YAKIMA, Wash. — Heading into his first spring practices as Central Washington’s head coach, Chris Fisk knew there were some important questions that needed to be answered.
As Fisk prepares to open fall camp on Monday, he’s still working through many of those same concerns.
“Coming out of spring, what I learned is that we’re really young and have a lot of work to do,” the first-year coach said just days ahead of starting camp. “We’ve been addressing that all summer, providing them with the film they need to study.
“We’ll find out where we’re at on Monday.”
The Wildcats, who went 8-3 last year, including 7-1 in the GNAC, enter camp with experience and depth in many areas, most notably the defensive front seven, running back and receiver.
There are, however, two crucial areas of uncertainty.
“We’ve got to replace three starters on the offensive line and our quarterback,” Fisk said.
It’s that latter void that’s drawing the most attention, with three players battling to replace all-GNAC standout Reilly Hennessey. But Fisk, who was the team’s offensive line coach in addition to other duties last season, knows that filling those spots up front are just as important.
“The one thing I’ve learned in football is that your quarterback is only as good as your offensive line,” he said. “If the line isn’t ready to go and doesn’t have its stuff together, it could be a long season for that guy behind them.”
Although there is a lack of experience beyond returners Nicholas Strueble and Will Ortner, Fisk said he likes the potential in that group.
“We’ve got 10 guys we feel real good about,” he said. “Strueble is an all-American type of player. Ortner is an all-American type of player. After that, we’re young and we’ll need to figure out where to go.
“With the offensive line, it’s just the daily diligent grind and it usually sorts itself out.”
The other key position battle will also require time to get settled.
Sophomores Christian Moore and Canon Racanelli, and freshman Tai-John Mizutani didn't resolve anything in the spring and enter fall camp on equal footing, the coach said.
“It’s ongoing. That’s what I’d say,” Fisk said of the competition. “We came out of spring feeling that they were all even. They had an even amount of success and an even amount of failures. We went into the offseason letting them know what they needed to work on and they’ve all done that this summer.
“In your mind, you hope someone grabs the reins and takes control of the job. We’ll unveil our decision at the first game at Idaho. But if need be, we’ll rotate all year.”
Adding to the evaluation challenge is that it’s a diverse group.
“Their strengths are opposite of each other,” he said. “Some are drop-back guys and some are better runners.”
That’s led to Fisk and his staff keeping an open mind when it comes to the offense as a whole.
“With all having different sets of skills, we have to have an offensive set that we can tweek to fit,” he said. “
Central has fewer questions elsewhere on offense, with leading rusher Michael Roots anchoring a strong backfield group, and a more experienced receiving core that returns four of its top six, including tight end Sam Sanchez, who was just cleared to practice after suffering a season-ending leg injury against Western Oregon last October.
“Our running back, wide receiver and tight end positions are really strong,” Fisk said. “We’re seeing a wide receiver group that was really young last year now ready to have an exciting season this year. And all the tight end group is back.
“The running back position speaks for itself. Michael Roots is a dynamic player. He works hard and is a leader and we have some young guys coming in who can be exciting.”
Fisk is just as stoked about the defense, particularly the front seven, led by returners Billy Greer, Donte Hamilton, Trevin Gray and Max Randle. Another player to watch will be Hamilton Hunt, a transfer from Oregon State.
“The (defensive) strength comes from the front seven,” Fisk said. “The line and linebackers, like the wide receivers, were young last year but now have a lot of starts. We’re excited to see that group come into its own. It’ll be a fierce competition.”
Adding to Fisk’s confidence is that unit's experience with defensive coordinator Ivan Cordova’s system. Central went through its 2018 spring practices without a D-coordinator after the abrupt departure of Scott Power in March, with Cordova not coming on board until late May.
“Coach Cordova has had a full year and he knows every single guy very well now,” Fisk said. “The defense is a little more experienced and there’s a greater level of trust between the players and the coaches.”
With plenty of work to do in the weeks ahead of Central’s season opener Sept. 7 at Idaho, Fisk is really certain of just one thing — he can’t wait to get started.
“As I’ve come up through the ranks, I’ve had such great mentors. That’s given me the experience I need to succeed in this position," he said. "Any time you get a chance to put your spin on things, to put your money where your mouth is, it’s exciting.
“Like being a player, I get a chance to go and compete. I'm excited for this opportunity. ... I'm excited to get started.”