When Jason Hill announced that he would be returning for his senior season, Coach Doba and Cougar fans were very happy. Hill had a frustrating 2005, missing several games following his injury against the Beavers. Even after returning, Hill was not 100%. Hill also had a number of crucial drops that did not help the Cougar win-loss record. The coaches will want Hill to work on his catching consistency in spring, but make no mistake - Hill is one of WSU's marquee players for 2006. He may need some fine tuning, but his ability and production are not an issue. If anything, the coaches may limit his participation to make sure he stays healthy. After Hill, there are a number of questions and the coaches will be looking for answers. The players are there to make things happen, but consistent production must be established to take an opponent's focus off Hill. Developing that production is a big need for spring.
Chris Jordan and Michael Bumpus come back with the most experience of the receivers not named "Hill," and both have the ability to make the big play. Concerns hang over both players. Jordan has struggled since a devastating knee injury early in his Cougar career. Jordan has more than enough ability and all the tools, but questions remain. If fully healthy Jordan is a major weapon. A good round of spring practice would mean a lot for Jordan in terms of his confidence and his ability to make opponents pay for focusing on Hill come game time in fall. Bumpus was one of the Cougars caught up in an ugly rash of injuries last season, and is still not 100%. As with Jordan, spring will be very important for Bumpus - not only to establish his confidence after injury, but also to establish his role in the offense.
While Hill, Jordan, and Bumpus are virtually locked in as the starters, depth is a lot more wide open and something to watch in spring. Brandon Gibson saw good game time in 2005 and the coaches are high on his ability and potential. Barring injury or the unforeseen, Gibson is virtually assured of his spot in the depth. A strong spring could give Gibson a shot at a starting spot if Jordan is not able to return to form. Finas Rabb has already impressed in winter skelly drills, but needs to become comfortable in the offense. Rabb snagged himself a groin injury recently - something that could limit him in spring and set his learning curve back. A player to watch is Scott Selby. Selby is one of the fastest and strongest Cougar receivers, has a good package of skills, but has yet to see the field. Selby has been impressing in off-season skelly and has been a consistently productive practice target for Alex Brink. If Selby continues his production in the formal spring practices, he may finally earn himself a spot in the rotation.
Lorenzo Bursey has been asked to make another position switch, making receiver his third position in two years. Bursey played running back in JC, was switched to cornerback due to depth concerns in 2005, and is now moving to receiver for 2006. Receiver is a more natural fit for Bursey, a gifted athlete who just needs to find a niche. Bursey will have spring to get comfortable with his new role and the offense. Benny Ward saw the field on special teams last season and will have spring to stake a claim to a spot in the receiver rotation. Greg Walker was a big play receiver in high school, but has work to do to learn the Cougar offense and build up his strength to the Pac-10 level.
As with running back, not all the contenders are on campus. Come August, Charles Dillon will arrive and is likely to make a strong case for playing time and potentially a starting role. With the exception of Hill and Bumpus - and possibly Jordan - all the players who earn a spot on the depth after spring practice will have to hold off Dillon come fall.