Big hits, intensity rule Day 4 of WSU camp

COUGARS

FROM LEWISTON — Yes, there were a handful of big hits and big plays exchanged by Washington State's offense and defense during Monday's practice. But the most noticeable of those hits may have come from the smallest player on the roster. Details follow.


Robert Lewis is listed at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds. And that's after he delayed his enrollment in order to bulk up from the 140 or so he weighed in high school.

So it was with great celebration — and some surprise, to be sure — that WSU's offensive players watched as Lewis planted his shoulder in the middle of Jared Byers' chest during 11-on-11 team session on Monday, knocking Byers to the ground as Lewis' teammates erupted on the sidelines.

(Byers, by the way, is listed at 6-foot and 218 pounds.)

It was a strong blocking day for Lewis even before that big hit. During WSU's “inside” drill, Lewis was twice praised by coaches after successfully sealing off the defender he was assigned to block. And during team session he caught a pass over the middle, then bounced off shoulders from Deone Bucannon and Casey Locker while maintaining his balance.

The message sent by those efforts is clear, coach Mike Leach said, and it's something he wishes everybody understood.

“He’s 150 pounds and blocks pretty well, which illustrates the point that position’s more important than size and strength,” Leach said. “He’s good with his feet, he’s good at understanding space, and he’s a pretty good example to a lot of guys – a lot of those guys are like, ‘well this guy’s bigger than me,’ this, that and the other thing. Well, everybody’s bigger than him, so he does a good job.”

– Lewis' hit was the defining moment of a practice that was more intense than any of the three that preceded it. At one point, Xavier Cooper and Gabe Marks engaged in a pretty heated verbal altercation, and earlier in practice, Destiny Vaeao was involved in a scrum that had to be broken up so the next rep could be taken.

Leach said that all points to one thing — that WSU's reps are becoming more meaningful, which is good. But they need to learn to keep cooler heads, too.

“.You need that level of intensity where it’s really meaningful to make a play,” Leach said. “The next step beyond that is to increase the intensity, but control your emotions. We’ve got to take that next step. We can’t diminish any of the intensity, but we have to take the next step of doing it in control so we don’t squander the next play.”

Even the soft-spoken Justin Sagote had something to say on Monday. He planted Marcus Mason in the backfield on a rushing play, then stood up and yelled things at him.

The offense wound up winning the team-session, which meant up-downs for the defense at the end. The turning point was a long touchdown pass from Austin Apodaca to Isiah Myers, who is quietly putting together a solid camp. He also caught a one-handed touchdown pass during 1-on-1 drills against Alex Jackson, and another against Jackson in 7-on-7s, too.

– Daquawn Brown had two nice breakups against Vince Mayle during 1-on-1s — he was also beaten by Myers on a pass that wound up being overthrown — and again spent the day working with the No. 2 defense. More on that in Tuesday's newspaper.

– Anthony Carpenter is working with the safeties for now due to some nicks and bruises here and there. Darius Lemora, a freshman safety, wasn't seen at practice Monday after spending the past few days riding an exercise bike. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske said Carpenter's versatility is important in these kind of situations.

– The special-teams portion of practice obviously didn't go the way coach Eric Russell wanted, because at one point he threw his hat to the ground in frustration — that was during a punt-return blocking drill — and later gathered the entire group to remind them of the importance of special teams.

– One potential trouble-spot has emerged in terms of the facilities: the track that surrounds the main football field is not particularly friendly to those wearing football cleats. Brett Bartolone caught a pass that carried him out of bounds, then skated across the track before falling on his rear. He was fine.

– Leach was asked by a reporter about Deone Bucannon's “guns” (his large arms) and whether he's seen a defensive back gain that much muscle in one offseason. 

Said Leach: “I don’t look at them maybe as often as you do.”

– Matt Meyer, Chester Su'a and Paulo Lepua were again absent. Breske said he has “no idea” on a timetable for Lepua's arrival.

– Tyler Baker, Paris Taylor and Rahmel Dockery remained on exercise bikes. Moritz Christ and Feddie Davey joined later in practice.

That's all for now. Until tomorrow …

Christian Caple can be reached at christianc@spokesman.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple

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