PULLMAN – As Daniel Blackledge was talking after practice Monday, cornerback Nolan Washington walked by and shared a one-word opinion of Blackledge’s day.
“Lucky,” the redshirt freshman joked.
“It takes that, too,” Blackledge responded, flashing a grin.
Maybe, but the plays Blackledge, a senior wide receiver, made in Washington State University’s second football practice of the season had little to do with luck.
A diving catch on a long pass from Marshall Lobbestael in seven-on-seven; another tough over-the-shoulder grab on a long Connor Halliday toss; and, finally, in the scrimmage portion late in practice, laying out to gather in Jeff Tuel’s slightly errant deep ball.
Big plays which just might bode well for an offense that has been bereft of them the past two years.
“We’ve got to be able to make plays,” said coach Paul Wulff. “Daniel so far seems like he’s ready to play his senior year and play well and we’re excited to watch him do that.”
That it would be Blackledge engendering such excitement might have seemed a reach for anyone who observed the then-rail-thin Blackledge as a freshman in 2007.
The Colorado Springs, Colo., product seemed timid and unsure that first year, playing mostly on special teams and catching a lone Alex Brink pass against Oregon State.
His sophomore year was an improvement – nine catches for 70 yards – and his junior year another one – 23 catches, 213 yards and a 3-yard touchdown against SMU.
One more year remains. And Blackledge wants to make the most of it.
“The past couple years I haven’t really been making a lot of downfield plays,” he said. “That’s one of the things I really want to emphasize this season is making a lot more bigger plays downfield.”
In the spring WSU’s receiving corps was paper thin, with only four scholarship receivers available. That was addressed in recruiting – five scholarships receivers were added along with a couple recruited walk-ons – leading to more depth and athleticism.
“We got a lot of reps, which helped us understand the system,” Blackledge said of the spring.
“We’re all out here really competing against one another,” Blackledge said. “When you see one guy make a play, it’s a butterfly effect, you want everybody else to make that play.”
Freshmen Marquess Wilson, Kristoff Williams and Bobby Ratliff stepped onto the practice field and quickly made their mark, being near perfect in drills and impressing with their athleticism. Tuesday, Wilson made a near-impossible diving catch of a Tuel pass that brought cheers even from the defense.
“We knew Marquess and those young freshmen have the potential to make those plays,” Wulff said. “That’s why we recruited them.”
That there were plays to make was a testament to a revamped offensive line. With Andrew Roxas taking the day off, senior Zack Williams slid from left guard to center. Wade Jacobson moved inside to guard and David Gonzales switched from right tackle to the left side, with Micah Hannam back on the right side. B.J. Guerra stayed at right guard.
The offensive success – “We strung some big plays together, five here, four there,” offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said – means the line is going to be receiving a thorough examination over the next few days.
“We’re not happy with where we are at in the offensive line,” Wulff said. “But we shouldn’t be happy right now. We’re moving guys around, we’re trying to find the best combination.
“I like what I’m seeing, even though we’re moving guys around. What it’s doing is it’s giving guys valuable experience so if we do have an injury or two … we can plug guys in and it isn’t going to be such a disaster.”