Good Morning Coug fans and Happy Spring! That’s right, with the official kickoff of Spring Football today, the much anticipated season has arrived. With that I have your final position preview this morning, cornerbacks and special teams.
Listen folks, I know it has been an emotional weekend on the basketball front, so you may find it difficult to switch gears and suddenly focus on a sport that is still 6 months from kicking off. But switch gears we must, and if you’re having trouble making the switch, keep this in mind: Few things are as important to an undergraduate’s enjoyment of their college experience as the success of their school’s football team. In other words, if you don’t think Klay Thompson is following these previews closely to help determine whether to stay for his senior year, you are crazy, or deluded or BOTH. So for that reason alone, I encourage you to read on. Lets start with cornerbacks after the jump…
Corner is another position where we already have some solid odds-on favorites to be starters going into Spring practices. Lets start with those, then we’ll follow up with the guys who are going to be pressing them all Spring and Fall to steal their jobs.
Nolan Washington – Washington has been a player who has impressed coaches and close observers since day 1. He saw his first action as a redshirt freshman last year, and like any freshman starter, he had some memorable moments of the kind you do not like to see from a cornerback. Most of the time, however, he was a solid player. Entering 2011 he will also now be an experienced player and that should have Coug fans excited. In addition, Nolan has clearly become one of the leaders of this team off the field and anyone who has been to a Night With Cougar Football function knows they do not hesitate to put this young man front and center as spokesman for the team. If you are wondering, like me, just how important real time game experience is against competition like the Pac-10, just take it from Mr. Washington himself who admitted at the Spokane football dinner that it wasn’t until about game 6 that he started to get used to the speed and intensity of Pac-10 play.
Aire Justin – Justin is the lone senior who we can expect to see action at corner, and according to the Spring Depth Chart the starting corner spot opposite Washington is his to lose. Justin has always been a sliver of a player, enough to make you a little nervous about his safety when you see him on the field with Pac-10 sized players. In fact, he did miss significant time in 2010 due to injury. His athleticism has never been in doubt and he has shown off his speed and shiftiness as a kick returner. You gotta love his experience and it will be interesting to see if he can hold off some of the talented young players gunning for his spot.
Daniel Simmons – The most likely of the aforementioned talented young players to swipe a starting CB job this Spring is Daniel Simmons. Simmons is also an experienced players with quite a few starts under his belt and last season he looked fully recovered from the broken leg that cost him most of the 2009 season. Even if Justin and Washington retain their starting spots, expect to see Simmons on the field a lot. He gives us a 3rd bonafied Pac-10 corner and that should have Coug fans excited about this position entering 2011.
Damante Horton – Horton came on strong last season as a practice field star and earned his way on the field on Saturdays as a true freshman to gain some valuable experience of his own. Like Simmons, I expect to see Horton as a regular in the rotation, whether or not he starts. With another year of seasoning under his belt, it looks like the future of the position is in good hands.
Brandon Golden – Brandon redshirted last year and is positioned to get his first real game snaps this year as a key reserve. Another talented young player with a lot of promise that will be fun to watch in the coming years.
Anthony Martinez and Tracy Clark are also listed on the depth chart entering Spring. Martinez is a senior who will bring some experience and maturity to this position group, but is not likely to be a regular contributor on game day. Tracy Clark was arrested recently for stealing a lap-top and I have to believe that his position with the team is somewhat precarious at the moment. Also, it is important to not that players like Anthony Carpenter who is listed at safety and Terrence Hayward who is also listed as a safety, but for some reason is not on the depth chart… can both step in and play corner as well.
And last, but as we saw in 2008 and 2009, not least important… the special teams. This is going to be a transitional year for our special teams where we lost some of our most significant talent to graduation last year. Notably our all world punter Reid Forrest, our long time place kicker Nico Grasu and perhaps most importantly of all, our extraordinary long snapper Zack Enyeart. It is rumored that Zack made his orders at Cougar Country by snapping the ball through the Order Here window and hitting the item on the menu board that he wanted. In case you’re curious, I have it on good authority that he typically orders 2 cub burgers, a root beer, a dilly bar and extra fry sauce, despite not ordering fries. I think its safe to say that Zack and Reid belong on the Mount Rushmore of Cougar special teams, and Grasu, though inconsistent, was a mainstay we got comfortable with especially on kick-offs. So who is on tap to replace these legends this year?
Andrew Furney – Placekicker is the most pressure filled and glamorous position in all of special teams and in 2011 the Cougs will most likely turn to sophomore Andrew Furney. He took over field goal and extra point duties from Grasu last season as a true freshman, but it wasn’t always pretty. In fact you had to wonder if it was as much to prepare him for this year as it was because he was kicking better than Grasu. Furney’s potential is not in question and by years end he had settled in well. But this is not a position where Coach Wulff is going to be content to put his faith in one guy. Come Spring a couple walk-ons will bring some competition to this position which could get interesting. Also of note, Furney is big enough he could probably also help out a D-end if we really need him to.
Dan Wagner – The punting job looks to be firmly in the hands of Dan Wagner. Wagner was a walk-on QB who actually saw action in way too many games during the QB apocalypse that was 2008-2009. You may have noticed that we no longer schedule Portland State and for that reason alone I think Mr. Wagner’s QB days are over. But he is a solid punter, and who knows, with the ball in his hands on 4th downs, we may not have seen his last pass completion after all. Wagner will not be able to single handedly will the Cougars to victory like Reid Forrest could, but he has experience punting in games while Forrest was injured and he can get a good leg on the ball, so we are in good hands here.
Long snapper – This is the position that for the next 6 months should keep all Coug fans from getting a single wink of sleep. From comments made by the coaches it appears everybody from Elliott Bosche, to Travis Long and even Glenn Johnson are going to get their shot at it this Spring. Ummm, yikes. Kinda wish we had a front runner here. This is one of those positions that you take for granted until it starts malfunctioning. I’ll keep a close eye on on developments here throughout Spring practice.
Returners – We have a bevy of guys chomping at the bit to return kicks on 2011 and it will be fun to see who emerges from a group that includes a lot of speed. New comer Henry Eady is already enrolled and ready to take part in Spring Ball and could be expected to make an immediate contribution as a return specialist with his sub 4.5 speed. Also, look for a healthy Ricky Galvin to get some looks at returning kicks and of course Aire Justin who had some exciting returns in 2010.
That’s all for now folks. Spring Practices begin today, so all these little position battles will begin to play out immediately. Stay tuned for updates and until then…