With plenty of changes elsewhere throughout the roster, the Cougars need linebacker Peyton Pelluer to bounce back from injury
A new era begins for Washington State. After watching Luke Falk tear up opposing defenses for the last three seasons, the Cougars will try to stay competitive in the Pac-12 North while replacing several key playmakers on both sides of the ball.
The Falk era ended with a thud. Washington State won its first six games and eventually racked up nine wins overall last season. But the Cougars ended the season with lopsided losses to Washington in the Apple Cup and Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl.
Expectations will be low for Washington State coming into 2018. If a few players can emerge in spring, it could put the Cougars in a position to defy these expectations in the fall and help head coach Mike Leach record a fourth straight winning season.
Here are a few Washington State players to keep an eye on when spring practices get underway:
Cammon Cooper, QB
Quarterback is an obvious hole to fill on the roster with the graduation of Falk and the tragic suicide of Tyler Hilinski. Cooper has the tools to seize the job right away in the spring. At 6-foot-4, he has great size for a quarterback and his decision-making abilities are what you want from someone who runs the Air Raid offense.
Cooper first came on Washington State's radar while rewriting the high school record books in Utah. He set single-season state records for passing yards (4,726), completions (331) and touchdown passes (58) as a senior at Lehi High School. Cooper eventually led his school to its first Class 5A state title in his final season.
Peyton Pelluer, LB
The Cougars had some welcome news in January when the NCAA granted Pelluer a sixth year of eligibility. Pelluer applied for a medical redshirt after missing the final 10 games of the 2017 season with a foot injury. If he can regain his form from before his injury, Pelluer will give Washington State the sort of dynamic senior leader and playmaker it needs going into this fall.
Pelluer has made 34 career starts for the Cougars over four seasons and is a two-time All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection. During that time, he has tallied 254 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions. His instincts and hard hitting make him a valuable component in the heart of the defense.
Renard Bell, WR
Both of Washington State's top two receivers from 2017 left the program at season's end. It opens the door for Bell, the No. 3 receiver, to take a step forward going into his sophomore campaign. His debut season showed that Bell can be a valuable weapon with his speed and shiftiness.
Bell exploded onto the scene as a redshirt freshman. He made 10 starts and totaled 538 yards and three touchdowns on 40 receptions. Bell averaged a team-best 13.45 yards per catch and tallied three 100-yard receiving games last fall. He was responsible for the three longest plays from scrimmage in 2017. Bell also made an impact on special teams where he tallied 192 yards on 11 kickoff returns.
Jalen Thompson, DB
A back injury plagued Thompson during his freshman season, even while he started 13 games. Armed with better health last year, the junior took a major leap forward. Thompson left his fingerprints all over the defensive backfield with his speed and penchant for being drawn to the ball like a magnet. His instincts and coverage skills make him able to play safety or nickel back.
Thompson led Washington State in several categories as a sophomore. He finished the season with the most tackles (73), interceptions (4) and fumble recoveries (3) on the team. Thompson was the co-leader in the Pac-12 in fumble recoveries and tied for third in interceptions. It's safe to assume he can make an even bigger impact in 2018.
Rodrick Fisher, WR
Cammon Cooper isn't the only high-profile freshman from the 2018 signing class who can make an immediate splash this season. Fisher is exactly the sort of receiver who makes the Air Raid offense so dangerous and so tough to defend. The 6-foot-2 newcomer brings speed and more speed to the field and can give the Cougars a true downfield threat.
Fisher won state track titles in both the 100 and 200 meters as a junior at East Valley High School in Spokane, Washington, and also broke the school record in the 100 with a time of 10.43 seconds. His length makes him an ideal fit on the outside where he can be a regular threat to break loose for chunk plays. Fisher caught 49 passes for 805 yards and seven touchdowns in nine games as a senior.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo courtesy of @wsucougfb)