Thursday, July 16, 2009
So we've taken a peek at who we think is going to chuck it, and who we think is going to carry it. Now let's look at who, exactly, will be picking balls out of the air for the WSU offense in '09.
Right away, it must be acknowledged who WON'T be picking it in '09, and that is of course, our lead photo guy of the day, Brandon Gibson. For the first time since 2004, the WSU receiving corps will be sans #4 (2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 all saw Gibson in the WR rotation). One of the all-time greats in WSU history, Gibson finished his career as the school leader in receiving yards (2,756). He was second in total catches with 182. His 17 TD's placed him in the top six in school history. Gibson will be missed, there is no denying that. Gibson, as you are probably aware, was a sixth-round draft choice of the flying Philly Eagles, ready to make some noise back east.
We salute you Gibby, and wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
But the page must be turned, so with that, we look ahead. And who shall lead them? Let's see....
While 2008 was, overall, a lost season for many WSU WR's, the raw numbers are a hard thing to comprehend. It seemed like nobody, and I mean NOBODY, improved at WR in '08. After all, the superstar game-breaker in Brandon Gibson saw his numbers shrink considerably, going from a 67-catch, 1180-yard, 9-TD campaign in '07 to just a 57 catch, 673-yard, two-TD campaign in '08. But, believe it or not, there was someone who improved last year, even with an offense that struggled so terribly for the bulk of the season. The one guy who did improve, at least statistically, was none other than the track star - Jeshua Anderson. Wait, you mean the amazing hurdler who flirted with making the 2008 Olympic Team, and then missed all of August with an abdominal injury? THAT Jeshua Anderson?? It's true.
After catching just 12 balls as a true frosh in '07, Anderson emerged with 33 catches in '08. His yards-per-catch was down in a huge way, at 9.2, but after '07 there was nowhere to go but down. Anderson averaged an unrepeatable 31(thirty-one!) yards per grab in '07, but that was on just the 12 catches. There was virtually no way he was doing that again, not as a starter after playing the deep threat role the year before.
I guess our concern with Anderson is the same one that a lot of people have for him, and that is has the track time taken away from his chances to get better on the football field? After all, he missed spring ball again this year to compete in the NCAA championships, where YES, he did repeat as NCAA CHAMP in the 400 hurdles. So as great as he is on the track, nobody can really blame him for missing practice time on the gridiron.
He is super-special in the hurdles, and a lucrative career may await on the track-n-field circuit once his NCAA days are behind him. Anderson does possess some good tools for the WR position, aside from just the great speed. He is cut at 6-2, 188, and shows good hands and excellent body control. But is he good enough at his craft to be THE MAN this year? He could be on the brink of a major breakthrough, or the load could be unbearable for a guy who may not exactly be ready to roll as the number one WR. But without question, Anderson is the fastest, most talented WR of the bunch coming back in '09. Here's hoping a healthy, productive practice session in August will see him ready for the rigors of a 12-game gauntlet in '09.
Now it gets a little challenging, as what you have left is a real mash-up of young, somewhat experienced WR's, but none of whom has really had a shot to make some noise. Of course, we love Jared Karstetter, and he will always live in Apple Cup lore for his 48-yard grab that saved the 2008 game.
But aside from that catch, he made just FIVE others the entire '08 season. But that was his true frosh year, and he did only start three games on the season. Excellent size at 6-4, 203, and pretty athletic as well, he could evolve into a difficult match-up for whoever he faces on a weekly basis. Last year we hoped he could turn out to be another Jeff Samardzija of sorts, the former Notre Dame great turned MLB reliever? Samardzija was your bigger, possession-type target with good hands, but also good enough quicks to break one here and there. Karstetter is going to be an interesting guy to watch this year as we see if he's taken a step forward in his development. The opportunity is there, no doubt about it. But the jury is, as they say, still very much out on Karstetter.
Another kid with a year of playing time now under his belt is Kevin Norrell. On the smallish side at 5-9, Norrell showed a little something with 11 catches last year. He's perfect for the slot, and should be able to use his quickness in space against linebackers or safeties who line up across from him. But still a youngster as a true sophomore, like Karstetter, a long way to go before he's a complete product.
Another WR to watch is Daniel Blackledge. Blackledge had a semi-good start to the '08 season, but after eight catches in his first four games last year, he only had ONE catch the rest of the way. Built similar to Jeshua Anderson at 6-2, 179, Blackledge obviously doesn't have the take-your-breath-away speed of Anderson, but he's still a very good athlete with decent wheels. Hard to believe he'll already be a junior this year, but they really could use his ability to get the ball down the field. Outside of Anderson, he is probably the second-best deep threat on the team.
Finally, the newcomers. Johnny Forzani, the Canandian prospect; Gino Simone, the heralded recruit; and Jeffrey Solomon, the transfer from Eastern.
First, Forzani. Who knows, really, what they got here. Most likely you know the back story already - but if you forgot, check out this link. He didn't play high school ball, has some family CFL ties, and even though he was known more as a hoops player, he ultimately makes the practice squad of the Calgary Stampeders. Decent size at 6-1, 195, and really good speed as well, reports are he still has quite a ways to go before he is ready to make an impact. He is rough around the edges, but given some solid practice time with WR coach Mike Levenseller, anything can happen. Maybe they'll catch lightning in a bottle? If anything, split him out opposite of Jeshua Anderson and send him deep with that 4.4 speed!
Simone is well-known in these parts. Regarded as the top player in Washington last year, he has a chance to get some real PT in '09. Not huge, but big enough at 6-0, 170, Simone's game is all about precise routes and excellent hands.
NOT a big highlight reel guy and he's not a speed demon, but he was as productive as can be in high school, where Skyline won the 4A state title in a pass-happy offense.
Solomon is a real under-the-radar type guy, but could be something when the dust settles. Another six-footer, and 196 lbs, he sat out last year after coming in from EWU. He had an injury that forced him to miss the '07 season, but '06 as a true frosh he was somewhat productive under Wulff at EWU, playing in nine games that year. He only caught seven balls as a true frosh, but definitely showed enough to follow Wulff to Pullman. Keep an eye out for him in practice reports next month.
That's about it for the WR spot. It's kind of a weird position, where the superstar is gone, but there is young, somewhat experienced guys waiting in the wings? But that said, there are an awful lot of "IF'S" here to hang your hat on. IF Anderson is healthy and improves; IF Karstetter continues to get better and learns how to use his size and athleticism as weapons against smaller defensive backs; IF Norrell is used properly in the slot and they can take advantage of mismatches with his quickness. Etc, etc, etc.
But I do believe this position will be better in '09 compared to last year. At least it looks like it has that proverbial "upside" tag, as long as health doesn't become an issue (quick, knock on anything resembling wood!). Just remember, last year at this time, yeah, they had Brandon Gibson. But Jeshua Anderson was hobbled with an injury, Daniel Blackledge had ONE career catch coming into '08, and both Karstetter and Norrell were true frosh! Those four - Anderson, Karstetter, Norrell, and Blackledge - will be the biggest factors in the passing game this season. And all four now have another year under their belts. So they should be a stronger, deeper, better unit in '09. But it may still not be enough to stop another tough season. Now for 2010, wow, can we talk?? But for now, we'll settle for improvement and consistency on a weekly basis!
That's it for a Thursday. ENJOY IT, as always, and GO COUGS!