WSU Cougars

Breaking down WSU’s first depth chart

WSU coach Mike Leach says his players are “more motivated” this season.
WSU coach Mike Leach says his players are “more motivated” this season. The AP

There weren’t many surprises about the depth chart Washington State released Monday, Aug. 31.

Offense

The biggest thing of note is that the starting quarterback is still listed as Luke Falk or Peyton Bender. Falk has far and ahead taken the most first team reps in the leadup to the season, but the Cougars have also given Bender some time with the first stringers, and Bender has looked poised on occasion. He throws a beautiful ball and has had some flashes of brilliance. Does this mean that Falk might not have as much of a stranglehold on the starting position as previously thought?

At receiver, the coaches had to make some tough decisions because of the wealth of talent at the position. But as predicted, Dom Williams and Gabe Marks will start on the outside, with Kyrin Priester and freshman Tavares Martin Jr. as their primary backups. River Cracraft will of course hold down one of the inside receiver spots, with Robert Lewis on the other side. Expect Tyler Baker to also get plenty of reps.

Defense

Freshman Darrien Molton has beaten out sophomore Marcellus Pippins at cornerback. This isn’t a surprise when you consider that Molton has been taking first team reps for the last two weeks. He will start across from Charleston White. Think of this as an upgrade at cornerback because Pippins and White’s backup, Pat Porter, both showed enough promise to earn significant playing time as true freshmen by the end of last season. The fact that Molton has won the starting job over Pippins bodes well for the Cougs’ secondary this season.

Sophomore Kirkland Parker’s switch from cornerback to safety appears to have paid off. Parker is now the No. 2 strong safety behind senior Taylor Taliuliu. At free safety, junior college transfer Shalom Luani will be backed up by true freshman Hunter Dale, a former Rivals three-star prospect from Louisiana who chose WSU over offers from most of the Pac-12 and almost half the SEC.

At nickelback, Issac Dotson is listed as the starter ahead of Darius Lemora, but expect both to play depending on the situation.

Peyton Pelluer keeps the starting mike linebacker spot he wrestled away from an upperclassman last season, and Jeremiah Allison will anchor the will linebacker spot. The battle of the rush linebacker spot continues with Ivan McClennan and Kache Palacio listed as co-starters for the moment.

On the defensive line, Robert Barber beat out Daniel Ekuale for the nose tackle job.

Special teams

Freshman Zach Charme is your new punter, but redshirt sophomore Erik Powell beat out two freshman challengers to get a second crack as the Cougars’ field goal specialist. Powell made only two of five field goals in 2014, but has been fairly accurate in practice this fall. The question now is whether good practice kicking translates into good game kicking. Who knows. Powell will also handle kickoffs.

Now for the exciting part. Kyrin Priester -- note, that rhymes with “speedster” -- and Tavares Martin Jr. are your punt and kickoff return specialists, respectively. This is very good news for the Cougars, who could use some big plays on special teams.

Youth galore

Jeff Nusser of SB Nation’s Cougars blog came up with this awesome color-coded representation of WSU’s depth chart.

That breakdown of the two-depth by class status really emphasizes the Cougars’ youth at the offensive and defensive skill positions. If WSU can finish at least .500 in 2015, next season might be the year you really see the Cougars come of age. The biggest holes they’ll have to fill in 2016 will be on the left side of the offensive line and at linebacker.

Stefanie Loh: sloh@seattletimes.com. Stef Loh covers Washington State, Gonzaga and other college sports for The Seattle Times

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