April 5, 2012 in Sports

Cougars get in some scratching, clawing at practice

By The Spokesman-Review
 

PULLMAN – After Washington State scrimmaged for the first time this spring, football coach Mike Leach lamented afterward that his receivers needed to be more physical. More aggressive with their hands. Better at run blocking.

Two practices and six days later, it appears they may have listened.

“We had a great day of playing physical in the run game today,” said outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons after Thursday’s practice. “And to add on what (Leach) said, we’ve just got to finish plays. Just because the ball’s been caught and you may not have been the guy that caught the ball, that doesn’t mean the play’s over.

“I think that was one of the things he was referencing, too, is we weren’t doing a good enough job of finishing, and in order to be a receiver here, and if you want to be one that plays, you’ve got to be able to have that hunger and that desire to finish plays.”

Few could have watched Thursday’s practice and questioned whether the Cougars had any desire. During the team period, a scuffle seemed to break out every couple of plays, one of the most physical practices of the spring also turning into one of the most competitive.

That extra effort coaches have been demanding from the receivers was evident a couple of times. Senior running back Carl Winston broke a touchdown run of about 30 yards or so thanks to an effective block from receiver Kristoff Williams, and later, after linebacker Chester Su’a and offensive lineman Gunnar Eklund came to blows and had to be separated, Williams caught a slant pass against tight coverage and bulled his way to about the 5-yard line.

“They were a lot more physical today and really took it upon themselves to make a change,” quarterback Jeff Tuel said. “Really, just the competition we had out here was great for them. They started pushing guys around and really taking it to heart.”

“Today, we came out here fired up,” junior receiver Marquess Wilson said. “Our O-line started it off for us and we just fed off of their energy, and everyone started getting physical, making bigger plays and taking it out on the defense. They weren’t liking it. It was fun.”

Because it was more than just trash talk. It was violence, the kind WSU coaches have been waiting to see.

“It’s not just an emotional thing of, ‘Hey, let’s talk, let’s talk,’ jawing back and forth,” Simmons said. “It’s, ‘OK, every time I line up in front of this guy I’m going to put my hands on him and he’s going to know who I am and that I was there.’”

Wilson, the Cougars’ All-American candidate who caught 82 passes for 1,388 yards last season, is one player whom Leach would like to see use his hands a little more violently.

“He needs to be more aggressive with his hands,” Leach said. “Part of a complete player, you’ve got to block. I think he’s getting better, too. He’s got a lot of range as a receiver.”

Wilson has also been working on special-teams drills, practicing with the kick-return team Thursday while participating in a punt-block drill toward the end of practice.

And after that? Some “remedial catching” with the rest of the receivers, catching simple over-the-shoulder passes in the end zone amid mild contact from Simmons, who would pry at them with his hands as they ran past.

It’s always something.

“I thought we dropped too many balls today, to be honest with you, which is why we were doing some remedial catching out there,” Simmons said. “It’s a process. It’s not going to come overnight.”

Notes: Safety Tyree Toomer and offensive lineman Matt Goetz were limited participants, riding the exercise bikes and doing other various drills on the sidelines. They were joined by cornerback Spencer Waseem, cornerback Brandon Golden, safety Max Gama, defensive end Adam Coerper, offensive lineman Wade Jacobson and offensive lineman Joe Dahl. … Quarterback Connor Halliday did some light throwing but didn’t participate in team session. Halliday is presumably still recovering from the liver injury that ended his 2011 season. Here’s how Leach summarized his medical situation: “Any stuff on that is so closely guarded. I don’t know if you saw Harry Potter, but in the basement of this building, it’s guarded by serpents and wild dogs and things like that and you can go try to find the secret to that, but chances of survival – always a risk. Heck, it took until movie five before he got it done himself, and he had magic powers. Anyway, he’s doing just fine and we’re excited about him.” Halliday, not Potter. … The Cougars’ Saturday practice, which will likely include a scrimmage, has been moved to 1:10 p.m.

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