What does one day of practice do for college football coaches? It gives them film. And by breaking down the film of practice they learn what needs to be taught on the second day. Such was the case today at Washington State. The coaches saw some things on the first day's film they didn't like, so the second day was spent correcting them. And working on other things. To find out just what, and to read our unedited story, click the link and read on.
• "To be able to teach off film from the first day," WSU coach Paul Wulff said, "there is so many things you can go in and correct off the video. That's what we were able to do. Players came out here and corrected a lot of those things." Just what did WSU correct on its second day of practice? "No. 1 on defense, just the ability to have everyone run to the football, finish all their plays," Wulff said. "I thought that was much improved with our defense. Offensively, catching the ball and making a few plays. And just operating at a crisper tempo. All those things were a step better today." The offense fulfilled their part of the bargain for the most part – see our story below for more on that – while the defense was "encouraged" all practice to finish plays. ... Much of that encouragement came during a defensive drill that requires all 11 guys to chase a rabbit. Well, a fast freshman defender like, say, Wenatchee's Jacob Sealby, in the rabbit's role. That rabbit will run down either the left or right sideline and the entire defense sprints to try to touch him. Yes, even 300-pound defensive tackles from the opposite side are expected to give it a shot. Do it right, give it total effort and you get to step off, replaced by another unit. One guy slacks off and the whole group might do it again. Elmer Fudd would have never gotten off the field. ...
• Senior Nico Grasu returns for his final year after a 6-for-10 junior season on field goals and a 12-for-14 effort on extra points. But he's not a lock to be the starting kicker. Walk-ons Andrew Furney and Jacob Miller – from Central Valley High – are pushing Grasu. Furney, at 5-foot-10 and 217-pounds, possess a strong leg that so far has proved to be pretty accurate. Grasu has improved his accuracy as well, and it showed Monday. Only Furney missed an attempt on the main field during team drills when the snap and hold were good. ... Of course there is one field goal Grasu kicked that no Cougar fan will ever forget, the 37-yarder in double overtime to beat UW two years ago. ... It's not really an injury list just yet, but the number of players held out of some practice drills for precautionary reasons grew. Tyson Pencer, who suffered a couple bouts of strep throat over the summer, did not suit up Monday and may not be back until later in the week. Alex Hoffman-Ellis (back), Daniel Simmons (hamstring), Aaron Gehring (hamstring) and Justin Clayton (patella tendon) were either limited or didn't go. Andrew Roxas also didn't participate in team scrimmages but did drills. ... Louis Bland wandered out to practice, still limping from his left knee surgery. The junior linebacker underwent what's called an OATS procedure on his knee, in which fresh cartilage is transplanted to replace any worn out through use. Bland also had his posterior cruciate ligament repaired. He said he still needs more range of motion and muscle strength before he will be able to get back on the field.
• Here is the unedited version of our story that will appear in tomorrow's S-R ...
PULLMAN – As Daniel Blackledge was talking after practice Monday, cornerback Nolan Washington walked by and shared a one-word opinion of Blackledge's day.
"Lucky," the redshirt freshman joked.
"It takes that too," Blackledge responded, flashing a grin.
Maybe, but the plays Blackledge, a senior wide receiver, made in Washington State University's second football practice of the season had little to do with luck.
A diving catch on a long pass from Marshall Lobbestael in seven-on-seven. Another tough over-the-shoulder grab on a long Connor Halliday toss. And, finally, in the scrimmage portion late in practice, laying out to gather in Jeff Tuel's slightly errant deep ball.
Big plays which just might bode well for an offense that has been bereft of them the past two years.
"We've got to be able to make plays," said coach Paul Wulff. "Daniel so for seems like he's ready to play his senior year and play well and we're excited to watch him do that."
That it would be Blackledge engendering such excitement might have seemed a reach for anyone who observed the then-rail-thin Blackledge as a freshman in 2007.
The Colorado Springs product seemed timid and unsure that first year, playing mostly on special teams and catching a lone Alex Brink pass against Oregon State.
His sophomore year was an improvement – nine catches for 70 yards – and his junior year another one – 23 catches, 213 yards and a 3-yard touchdown against SMU.
One more year remains. And Blackledge wants to make the most of it.
"The past couple years I haven't really been making a lot of downfield plays," he said. "That's one of the things I really want to emphasize this season is making a lot more bigger plays downfield."
In the spring WSU's receiving corps was paper thin, with only four scholarship receivers available. That was addressed in recruiting – five scholarships receivers were added along with a couple recruited walk-ons – leading to more depth and athleticism.
"We got a lot of reps, with helped us understand the system," Blackledge said of the spring.
"We're all out here really competing against one another," Blackledge said. "When you see one guy make a play, it's a butterfly effect, you want everybody else to make that play."
Freshmen Marquess Wilson, Kristoff Williams and Bobby Ratliff stepped onto the practice field and quickly made their mark, being near perfect in drills and impressing with their athleticism. Tuesday, Wilson made a near-impossible diving catch of a Tuel pass that brought cheers even from the defense.
"We knew Marquess and those young freshmen have the potential to make those plays," Wulff said. "That's why we recruited them."
That there were plays to make was a testament to a revamped offensive line. With Andrew Roxas taking the day off, senior Zack Williams slid over from left guard to center. Wade Jacobson moved inside to guard and David Gonzales switched from right tackle to the left side, with Micah Hannam back on the right side. B.J. Guerra stayed at right guard.
The offensive success – "We strung some big plays together, five here, four there," offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said – means the group is going to be giving a thorough look over the next few days.
"We're not happy with where we are at in the offensive line," Wulff said. "But we shouldn't be happy right now. We're moving guys around, we're trying to find the best combination.
"I like what I'm seeing, even though we're moving guys around. What it's doing is it's giving guys valuable experience so if we do have an injury or two ... we can plug guys in and it isn't going to be such a disaster."
• That's all for now. As usual, we'll be back in the morning with more ...