Washington State primed for start of spring camp

Mar. 21—While much of the sports world is immersed in the heroics and heartbreaks of March Madness basketball, or tuning in to early season baseball excitement, there's another sport ready to quietly take the practice field.

Spring football practice returns today for Washington State, the second spring camp under WSU coach Jake Dickert.

WSU will hold 15 practice sessions with the spring slate culminating in the Crimson and Gray Game at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 22 at Gesa Field. The team will also have two scrimmages April 1 and April 15.

WSU returns 41 letterwinners from last season's team that finished 7-6 and made an appearance in the LA Bowl.

Here are three things to know heading into the spring:

Focus Finish

It's no secret the Cougars struggled in the second half of games late in the 2022 season.

WSU was outscored 49-0 in the fourth quarter across its final four games, including an Apple Cup loss to Washington and its bowl loss to Fresno State.

So Dickert is implementing what he calls a "Focus Finish" session for the final five minutes of every practice. The sessions will include competitive, non-scripted 1-on-1 drills with an emphasis on finishing strong.

"(It's) just with an emphasis on no matter what happened previously in that practice, good bad or indifferent, whatever it is, we need to be right here right now to finish that last five minutes," Dickert said.

"In our last four games, it was Cougs 0, everybody else 49," the coach continued. "And that's a number that our guys know and understand, and we're excited about working on our finish 'cause I thought we did a great job on that first half and we need to nail down and stay aggressive and finish games."

"More athletic" at wideout

One position group that will be the most intriguing through spring and fall camps is wide receiver.

The Cougars lost their top three targets from last season — De'Zhaun Stribling and Donovan Ollie to the transfer portal and Robert Ferrel to graduation.

That means a host of newcomers will have a chance to compete for starting jobs with returners like sophomore Orion Peters, sophomore Leyton Smithson and senior Lincoln Victor.

And Dickert is excited about their potential.

Some newcomers to keep an eye on are Fresno State transfer Josh Kelly, UNLV transfer Kyle Williams, junior college transfer DT Sheffield and early prep-enrollee Carlos Hernandez.

It's a crowded position group that could take some time to sort out.

"We feel like we're more athletic at wide receiver," Dickert said. "Josh Kelly has had an amazing eight weeks. Really excited to see him get out there. Kyle Williams and his ability to stretch the field, DT Sheffield in the slot, Carlos Hernandez (is) an early enrollee. There's a litany of guys at wide receiver 'cause I think it's going to be one of our most competitive positions."

Arbuckle and Ward settling in

This spring marks the first time WSU quarterback Cam Ward will be with a new offensive coordinator.

Ward followed former coordinator Eric Morris from Incarnate Word in Texas to Pullman last year before Morris departed to be the new head coach at North Texas in December.

Now Ward, a junior, is learning from fresh coordinator Ben Arbuckle, a 27-year-old upstart and former co-offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky. Arbuckle's Hilltoppers had the nation's second-best passing offense at 352.2 yards per game last season.

"What I love about coach Arbuckle, he sets the standard of expectation and he's out there to challenge Cam each and every day from the meeting room to the field to watching film," Dickert said. "I think it's an important relationship that's still growing."

Dickert said Cam and Arbuckle are currently working on the little things, like improved mechanics.

"What I love about Cam is he's going through a lot of new things," Dickert said. "New footwork, some new ways of making his feet and arm are in sync, some new progressions, and I think he's taking everything head on.

"I think he knows the vision of where he wants to be and how these little changes and increments are going to help him in his future and, more importantly, create success for this season."

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, or on Twitter @StephanSports.