Spring game gave 3 Cougars chance to emerge
While it is fun to imagine the previously unheralded players who excelled during Washington State’s Crimson and Gray game on Saturday finding similar success in the fall, a dose of skepticism is healthy when assessing spring game performances.
Last season’s leading rusher in WSU’s Spokane scrimmage was Jeremiah Laufasa, who has since transferred from the program.
The year before Andrei Lintz tantalized Cougars fans all spring and caused people to wonder, “How will Mike Leach use a tight end in his Air Raid offense?” The answer, of course, was that he didn’t, and Lintz caught just two passes for 14 yards the next season after catching five for 88 in the 2012 spring game.
The reality is that the spring game is just another practice, one of 15, and barely WSU’s lengthiest scrimmage of the spring.
But the mock games are played in front of a crowd and often televised, and can serve as launching pads for future stars to showcase their talents to the general public.
Here are three young players who on Saturday looked like they could be ready to make significant contributions as early as next season.
Calvin Green: That it took Green until the end of spring to consistently make an impact should be no surprise. The 5-foot-10 speedster enrolled in January to get a head start on practice while the rest of his class finishes up their high school careers. He’s also getting used to a new position, switching to receiver after playing running back in high school.
Green’s adjustment period was short-lived, however. He has impressed coaches in practice with his crisp technique, as well as his speed, and has seen his role increase in the latter half of spring practices. That development culminated in an impressive spring game performance that saw him dominate WSU’s reserves to lead all receivers with eight receptions for 101 yards.
“(He is) explosive, fast, not afraid to play,” Leach said after the game. “Most people his age are thinking about who they are going to ask to prom and he’s up here battling away and is just a real competitive, hard-working guy that has got some explosion to him, so we’re excited to see where we can take him here in the future.”
Luke Falk: When Falk came to WSU last spring it was as the third quarterback in a crowded recruiting class. Tyler Bruggman, a consensus four-star in recruiting circles, headlined the class and Bellevue’s Isaac Dotson provided some athleticism at the position.
A year later Dotson is listed as a starting safety, and while Falk may not have pulled ahead of the highly-recruited Bruggman in the competition to back up Connor Halliday, he has certainly made Leach’s decision a lot tougher.
The pair split reps all spring and Falk has appeared to have a slight edge over the past couple of weeks. On Saturday, he overcame a rough start, taking sacks on two of his first three drop-backs, to complete 20 of 31 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown.
“I’ve had a who’s-who among my quarterbacks; the first time they come out here they’ll trip around and then turn out to have a great season,” Leach said. “I thought he started slow but then I thought he recovered. He worried early on about some things he couldn’t control but I thought he recovered and did some good things.”
Jamal Morrow: All last season the WSU coaches had to watch one of the most talented running backs routinely gash his fellow underclassmen during Thursday night football scrimmages, knowing that he was unavailable for Saturday’s games. They had made the decision to redshirt Morrow, keeping him out of games in exchange for a fifth season down the road.
But with that redshirt year behind him Morrow is ready to add to WSU’s suddenly deep stable of running backs. Nearing the end of a productive spring, Saturday’s Crimson and Gray game was Morrow’s first real chance to show Cougar fans what he could do, albeit in limited carries due to the spread-the-wealth nature of the scrimmage as well as WSU’s pass-heavy offense.
“That’s what we talk about among the running backs; as soon as you get the ball you have to make a big play,” Morrow said. “We don’t get the ball all that often, so when you do you have to make the most of it.”
He was successful in that regard, taking his first carry 23 yards and making a 14-yard reception on his second touch. He made the most of his opportunities and finished the day with five carries for 44 yards to lead the running backs.