FROM LEWISTON -- It was a bit of a lighter day for Washington State on Thursday, because the Cougars weren't in full pads and only practiced until about 4:40 or so. But there was still some spirited action, which we detail below.
As coach Mike Leach noted afterward, it's pretty rare for his teams to wear full pads at any point during the season, so it's not all that surprising that players were in just helmets and shoulder pads (and shorts, and cleats, and likely socks) on Thursday. He said he thinks they'll probably wear pads again before Sunday's scrimmage, though he wasn't sure.
Anyway, this seemed to be a bounceback day for the offense, as it won the 1-on-1 period by a score of 19-9, and then took 7-on7s with a 6-4 score. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske got on the defensive backs a little bit, imploring them to apply tighter coverage after being beaten several times.
The defense was a little more active during 11-on-11 team session. Leach said they were applying quite a bit of pressure, which forced quarterbacks Connor Halliday and Austin Apodaca to either check into different plays pre-snap, or settle for short passes to check-down receivers in order to get the ball off.
"Sometimes that’s just what you’ve got to do," Leach said, "so some of it was reacting to it, others was reading and working down to it."
The 11-on-11 period came down to the final play, with the ball spotted inside the 10-yard line. All of the defensive players on the sideline ran into the back of the endzone and proceeded to make noise while the offensive players standing behind the play tried to match their volume.
And with up-downs on the line and everybody waiting in eager anticipation to see who would get the upper hand ... the snap was botched, the play was blown up and the defense won. One up-down for every offensive player, plus a few extra for center Zach Brevick.
"I thought about reloading it for the sake of the play," Leach said, "but the defense won the play so I didn’t want to take that away from them. The biggest thing that’s a shame is we didn’t put it in play, regardless of who came out on top."
--- It's official: Isaac Dotson is a safety. There was some question yesterday about whether Dotson would be moving to safety or linebacker, but the former quarterback will indeed play safety this season.
"Today, as you saw, were some of his first reps," defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. "So we kind of threw him into the fire and he’s had exactly two meetings and we’re getting him coached up. But he’s a smart kid. He’s Football-101 savvy and he’ll get along and he’s excited. He brings a lot of athleticism which I saw at the quarterback position in high school. We’ve just got to translate it now to the dark side."
Breske said there's a possibility Dotson could be tried as an outside linebacker in the future, depending on how he develops physically. But he's a safety for the foreseeable future.
"We want to get with his comfort zone and that type of deal," Breske said. "Down the road, two years from now or three years with his growth that we’ll see, he might turn into an outside linebacker. But this year he’ll be a safety.
"I like his size, his athleticism. He’s got good speed and he’s got good smarts. He’s a physical player, we’ve seen him in tackle circuit. He just needs to work his techniques. Quarterback is a set of these techniques, and the DB is totally different, so we’ve just got to get him going the other direction."
We'll have more on Dotson in Friday's newspaper.
--- I asked Leach about a comment made by Connor Halliday the other day in which he said it seemed like the coach is relinquishing more control over the offense during practice from a leadership standpoint.
Leach said that's true.
"The best way is to get (leadership) from players, because players are around each other all the time, they live with each other, they spend time with each other, so off the field you can really magnify that," Leach said. "Players have stepped up and players handle a lot of things. There’s a lot less things to handle this year than last year because our players have taken responsiblilty for themselves and others."
What are some of the things being handled now by players?
"Just tempo stuff," Leach said. "They’ll pick themselves up, or somebody will step up and (say) 'let’s pick this up,' or huddle everybody up and get their attention so it’s not constantly coaches getting their attention. In the end that’s a little bit more powerful for the reasons I said before, but then also out there on the field in a game you’re on the sideline. They’re out there. You can do it in a timeout here or there, but between plays you need it to be the players."
--- Junior linebacker Chester Su'a, who has been absent from practice, was in attendance on Thursday. He wore street clothes and said hello to coaches and players. As we previously noted, Su'a's absence from practice isn't related to academics, and his presence at Thursday's practice obviously suggests he's in good standing with the team. So it's possible his absence may be injury-related. But obviously, there's nothing official on that.
--- Deone Bucannon was back in the mix during team session and participated in all the drills after getting some rest the past couple days. Breske said that's all it was -- just an opportunity to rest him.
--- Limited players: RB Theron West, WR Tyler Baker, S Paris Taylor (left knee brace), S Bennett Bontemps (walking boot), LB Feddie Davey, DB Michael Fields and LB Austin Rapp.
--- Lots of different players got snaps during team session. Alex Jackson and Daquawn Brown played together some at CB on the No. 2 defense. Freshman LB Peyton Pelluer saw some reps, and freshman OL Riley Sorenson again saw some time at left tackle with the No. 2 offensive line (Devonte McClain continues to get the bulk of the snaps at that spot with the second team). Freshman walk-on receiver John Thompson, who had a strong practice on Wednesday, again had a few catches during team session.