PULLMAN – It’s a surplus the Cougars are thrilled to have, but one they have to figure out nonetheless.
Barring any unforeseen transfers or unplanned departures between now and August, Washington State is counting on having seven of eight rotational wide receivers back in the fold this season.
A group that brings back two “X” receivers (Tay Martin and Calvin Jackson Jr.), two “H” receivers (Renard Bell and Travell Harris), one “Y” receiver (Jamire Calvin) and two “Z” receivers (Dezmon Patmon and Easop Winston Jr.) accounted for a whole lot of production last year and left many defensive coordinators scratching their heads.
In 2018, those seven accounted for 89 percent of the passes caught by a receiver, 30 of the 31 touchdowns scored and 3,451 of the 3,815 yards accumulated.
There aren’t any signs indicating any of those seven will see their roles diminish a year later. So the Cougars are left with a happy dilemma: what to do with the others.
While a few of the nonrotational wideouts are simply waiting their turn, one of them – excuse the receiver pun – is taking a different route.
When spring camp opened, coaches ran an interesting concept by Kassidy Woods, an outside receiver who played sparingly on special teams in 2018 but preserved his redshirt by appearing in only four games. With the outside “X” and “Z” positions especially clogged up, Woods got a trial run at the “Y” slot position, vacated by departing senior Kyle Sweet.
“We had two good guys on the outside, is one thing,” coach Mike Leach said. “The other thing is, he doesn’t mind and does well with instructions and combat in there. Plus, he’s going to get bigger and bigger, so I think it’s going to be a really good spot for him.”
Woods hasn’t filled out his body and still carries around a frame that’s measured at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. That gives him at least 4 inches and 30 pounds on the three returning inside receivers – Bell (5-8, 165), Harris (5-9, 180), Calvin (5-10, 162) – and another rotation hopeful, Brandon Arconado (6-0, 190).
Woods isn’t exactly the prototype when it comes to a slot receiver – and he’s heard about it more than once from jesting teammates through spring camp.
“I go around and I call him our little Antonio Gates,” cornerback Marcus Strong said. “He’s all inside, big dude at the slot. I think it’s going to be real good for Kassidy, slot playing up against those linebackers. It’s going to be a real good fit.”
By most accounts, it already has.
Woods expects it’ll take some time to adjust to running in more traffic, and the blocking duties of an inside receiver are usually greater than someone on the outside. But the Air Raid offers plenty of reps to its receivers, and Woods has made good use.
“It’s going good so far. I’m enjoying it. I’m still trying to get used to the blocking and just being inside,” Woods said. “You have way more to think about going inside and so many bodies to block and knowing your routes and everything. So it’s been an adjustment, but I’m getting the hang of it day in and day out. You definitely have to get the reps doing it instead of sitting and watching it.”
It’s been an effective move and a productive one for both parties, judging by the statistics charted at both WSU spring scrimmages so far. In the first, Woods caught four passes for 33 yards. He broke out in the second, reeling in six balls for 120 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s had a really good spring,” Leach said. “Needs to be more consistent. Huge target. Good body control. He’s very athletic. He’s going to get better and better, and also I think he’s going to get bigger and be able to do more than he can now.”
Woods was receptive to the Gates comparison, smirking when it was brought to his attention, but he spends more time studying an NFL receiver with the same last name.
“First and foremost, Robert Woods (of the Los Angeles Rams),” he said. “It’s a lot of big guys that are moving inside, in college and the NFL, so I’ve been watching them, too.”
It’ll be a tough rotation to crack for Woods. All seven starters return, and Arconado, a little-used slot receiver in 2018, has been one of the most consistent pass catchers this spring. It could be a two-man race between Woods and Arconado for the second “Y” receiver spot.
But thanks to an open mind and a smooth transition, it seems Woods still has a great chance of getting on the field in some capacity this fall. At least, the guy making that call thinks so.
“I’d be surprised if he doesn’t crack the four,” Leach said. “He’s going to be a hard guy to hold down.”
In more ways than one, maybe.
No Smalls deal
Sav’ell Smalls, the nation’s top 2020 outside linebacker prospect according to 247Sports.com, is making an unofficial visit to Pullman this weekend to take in the Crimson and Gray game Saturday at Martin Stadium.
At 6-3, 227 pounds, Smalls, from Seattle’s Kennedy Catholic High School, is a five-star prospect, according to every major recruiting service, and 247Sports.com considers him the top player in Washington and the seventh-best player in the nation.
On Feb. 10, Smalls trimmed his list of potential schools to 12. WSU made the cut, along with Alabama, Florida, Miami, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington, Clemson and Florida State.
Gubrud takes part in 11-on-11
Graduate transfer quarterback Gage Gubrud, recovering from an ankle/foot injury, participated in 11-on-11 drills for the first time this spring during a shortened practice without pads Thursday in Pullman.
The former Eastern Washington quarterback had been limited to various throwing drills throughout the past few weeks, but Gubrud took 11 snaps during the team period toward the end of the practice. He completed 7 of 10 passes, throwing four touchdowns and one interception.
“He’s got good composure in there,” Leach said of Gubrud. “He’s got good composure. It’s not quite automatic or anything yet, but I did think it was a good starting point.”
“He looked pretty good,” Arconado said. “I know he was a little antsy it being his first time in team (period) in a while. He started out slow, but he did really good at the end, I feel like.”