FROM LEWISTON -- In some ways, Connor Halliday thought Tuesday was the best practice he's had under coach Mike Leach. And Washington State's running game looked better than it has since ... a while ago. More details after the jump.
Halliday's statement about this being one of his best days under Leach was in response to a question about his ability to hit check-down receivers, something he struggled to do with consistency last season.
The junior quarterback said he wasn't disappointed about not hitting any big plays in the skelly session on Tuesday, because he was able to make smart reads and take what was given.
"I wouldn’t say it’s the best day I’ve ever had here, but it’s the best day I’ve had with Leach going through reads," Halliday said. "I think in skelly, I didn’t have a big play but I hit four check-downs, and that’s been the hardest thing for me. I hit big plays. The harder thing for me is to get it to the check-down, so I was happy with that."
Said Leach: "Thought he played real well. Had a really good team period. I thought he did good in 1-on-1, did good in team. On and off in skel I thought, but hung in there. Thought he did really well. He’s done a really good job leading the team."
To that end, Halliday said Leach seems to be allowing more room for him to take the reins of the offense himself.
"I think last year when we’d have a lull or the offense would make a couple mistakes, he went right to up-downing us and right to getting on us, and I think he’s given me a little bit of control of either bringing up the offense or kind of picking them up in a positive way, or picking them up with getting on some guys," Halliday said. "So I think that’s the biggest difference."
That must allow him to play looser, right?
"I wish I could disagree with that," Halliday said, "but that’s probably right."
His best pass during 11-on-11 team session -- the first full-pads scrimmage period of camp -- was a touchdown strike to Robert Lewis over the middle.
After Lewis scored, Rico Forbes sprinted to the end zone and flopped on top of the diminutive receiver.
He did the same thing one play later after Teondray Caldwell waltzed through a big hole from a few yards out and into the end zone.
Speaking of Caldwell, WSU's running game appears to be showing some promise, and Leach said some of that has to do with the offensive line progressing at a faster clip than he anticipated. Caldwell had one of the longest gains of the day after taking a handoff from Halliday, shaking a defender at the line, then blowing past safety Anthony Carpenter for a pickup of at least 50 yards. Freshman cornerback Daquawn Brown eventually brought him down.
"The running backs I thought were real decisive in hitting the hole," Leach said. "I thought our offensive line has gotten better and better, they’re playing with lower pads, we’ve got a lot of enthusiasm but I think they’ve probably improved at a little faster rate than I thought they would. They were young but also they had a really good offseason too. They’re starting to get an identity as far as a unit an things like that. Part of it has to do with we have some guys who played. Last year we really only had one or two guys that had college reps, plus the group was splintered up, a lot of new faces out there."
Said Halliday: "The biggest thing -- yeah, we had some good stats there -- but my biggest deal there was we were able to run the ball. We had two or three big runs there, so that opens up everything for me and the receivers. So as long as we can run the ball, everybody’s happy."\
--- The longest play of the day was by Vince Mayle, who was wide open when Austin Apodaca hit him in stride with a pass that resulted in an 80-plus yard touchdown. Looked like there may have been some confusion about who was supposed to be covering him.
Apodaca hit Marks for a long gain on the next play.
--- Rahmel Dockery returned to practice after spending the first four days on an exercise bike, and he broke up two passes against Gabe Marks during 1-on-1s.
--- Deone Bucannon didn't take any reps during team session, as he instead stood on the sidelines and watched. Not sure if they're just giving him some time off (he missed most of spring practice with an undisclosed injury) or if he's dinged up again. Taylor Taliulu took reps with the No. 1 defense in his place.
--- John Fullington got into a scuffle with a defensive player whose number I couldn't make out. It was brief, but it was at least the third or fourth such tussle that has delayed practice so far this camp.
Halliday was also hit a little harder than Leach would prefer when he took off on a keeper. The intensity is something the coach wants to see, but he also seems wary of letting it get out of hand.
"We’re a few days from addressing that," Leach said. "If we get too many of those, the scuffle guys will stand in the middle and watch the rest of them do up-downs and see how that goes over, and I imagine it’d get addressed."
Halliday said there have been some hits by both squads recently that may have crossed the line.
"I don’t know if I’d say too intense, but we’re not trying to get anybody hurt out here, and there were a couple…I don’t know. The offense had some questionable hits yesterday, so maybe that was a little payback," Halliday said.
--- Mayle ran a nice route past Brown for a touchdown during 1-on-1s, and Kristoff Williams made a tough catch in the corner of the end zone against Dockery.
--- Cyrus Coen had an interception off Halliday during 7-on-7s.
--- Jeremiah Laufasa caught a short pass near the goal line during team session, then lowered his shoulder into Eric Oertel and fought his way across the goal line.
--- Darryl Monroe planted Brett Bartolone pretty aggressively on a pass play, then Jeremiah Allison broke up a pass to Rickey Galvin by taking him out low.
--- Monroe gave a passionate speech after practice after the whole team gathered together in front of Leach.
--- Usually, players go through extra position drills after practice, and the quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs go through a few more passes before wrapping things up. But Leach gave everyone that time off today, primarily just to give them a break after five days of pretty intense workouts.
--- Freshman receiver River Cracraft took some reps with the No. 1 offense during team session.