Completing a depth chart in early May can come with its challenges, but by and large, the 2021 Washington State Cougars make it easy.
With the exception of a few spots on both sides of the ball – including a fairly significant offensive position – fans should be relatively familiar with the players who, barring injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, will start for the Cougars this fall. Most who followed the team during a shortened 2020 season would be able to piece together a depth chart themselves without too many errors.
After all, WSU returns nine starters on offense and 10 more on defense. But as is the case with any team entering a new season, the Cougars have former backups looking to unseat the starters (See: Quarterback) and incoming freshmen or transfers hoping to make an impact right away (See: Quarterback).
Part one of our post-spring projections focuses on the offense and the three-man QB battle that could shape up to be one of the most compelling WSU’s had in years – for a program that hasn’t been in short supply of them, either. Part two, featuring defense and special teams, will be printed in Thursday’s newspaper.
QB1: Jarrett Guarantano, Gr. (6-4, 219)
QB2: Jayden de Laura, So. (6-0, 185)
Also in the mix: Cammon Cooper, Jr. (6-4, 210), Victor Gabalis, So. (6-3, 206), Xavier Ward, Fr. (6-2, 192).
Comments: Guarantano’s spring game was nothing short of a nightmare. One play, one interception, one hand/wrist injury that sidelined him for the remainder of his most important showcase as a WSU quarterback to this point. But it could’ve been worse. On a day that saw the offense struggle across the board, Cooper also threw an interception to go with his two touchdowns, and didn’t make a discernible leap in the two-man QB battle that transpired through camp. Furthermore, Guarantano’s injury wasn’t severe enough to hold him out of the final two practices.
At some point in the first week or two of fall camp, WSU’s QB competition will be trimmed to two players, as it has in years past. Given that Guarantano’s run-and-shoot baptism is still just 15 practices deep, coaches probably need more time to evaluate the Tennessee graduate transfer, and therefore it’d be surprising to see him miss the cut. To be sure, Cooper’s made strides in the offense, but de Laura started in all four games last season and generally graded out well, despite some erratic play at USC and in the second half against Utah.
Making a guess on the QB competition this early in the year may not be advisable, but Guarantano has all the physical tools to play in Nick Rolovich’s offense, he’s the most experienced signal-caller on the roster and he’s been embraced by a locker room that wouldn’t be blamed if it needed more time to reestablish trust in de Laura after the freshman’s offseason incident. Lots can change between now and September, and it wouldn’t be a WSU QB competition without another plot twist before the season begins, but from where I stand, Guarantano’s been slightly sharper than Cooper throughout spring camp and if de Laura can’t outplay him in the fall, I imagine the Cougars will be starting a grad transfer for the second time in four years.
RB1: Max Borghi, Sr. (5-10, 206)
RB2: Deon McIntosh, Sr. (6-0, 193)
Also in the mix: Jouvensly Bazil, So. (5-10, 188), Peni Naulu (6-2, 221), Kannon Katzer, Fr. (5-8, 191)
Comments: Although Borghi will probably finish with more carries, yards and touchdowns if he stays healthy, he and McIntosh are interchangeable in the backfield and after the former Notre Dame backup broke out for 323 yards in a four-game audition last season, WSU fans should be comfortable with either player carrying the rock.
How the Cougars use their two running backs – both of whom could be in the rotation for just about any team in the Pac-12 – should resemble the season finale at Utah. Borghi was on the field for the first two drives and McIntosh spelled him on the third until the Cougars got inside the red zone and reinserted a fresher Borghi to punch in an 8-yard touchdown. Borghi got the initial carries on a drive in the second quarter, but McIntosh finished it off with an 11-yard scoring run.
McIntosh’s production tapered in the final two games and the Florida native has said he wants to be more durable this fall. He’s set a target weight of 200 pounds and estimates he needs to add five more pounds to reach that goal. Borghi missed nearly half of the team’s spring practices with an undisclosed lower-body injury, but there’s nothing that points to it being a long-term ailment that would hold him out of summer workouts, let alone fall camp.
X WR1: Calvin Jackson Jr., Sr. (5-10, 194)
X WR2: Mitchell Quinn, Jr. (5-11, 175)
Also in the mix: Donovan Ollie, So. (6-3, 209), Jay Wilkerson, So. (6-1, 160)
H WR1: Travell Harris, Sr. (5-9, 182)
H WR2: Lincoln Victor, Jr. (5-9, 168)
Also in the mix: Drake Owen, Jr. (5-10, 187), Billy Pospisil, So. (5-10, 191).
Y WR1: Renard Bell, Sr. (5-8, 162)
Y WR2: Joey Hobert, So. (5-11, 179)
Also in the mix: Zion Lucia, So. (6-0, 166)
Z WR1: C.J. Moore, Jr. (6-4, 180)
Z WR2: De’Zhaun Stribling, Fr. (6-2, 192)
Also in the mix: Brandon Gray, Jr. (6-5, 197), Jasiah Richard-Lewis, Jr. (6-0, 187)
Comments: In 2020, slots Renard Bell and Travell Harris accounted for 74% of the catches by the team’s four primary wideouts. It’s possible that number could be in the same ballpark this fall. Bell and Harris found instant success in the run-and-shoot offense, and Rolovich has discussed finding more ways to put the ball in their hands – and earlier in the game, too. But that’s only one part of why the sixth-year senior slots could be a big part of the equation in 2021.
In the final year of the Mike Leach era, the Cougars had three of the most talented outside receivers in the Pac-12, with Dezmon Patmon and Easop Winston Jr. trading reps at Z and Tay Martin holding things down at X. The outside receivers on WSU’s current roster – a group that no longer includes Jamire Calvin – have the talent and potential to make things happen this fall, but they lacked consistency in the spring. CJ Moore, the former Oklahoma State receiver who once was considered the second-rated high school prospect in Oklahoma, made one of the best plays of the spring game, using his big body to haul in a contested 41-yard pass from Cammon Cooper. But Moore needs to do more of that and reduce his drops if he hopes to produce as a starting receiver in the Pac-12. Either way, he projects as WSU’s top option at Z and earned a lion’s share of the first-team reps in the spring.
The Cougars have a conundrum on their hands at X. Walk-on Mitchell Quinn, a Honolulu native who learned the run-and-shoot while playing high school ball with de Laura at Saint Louis, was working with the No. 1 offense when camp ended, but he’ll have to hold off Calvin Jackson Jr. this fall. In 2018, Jackson Jr. offered a glimpse of his potential, but the Florida native played just four games while redshirting in 2019 and suffered an injury in the 2020 opener at Oregon State. Jackson Jr. has reliable hands and above average speed, but he’s yet to put it all together at WSU – at times dealing with setbacks out of his control, including the aforementioned injury and the tragic loss his father earlier this year.
Donovan Ollie and De’Zhaun Stribling are respectively listed at X and Z on this chart, but they have the ability to flip-flop positions, as do Lincoln Victor, Joey Hobert and others at H and Y.
LT1: Liam Ryan, Sr. (6-5, 295)
LT2: Ma’ake Fifita, So. (6-5, 302)
Also in the mix: Seth Yost, Sr. (6-7, 302)
LG1: Jarrett Kingston, Jr. (6-5, 299)
LG2: Blake McDonald, Jr. (6-5, 306)
Also in the mix: Syr Riley, Jr. (6-4, 317)
C1: Brian Greene, Sr. (6-3, 292)
C2: Konner Gomness, So. (6-4, 283)
Also in the mix: Jernias Tafia, Fr. (6-3, 235)
RG1: Cade Beresford, Jr. (6-7, 308)
RG2: Rodrick Tialavea, So. (6-5, 325)
RT1: Abraham Lucas, Sr. (6-7, 319)
RT2: James McNorton, So. (6-5, 290)
Also in the mix: Quinn McCarthy, So. (6-5, 292)
Comments: Returning two of the most experienced offensive tackles in the Pac-12, along with starters at left guard and center, WSU should roll out one of the conference’s more formidable units this fall. The Cougars actually had a chance to bring back all five starters, but longtime right guard Josh Watson opted not to use his COVID-19 year and retired from the game to pursue a firefighting career.
So, spring camp was all about finding Watson’s replacement. It appears the search didn’t take long. After Konner Gomness spent about a week working with the first-team offense, Cade Beresford got his opportunity and didn’t relinquish the spot, taking all but a few of the No. 1 reps at right guard for the final 12 practices and starting there during the spring game. Beresford will need to maintain the level of play that earned him the No. 1 right guard role in spring camp, but he’s poised to become the second Woodinville High product to start on WSU’s offensive line, following in the massive footsteps of former All-American and current Philadelphia Eagle Andre Dillard.
While WSU’s starting five may be set in stone – or close to it – there should be plenty of competition for backup spots in the fall, so take the projections below with a grain of salt. The Cougars will have a few new faces in the fall and players like Patrick Utschinski, Dylan Mayginnes and Devin Kylany are expected to be back in the fray after missing camp with injuries.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.