Mitch Peterson did a yeoman's job against Rutgers in place of starting Sam linebacker Cyrus Coen. He didn't shy away from the moment and collected 16 tackles against a power team that tested him time and again.
Still, you'd rather have your starter in there, which is why Coen's return to contact on Monday was such a welcome sight for the Cougars.
“He's really improved over the last year,” said coach Mike Leach when asked about Coen. “He's always kind of a tough, hard-nosed guy but he's had a great camp, had a great camp. The biggest place he improved is he's gotten to a place where he plays pass coverage really well.”
Our report from Monday's practice is after the jump.
Coen may have been back at practice but there was a new guy sitting out, River Cracraft, who was in his jersey and street clothes. Cracraft practiced on Saturday and didn't appear to be shaken up at all during the game.
Also limited during practice were Cody O'Connell, Nate DeRider, Drew Springfield and Nick Begg. Jeff Farrar began practice in a yellow “limited” jersey but shed it during drills. David Bucannon was not limited.
The Cougars practiced for nearly three hours on Monday and got a lot of physical work done. The offensive and defensive lines did a gauntlet drill in which a defensive lineman would have strike and drive back an offensive lineman, then another five yards back, then another.
The linebackers did a similar gauntlet drill where one linebacker would have to get past three linebackers in succession, each of whom was allowed to hold to prevent their teammate from advancing.
Darryl Monroe was the best at this drill, at one point blowing Peterson back into some water jugs.
The linebackers also did a drill in which one player would stand up a ball carrier while another defender stripped the ball.
We got our first look at the new defensive starters, as prophesied in the depth chart released earlier today. Charleston White and Darius Lemora did indeed run with the first string.
The coaches said that Caldwell played pretty well against Rutgers, but that they really like what Lemora brings to the table.
“He's always been a big hitter and then the better he does lining up, he's always been extremely physical, probably the most physical (defensive back),” Leach said. “And just as he's refined his skills he's gotten better and better.”
We also saw Coen back and running with the ones and he ran very well, making a couple tackles, forcing a fumble by Keith Harrington, and tipping one pass.
From a viewer's perspective, the highlight of the day had to be watching Gabe Marks play scout team quarterback. The Cougars are determined to get as much use out of last year's leading receiver as possible while they wait to see if he will redshirt.
Today, that meant simulating Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo, who is a threat to run as well as pass. Marks looked part Colin Kaepernick, part Blaine Gabbert on the day, and it would be fun to see what he could do with more time at the position.
He has a very strong arm for a receiver and nearly completed a perfect 40-yard pass to Daniel Lilienthal, who would have made the catch if not for some interference by Taylor Taliulu. He also had a nice pass to Squally Canada who found some room behind the defense.
Marks was most exciting when he ran the ball, however, and he had some successes early on option plays. On one play he ran to the right sideline, cut back and outran the defense to the left sideline before cutting upfield.
The defense soon adjusted however and Marks' runs started to end in tackles for loss.
The lowpoint for Gabe came when he tried a short pass through the middle of the field and was intercepted by nose tackle Robert Barber. It was a good day for nose tackles in “pass coverage.” Toni Pole had one off Connor Ennis on a similar play.
On the opposite field Connor Halliday threw lots of passes to the starting receivers, who made lots of catches.