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Sat., April 6, 2013, 7:18 p.m.

Crutches join Cougs on Day 8

(Apologies for the poor sound quality on the Marks video. The wind was killer. But you can hear at least a couple of his answers.)


FROM PULLMAN -- Well, we lied. There was no scrimmage today, for reasons Mike Leach discussed afterward. There is plenty to report, however, so continue reading.


The original plan was for WSU to hold its first scrimmage of the fall this afternoon, but those plans were scrapped and it was just a regular practice instead. 

Afterward, Leach was asked why. This is what he said:

"We got pretty good work. We had the coaches clinic and a certain number of them wanted to see the drills and things of that nature," Leach said. "(It) also kind of fit our schedule because we’d hit earlier in the week so we were able to take care of things during our team period. It was kind of sudden and then also if Austin (Apodaca) was here then we would have had another arm out there, but it worked out good anyway."

Apodaca, by the way, wasn't at practice. Leach gave his typical non-answer answer when asked about it afterward, but Connor Halliday later volunteered that Apodaca was running a high fever and having trouble, um, keeping food down (somehow, those comments from Halliday didn't find their way into the video interview you see above).

... The Cougars have also run into some injury problems that have depleted their numbers, especially on the defensive line. Toni Pole and Ioane Gauta are both on crutches with large braces on their right legs. Gauta's injury must have occurred during Tuesday's practice, because he wasn't present on Thursday. Pole's injury happened during team session on Thursday. Remember, also, that Destiny Vaeao and Robert Barber have both been without pads recently due to injury, along with Logan Mayes. And Justin Sagote didn't wear pads today either after injuring his shoulder during Thursday's practice. Chester Su'a remains a non-participant for undisclosed reasons, and Deone Bucannon's apparent injury kept him out of contact drills again on Saturday. So, yeah, there are some guys sitting out on that side of the ball.

But all those guys being out does have its bright side. For example, Darryl Paulo is starting to stand out as someone who coud really help WSU's depth up front. It was Paulo who slid into the nose tackle position with the No. 1 defensive unit alongside Xavier Cooper and Matthew Bock on Saturday, the third position he's been placed at this spring (the first two were buck linebacker and defensive end).

The versatility has suited him well, said defensive coordinator Mike Breske.

"He’s done a remarkable job learning our pressures, where to go, that type of deal," Breske said. "He’s going to be a great swing guy for us. He’s going to give us a lot of depth up front and be able to play some different positions for us."

Paulo said he likes the immediate contact he gets playing nose tackle, and Mike Leach later praised his physical nature.

"I thought Paulo played really good because he hadn’t played nose, and he did a real good job bouncing around," Leach said. "He’s been a real strong, pjysical guy lately. He’s a real good player if he moves his feet. He’s a big strong guy who will hit something and stop his feet. If he moves his feet he’s pretty explosive."

Austin Brown and Moritz Christ also saw the field for some reps during team session.

... With Apodaca absent, Halliday took every rep during 7-on-7 drills, 1-on-1 drills and team session. Early in practice, Leach runs a drill in which five different quarterbacks are each throwing a pass to a different receiver running a different route. Halliday and Jesse Brown were the only actual quarterbacks available for the drill, so three student managers filled in and threw passes.

"It’s kind of take your positive with the negatives," Halliday said of throwing so many passes. "My arm’s hanging from throwing so many balls. It is nice to get in a rhythm and take every snap."

He had a pretty solid day overall -- especially considering how hard the wind was blowing -- though there were ups and downs. Casey Locker intercepted one of his passes after it was tipped by Darryl Monroe, who celebrated with many leaps and dance moves. 

Halliday answered back later by connecting with Teondray Caldwell on a pass out of the backfield for a touchdown. Nobody covered Caldwell and he essentially walked in.

... Nolan Washington has steadily put together a pretty decent spring, and he showed up again Saturday by making a big hit on Marcus Mason immediately after he caught a short pass.

... Gabe Marks went high to catch a pass over the middle with a cornerback hanging on him, while also absorbing a hit from the safety over the top (couldn't tell if it was Locker or Taylor Taliulu, because I was watching Marks). But the safety just bounced off, and Marks sprinted the rest of the way for what was probably the day's most impressive touchdown.

Marks also made a nice catch over Rahmel Dockery for a touchdown pass thrown over the middle a little later.

And immedately afterward, Halliday hit Kristoff Williams on a nice route in which Williams ran his route and sat right in the middle of the defense, creating a hole for Halliday to thread easily.

... The most surprising play of the day was Halliday's rushing touchdown toward the end of practice. The offense ran a zone-read option, which almost always results in a handoff to the running back. Knowing that, Halliday said, buck linebacker Ivan McLennan always cheats and focuses his attention on the back. So Halliday said he decided to just pull the ball back out and keep it, and he strolled into the end zone. Then he spiked the ball in celebration.

"Coach Leach usually doesn’t let us pull the ball on that read option stuff, but No. 3, Ivan (McLennan) never respected it at all, is always chasing the running back, so I just took it upon myself to do that," Halliday said. "With a defense just not respecting it, I knew I was just going to be able to walk in."

Halliday threw one more touchdown pass to Kristoff Williams before the defense struck back. Caldwell took a carry near the goal line but was hit hard and fumbled the ball. Several players chased after it before Logan Mayes, spectating while leaning on a crutch, dove on the ground and grabbed the ball, much to the delight of his defensive teammates (though probably not to the training staff).

Damante Horton then claimed another victory for the defense by swatting away a pass to Marks on a slant route.

... Denzell Dotson didn't wear pads and was limited due to an apparent right hand injury. He's wearing a soft wrap on the hand. In his place, Niu Sale spent the day at right guard with the No. 2 offensive line. ... Tana Pritchard got the No. 1 reps at WILL linebacker with Sagote out, though Jared Byers is also getting a little work there. ... Mike Bowlin and Brett Bartolone each took some reps as the holder during field-goal practice in the early going. ... OL Jake Rodgers, OL Brent Anderson, S Feddie Davey and CB Alex Jackson are all still limited. WR Mansel Simmons was not in attendance.

Christian Caple can be reached at Twitter: @ChristianCaple

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