WSU's Signing Day radio show featured freshman quarterback Camm Cooper, new defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys and linebackers coach Ken Wilson, among others.
Washington State rolled out its iconic quarterback-turned-broadcaster tandem of Jason Gesser and Alex Brink to break down the Cougars’ 2018 signing class on live radio (and Facebook Live) Wednesday morning.
Along the way, Gesser and Brink, along with host, Matt Chazanow, interviewed some coaches, and freshman quarterback Camm Cooper made his first media appearance for the Cougars. Here are a few things we learned from Cooper and fellow radio show guests DT J. Pono Lolohea, WSU football Chief of Staff Dave Emerick, linebackers coach Ken Wilson and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys.
1 — Tracy Claeys will likely call plays from the box this season
New defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys says he’s coached from the press box and the field but that he will likely call plays from the box because he wants “the guys who’ve coached the players all week long to be on the sidelines.” That also leads us to deduce that, unlike his predecessor Alex Grinch, who coached the defensive backs, Claeys will not coach a position, but focus on the overall game plan and calling plays.
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Claeys has also stressed that he will learn the Cougars’ defensive terminology instead of trying to teach the defense new terms of his own.
2 — Differences and similarities Grinch’s and Claeys’ defenses
Grinch played a base 3-3-5 and stressed speed over all else, which led to the Speed D moniker the Cougars’ defense used to brand themselves. In his radio show interview Wednesday, Claeys indicated that he also prizes speed. But his big thing is that he always molds his defense around what his players can do instead of trying to come in and implement any particular scheme. That leads me to think the defense might not look all that different from what Grinch ran. One big difference, however: Claeys says he’ll introduce more personnel groupings. And when the Cougs are up by a lot and the other team is forced to pass, expect to see lots of speedy DBs and LBs on the field. His overall motto is similar to Grinch’s: “You try to look multiple but keep it simple for the kids,” Claeys said.
3 — WSU has a young core to build around in its early enrollee freshmen
Asked to name the guys he’s formed close relationships with, quarterback Cammon Cooper singled out receiver Rodrick Fisher and running back Max Borghi.
Coincidentally, that’s the same three whom Emerick had earlier in the show referenced as guys who could play early. Tyler Hilinski’s death left a void in the quarterback room, and Cooper will get every opportunity to show what he can do. Former running backs coach Jim Mastro said before he left for Oregon that Borghi would almost certainly get early playing time due to Jamal Morrow’s graduation, and WSU also has a void to fill at receiver, where the departures of Tavares Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack have opened a spot for someone like Fisher to step up.
Cooper said the Cougars have already held a couple of 7-on-7 throwing sessions this year, but that he’s excited for spring ball to begin.
Cooper is an athletic quarterback in the mold of Hilinski, and is significantly more mobile than Luke Falk was. But he knows that in Mike Leach’s offense, he might have to be more discerning about when he takes the check down versus when he making the first read and then just tucking and running.
Cooper said he talked to Falk briefly when he first arrived on campus for the start of this spring semester, but that they haven’t spoken much since. He has, however, already managed to adopt one of Falk and Leach’s favorite catch phrases: Do your job.
“Just realizing that I’m not gonna be able to outrun everybody, I’ll have to keep my eyes downfield, check down if I have to. And just do my job as a quarterback,” Cooper said.
4 — No, Cooper won’t cut his long hair. Yes, he’s a true lefty.
Cooper said he’s been growing out his signature long locks since his junior year of high school, and tends to keep them around for a while. The left-handed quarterback says he’s left-handed at just about everything he does. Also, he’s already learned WSU’s offensive signals, and says he’s getting well acquainted with the playbook.
5 — DT J. Pono Lolohea, who enrolled for spring semester, has already lost 10 pounds after being part of Jason Loscalzo’s strength and conditioning program for the last month
Lolohea came on the Signing Day show and corrected Chazanow when the host read his weight as 310 pounds.
“Actually it’s 300 on the dot now,” Lolohea said.
With Hercules Mata’afa, Garrett McBroom and Daniel Ekuale gone, the Cougars need some beef to replenish their defensive tackle ranks, Lolohea could be a candidate for a starting spot.
6 — Long term solution up the middle of that D-line?
Perhaps WSU can look to Misi Aiolupotea-Pei, a defensive end/linebacker hybrid from Riverside City College who signed with the Cougars Wednesday.
Aiolupotea-Pei was recruited by inside linebackers coach Ken Wilson, who is friends with Riverside City College coach Tom Craft.
Aiolupotea-Pei is listed at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, but has the frame to bulk up.
“We think (putting) Misi on training table, he’s already 260, man, he could grow into that (DT role) and he could be a bigger Hercules in there. That’s the kinda quickness we’re looking for,” Wilson said.
7 — Misi could also be the punter
Aiolupotea-Pei played rugby all his life in Australia and New Zealand before he decided he wanted to switch to American football.
“Misi said, ‘If you need a punter, I can kick it to the other end of the football field,'” Wilson said. “He played rugby and has all of those skills.”
WSU special teams coach Eric Mele has been known for his willingness to experiment with different players in the punt game. He had a punt package for former international-class soccer player Shalom Luani a couple of years ago, and has also installed receiver Kyle Sweet as WSU’s rugby style punter. So, why not use a true rugby player as your rugby punter. It’s a perfect fit.
8 — Alex Grinch had a funny nickname for Ken Wilson’s young linebacking corps last year
Senior linebackers Peyton Pelluer, Isaac Dotson and Nate DeRider all went down with injuries at some point last year, leaving Wilson no choice but to piece together a young linebacking corps consisting of a cadre of redshirt and true freshmen: Jahad Woods, Justus Rogers, Dillon Sherman and Dominick Silvels.
Or, otherwise known as: “We got to a point in the middle of the season, and Grinch would call it ‘coach Wilson’s daycare.'” Wilson said. “We were traveling eight freshmen. He was like, ‘get your daycare make sure they’re on time.'”
The young guns have grown up though. With Pelluer back for a sixth year, Wilson can now rebuild the linebackers around him. Woods will likely play a big role. But also watch for Rogers, Sherman, Silvels, Fa’avae Fa’avae, junior college early enrollee Kendrick Catis and Cole Dubots. Wilson said Pelluer is already helping to get Catis up to speed — again, the value of Pelluer’s sixth year of eligibility cannot be overstated. Dubots was a high school running back with a 10.54 100m dash time, and the coaches are salivating at the prospect of him hunting down opposing tailbacks.
9 — Here are Brink and Gesser’s picks of receivers who need to take the reins for WSU this year
Tay Martin and Kyle Sweet need to step up, says Gesser, who cites the experience Martin got as a true freshman last year as invaluable.
“You can’t teach experience. You have to go out there and have successes and failures and learn from those. I saw that personally from Tay Martin last year,” Gesser said, adding that Sweet, as the senior receiver in the room, also has to play a bigger role.
Of the five receivers who signed as part of the 2018 recruiting class, Brink is most excited about early signee Fisher, from Spokane.
“He’s a great story, he’s big, fast and can make an impact right away,” Brink said.
But he and Gesser are also high on Independence Community College WR Calvin Jackson, who signed on Wednesday.
“He can flat out fly,” Brink said of Jackson. “He has explosiveness and the ability to get vertical. And he can come in and compete right away.”
10 — One more important question: Who will take a leadership role on the offensive line?
Asked to project who might fill the spots vacated by Cole Madison (RT), Cody O’Connell (RG) and BJ Salmonson (LG) on the offensive line, Gesser made a salient point: the biggest void is not in any specific offensive line position. It’s in the leadership factor that Madison brought.
With his messy shock of long, curly hair, an assertive personality and his vocal nature, Madison was the de factor leader of WSU’s offensive line in 2017. He was the glue that held it all together, and he wasn’t afraid to call out his line mates and hold everyone accountable. Now, WSU needs someone to be that guy.
Left tackle Andre Dillard is a logical option — he’s the senior, and will be a third-year starter in 2018. He’s never been as openly vocal as Madison, but could grow into that role.
Center Fred Mauigoa is also an option. The center calls the protections and takes a leadership roles of sorts, and that’s what Riley Sorenson was for WSU in 2016.
Even though he hasn’t played much, I think Noah Osur-Myers could also step into that role. Osur-Myers was a key reserve last season and figures to be a main contender for one of the guard spots. He’s respected by his teammates, has a quiet gravitas to him and could emerge as a leader on the O-line.