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A lot goes into Washington State’s wide receiver equation

Union HS grad Victor has most experience of stacked skill players

By GREG WOODS, The Spokesman-Review
Published: August 30, 2023, 9:00pm

PULLMAN — Ten days ago, after Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward scrambled and dodged and zipped throws downfield to his receivers in the Cougars’ second scrimmage of fall camp, he took a moment to think about what might tie it all together this fall: How do his new wideouts mesh with his ability to make off-schedule plays?

“We teach scramble drill different here, and I also tell them what I like during scramble drill,” Ward said. “So, we try to mix those two worlds together. We have athletes like DT, Isaiah, Linc, Kells. They’re gonna do a lot of work this season.”

In order, Ward was referencing DT Sheffield, Isaiah Hamilton, Lincoln Victor (a Union High grad) and Josh Kelly.

He even left out a starter, Kyle Williams, plus guys like Carlos Hernandez and Tsion Nunnally — all of whom figure to see the field this fall.

Which prompts the question: Do the Cougars have more receivers than they know what to do with?

As they draw closer to their season opener, Saturday at Colorado State, how do they find the snaps for all their receivers?

“Well, first of all, you never have enough of any position, especially skill guys that can make plays,” WSU head coach Jake Dickert said. “It’s a group that I think, combined, how many Pac-12 games have they played? Very little, right? So let’s see who can put (in) the work and apply it from practice to game day. Practice, execution equals game reality.”

That number of Pac-12 games is 13. Those all belong to Victor.

For the Cougars, an optimist might say Victor can use that experience to point the new guys in the right direction. A pessimist might worry about the lack of experience on the other receivers’ part.

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No matter how it’s sliced, though, it’s clear that for as talented as these guys are, they don’t bring much Power Five experience with them.

Outside of playing the games themselves, there may be no way for the Cougars to solve that problem. But they might start with identifying the right rotations.

The starters will include Victor, Sheffield, Williams and Kelly, according to the depth chart WSU released on Monday.

An “or” separates Victor, Sheffield and Hamilton. Same for Nunnally and sophomore Leyton Smithson. Hernandez is the only clear No. 2 option at his spot — and he won’t be redshirting, Dickert said, which means he’ll get some real playing time.

The Cougars feel they can get all those guys snaps, though, in part because of the pace they’ll play. They can’t rely on the same group of receivers on every snap with that tempo, so they’ll rotate in receivers every four or five plays, Dickert said.

“I think this year in the receiver room, there’s a lot of guys who are ready and willing to contribute,” Victor said. “It’s not just the four starters — it’s the two deep, it’s the three deep. You see the scout team giving the first defense a lot of work. I think that’s a testament to not only coach Edwards, but our mindset and our mentality every time we step on this field as receivers.”

Even counting first-year receivers coach Nick Edwards, Victor is the most tenured in WSU’s wideout room.

Offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle is in his first season. He’s made clear his plans to incorporate tight ends more in his offense, which means starting tight end Cooper Mathers will be out catching passes — in his first year as the starter.

“New” might be the best way to describe WSU’s passing attack this season. For the Cougars, the encouraging part is they have the talent. That might hold them over until they establish rhythm. Ward and others have sung the praises of Hernandez, a true freshmen, and Sheffield, whose quickness prompted cornerback Chau Smith-Wade to compare him to NFL speedster Tyreek Hill.

“I still feel like with me, it’s learning the offense,” Kelly said after that second scrimmage. “Trying to just understand the basics of the offense, and then trying to use my own sauce to mix it up a little bit.

“I feel like with my talents and things that I’m good at, I feel like Cam always gives me an opportunity to do that. And for me, and for our receiver group (our job) is to make him look good and make him look great.”

Whether the Cougars do so will be known soon enough. What’s clear is: They have a lot of guys to go to.