PULLMAN – This is what the growing pains look like.
Washington State’s first semi-scrimmage of the spring wasn’t terrible. But it was more inconsistent than any of its previous four practices, the result of players trying to process a whole lot of new material at close to full speed for the first time.
That led football coach Mike Leach to term the session “disjointed,” also adding that WSU is still ahead of where he thought it’d be in terms of learning new systems on both sides of the ball.
“Right now it’s kind of a cross between overly conscientious and turning it loose,” coach Mike Leach said. “You’ve got to be conscientious if you’re going to develop your skills, but you can’t have a clouded mind if you’re going to turn it loose, so we’re trying to hit that balance there.”
It makes sense, then, that Saturday’s practice seemed to seesaw between sharp offensive play and positive defensive play. Or maybe it was just poor defense that led to WSU’s three touchdowns, all through the air, two of them thrown by Jeff Tuel, and poor offensive execution that led to three interceptions, two of those thrown by Tuel, as well.
This early, it’s hard to tell.
“Somebody would get the upper hand, then they’d lay down,” Leach said, “then the other side would get the upper hand, then they’d lay down.”
The most consistent portion of the scrimmage – which lasted approximately 42 plays – was a six-play “drive” by the first-team offense that was capped by Tuel’s 12-yard touchdown pass to receiver Bennett Bontemps. Tuel, who completed 11 of 17 passes during the practice for 95 yards, completed 5 of 6 passes on that series alone.
But there were also some standard first-scrimmage problems, particularly some communication issues between receivers and quarterbacks.
“It’s 11-on-11 and it’s live, so guys are like, ‘I don’t want to get hit,’ or they’re kind of tentative, and there’s a lot of people out there, so they’re not really focused on what their route is,” receiver/tight end Andrei Lintz said. “… It’s a combination of things, but it all breaks down to a lack of focus, I think.”
Or, the “street ball” effect.
“One thing that happens is sometimes, they make more out of it than what it is, and then evolve into street ball rather than just your assignment and technique,” Leach said. “Then it’s just kind of a ‘run and get open’ type of deal.”
Which isn’t what they want.
“The biggest thing is the receivers and I have got to get on the same page with some stuff,” Tuel said. “Still got some kind of growing pains we’re going through, but overall, a pretty decent day.”
“We’ve got their minds clouded, there’s no question,” Leach said. “And I think we’ve done a pretty good job pulling the trigger when you consider that everybody’s installing everything for the first time. But we’re not as consistent at pulling the trigger as we need to.”
Cornerbacks Daniel Simmons and Tracy Clark each had interceptions, as did linebacker Eric Oertel, who made the most impressive defensive play of the day when he jumped a swing pass near the line of scrimmage and would have returned it for a touchdown had the play not been blown dead.
“We kind of made a comeback today,” said senior safety Tyree Toomer, who conceded that the offense won the day. “We started off slow. We weren’t getting that many turnovers in the beginning of practice but toward the end when we were scrimmaging, we got a lot of picks and turnovers.”
Backup quarterback David Gilbertson completed 5 of 8 passes for 52 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to Gino Simone.
The Cougars practiced without quarterback Connor Halliday, who hasn’t been a full participant since the first practice of the spring. Leach, who does not disclose injury information, said that Halliday was tending to a family issue, and that “he’s only been gone a couple hours, but we miss him.”
Linebacker Darryl Monroe, who surprised coaches by practicing at full speed this spring despite coming off a torn Achilles, did not participate, either. Defensive tackle Justin Clayton went down with a knee injury during the scrimmage and had to be helped off the field. He did not return.
Other players limited to conditioning drills included cornerback Nolan Washington, running back Rickey Galvin, running back Kruger Story, cornerback Spencer Waseem, cornerback Brandon Golden, safety Max Gama, cornerback Travion Smith, defensive end Adam Coerper, linebacker Curtis Selz, defensive end Darryl Paulo, offensive lineman Jake Rodgers, offensive lineman Joe Dahl, defensive end Jordan Pu’u Robinson, defensive end Hamza Griffin and defensive tackle David Davis. … The Cougars added linebacker Justin Sagote to their 2012 recruiting class. Sagote, a junior college transfer from College of San Mateo in California, will enroll in the fall and have three years to play two.