makes the staff wish it had 10 more just like him.
8. WR Vince Mayle, Sr.
The expectations are high for Mayle, even though he's battling for playing time at "X" receiver. He turned in a solid first year out of Sierra (Calif.) College by catching 42 passes for 539 yards and seven touchdowns. Mayle is a big target for the quarterback, though not as big as he was a year ago. The 6-3 senior has had a terrific offseason in the weight room and the film, trimming down to 219 after playing at more than 230 pounds last season.
9. CB Daquawn Brown, Soph.
There's cautious optimism that Brown can emerge as the leader of a green secondary attempting to regroup without Deone Bucannon, Damante Hornton and Nolan Washington. Brown really came on as a starter late in his rookie year, standing tall against the likes of USC's Marqise Lee. He plays as if he doesn't know he's only 5-11 and 170 pounds, bringing confidence and swagger to the last line of defense. Despite starting less than half of the team's games, Brown still managed to make 50 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss, two picks and five pass breakups.
10. BUCK Kache Palacio, Jr.
Destiny Vaeao is moving to defensive end, creating an opening at ‘Buck' that the coaching staff hopes will be filled by Palacio. The position is a hybrid incorporating many of the attributes of an outside linebacker and a traditional end. While Palacio lacks ideal size at 6-2 and 224 pounds, he has the burst and the closing speed to help ignite the Cougar pass rush. He showcased hints of his potential in 2013 by making 49 stops, 6.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and four quarterback hurries.
Washington State Preview
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