The Air Raid has invaded the Palouse
The Washington State Cougars return a bevy of offensive weapons from a 2011 offense that — at times — showed signs of eliteness.
In most cases, implementing and understanding a new offense in one offseason is a tough task to ask of 18-22 year old kids — let alone, a coaching staff — but the simplicity of the Air Raid has made the transition relatively easy thus far.
Granted, there are going to be bumps in the road this season and there is a steep learning curve for the Cougars to climb but, with eight returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, they find themselves in a good position entering fall camp.
Mike Leach‘s famed system attempts to use the entire field and uses as much space as possible to attack the holes that the opposing defense essentially gives the offense. With a combination of speed, agility, and overall talent the Cougars offense has a handful of players that should have a profound impact in 2012.
LT John Fullington — 6-5, 290 — Junior
As a junior, John Fullington provided some stability to a shaky — at best — offensive line in 2011. As a true freshman, Fullington played sparingly in 12 games but started the final six games with five of them coming at right tackle. As a sophomore, Fullington moved to left guard and started all 12 games and was named to the Pac-12 Conference honorable mention.
His ability to stay healthy has been a bright spot on an offensive line that has endured devastating injuries one after another for the past two seasons.
Whether he plays on the interior or at left tackle has yet to be determined but if spring practices were any indication of Leach’s intentions, Fullington will be protecting Jeff Tuel‘s blindside this season.
The offense is not going to be effective if there isn’t significant improvement in the play of the offensive line. Fullington will, undeniably, be the anchor of this line and have a huge impact on protecting the quarterback and limiting the sacks that have plagued the Cougars for the last few seasons.
WR Marquess Wilson — 6-4, 183 — Junior
This one is pretty much a no-brainer but when you’re involving the word impact and offense in the same sentence it’s hard to exclude Marquess Wilson. The junior has put up enormous numbers in his first two seasons at Washington State.
As a true freshman in 2010, Wilson emerged onto the scene with 55 receptions for 1,006 yards and six touchdowns, becoming the first freshman in WSU history to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark.
He followed up his remarkable freshman campaign with a staggering 1,388 yards on 82 receptions. The sophomore also added 12 touchdowns and was named to the Pac-12 second team despite posting twice as many touchdowns and more receiving yards than first teamer Keenan Allen.
The addition of the Air Raid is going to make covering Wilson even more challenging for opposing defenses. Mike Leach has produced some dynamic receivers during his time at Texas Tech, including Michael Crabtree and Wes Welker, and Wilson shares many qualities that allowed them to be successful within the pass-happy system.
Wilson’s ability to catch any ball thrown within his general area code and his ability to get up and grab the ball in coverage creates a unique advantage over defensive backs. Hence, their inability to cover him throughout his college career.
The Biletnikoff Award nominee — the award which honors the nations most outstanding wide receiver — looks to build on his already impressive college career and should have no problem cementing himself as one of the few elite receivers in college football this season.
RB Rickey Galvin — 5-8, 171 — RS Sophomore
Contrary to what many think, the running back position is equally as important in the Air Raid as every other position. Sure, Leach’s running backs don’t carry the football an awful lot but their importance to the overall flow of the system cannot be underestimated.
Rickey Galvin will shoulder the bulk of the responsibilities in the backfield for the Cougars in 2012. Those responsibilities include catching the ball out of the back field on screens and check-downs but, more importantly, blocking.
Galvin has all the tools needed to be a quality contributor within the Cougars’ offense this season.
He blocks exceptionally well and has excellent hands out of the backfield. Last season, the redshirt sophomore carried the ball 114 times for 602 yards and five touchdowns. He also added 28 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown.
In many interviews, Leach has mentioned his fascination with the emergence of the pistol formation during his time away from coaching so expect the running backs to be heavily involved in the pistol formation. Also, new running backs coach Jim Maestro is one of the guru’s of the pistol dating back to his time at Nevada and, most recently, UCLA.
Leach will look to get the ball in Galvin’s hands early and often because of his ability to find open field and make people miss with his shiftiness and elusive speed.
He has the capability to score every time he touches the ball, which is why his workload should increase and have a valuable impact in a variety of areas.
QB Jeff Tuel — 6-3, 223 — Senior
Obviously the quarterback position is going to have a instrumental impact on any offense. Whether that’s a positive or a negative impact is always the big question. In Cougars’ case, Tuel should have a positive impact based, first and foremost, on his leadership.
Tuel put some distance between himself and Connor Halliday in the quarterback battle this spring because of Halliday’s inability to practice due to lingering side effects of a lacerated liver suffered against Utah late in 2011. But, his ability to grasp the offense and produce effectively was quite impressive.
In the spring scrimmage Tuel alleviated some of the offensive concerns with his ability to dissect the defense while looking more than comfortable running an offense that he learned in just three weeks.
With just one career Pac-10/12 win it has been difficult to use his statistics as a sample for future success. He has been hampered by injuries and been sacked an ungodly amount. With the loads of talent around him and an offense that is set up for success Tuel has the chance to put up astounding numbers this season.
Leach has insisted he is not naming a starter until fall camp but many expect Tuel’s name to be called against BYU in week one.
TE Andrei Lintz — 6-5, 252 — RS Senior
Yes, he’s technically a tight end but Andrei Lintz will basically be playing the slot for the Cougars this season. With the spread offense there isn’t much need for an extra down lineman so we’ll see a lot of Lintz lining up in the slot in four and five receiver sets.
The thing that stands out the most in regards to Lintz is his size.
He will undoubtedly be the largest human being running around in the defensive backfield on every play.
I expect Lintz to do the majority of his damage in the red-zone where he will be able to use his big frame and athletic ability to either jump over defenders or create his own space to overpower smaller defensive backs and linebackers.
When I watched tape of the spring practices it was hard not to compare him — very, very loosely — to a Ron Gronkowski type player. He’s big and has the athleticism to be quite the asset in the passing game.
Will he have the same kind of impact that Gronkowski has on the Patriots? Absolutely not.
But he does have the same type of frame and the way that the Cougars will use him will be eerily similar.
It’s a new wrinkle to the traditional Air Raid and a weapon that will have a very positive impact on the offense in 2012.