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Roc Bellantoni, Washington State linebackers still getting familiar with one another

UPDATED: Tue., April 2, 2019, 10:37 p.m.

Washington State inside linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni oversees a drill during Cougars spring practice at Rogers Field. WSU hired Bellantoni to replace Ken Wilson this offseason. (Washington State/Courtesy)
Washington State inside linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni oversees a drill during Cougars spring practice at Rogers Field. WSU hired Bellantoni to replace Ken Wilson this offseason. (Washington State/Courtesy)

PULLLMAN – There haven’t been many scoldings from Washington State’s newest position coach just yet.

Maybe because Roc Bellantoni hasn’t found much to scold. Maybe because he’s still getting the lay of the land.

After all, every relationship – even the one between player and position coach – has its honeymoon phase.

“I think we’re still in the honeymoon phase, for the most part,” redshirt junior Justus Rogers said Tuesday after WSU’s sixth spring practice. “There’s nothing negative I can say. He’s a great guy. He’s funny, too. We’re starting to see he cracks jokes every now and then, but he knows his stuff and he really wants every player in that meeting room to get better every day.”

Not since 2013 have the inside linebackers at WSU been under different leadership. Ken Wilson was by Mike Leach’s side for six seasons, from 2013-18, until the longest-tenured assistant in Pullman accepted the same position at Oregon this offseason.

Bellantoni was hired in February, with not much time to get a feel for the scheme he’d been coaching, or the players he’d be coaching it to. Fortunately, his experience – 26 years in college football at places like Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Villanova – can mitigate the learning curve to some extent. Bellantoni assured the players he’s inherited they’ve done their part, too.

“The people have been great. The coaches have been awesome,” he said. “The players work hard – they’re hungry to learn; they pay attention in meetings; they ask questions; they text me after meetings; they’re watching film on their own. So it’s been great so far.”

Where Bellantoni is still adjusting is learning the Cougars’ verbiage. The concepts and schemes themselves aren’t too challenging, but as someone who’s been at this nearly three decades, Bellantoni has heard the same blitz package or coverage scheme called multiple things.

“Only getting here a couple weeks before spring ball starts, you don’t have a whole lot of time to figure things out, so it’s marrying this term with that term from wherever I’ve been,” he said. “Getting it all straight in my head, then you’re coming out here and the terms flying around and the tempo’s going. That’s been the hardest part is just the terminology.”

Bellantoni inherits a peculiar position group. The Cougars lose the most experienced player in program history, Peyton Pelluer, but return three redshirt juniors who’ve combined to play in 77 of 78 possible games their first two seasons in Pullman.

Jahad Woods is expected to retain his role as the team’s starting “Will” linebacker after earning all-conference honors as a redshirt sophomore. He’s expected to replace Pelluer as the group’s vocal leader, though Bellantoni said that’s still a work in progress.

“I’d like him to be more vocal,” the coach said. “He’s the guy that’s played the most and I don’t know what he’s been like in the past, but I would like him to step up a little bit in terms of opening his mouth and making sure guys are on their Ps and Qs and doing their thing. But that’s a group thing.”

Rogers and the group’s third redshirt junior, Dillon Sherman, will duel for the starting “Mike” linebacker role. Both are encouraged to treat every practice like “a tryout,” according to Rogers, and a frontrunner hasn’t emerged up to this point.

“We’ve still got a long way to go,” Bellantoni said. “What is it, six practices? So we’ve still got 37 practice before we play a game. It’s pretty equal.”

Gubrud makes progress

Gage Gubrud appears to be rehabbing well from the foot injury that some thought would keep the Eastern Washington graduate transfer quarterback out of spring camp for its entirety.

It appears that won’t be the case.

Tuesday was the first day Gubrud didn’t wear a boot on his left leg, and the quarterback participated in some of the team’s early throwing drills.

Leach said Gubrud looked “sharp” as a limited participant.

“He’s a sharp guy,” Leach said. “Looks pretty good, but we’re excited to see what unfolds as time goes on.”

Redshirt seniors Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon, along with redshirt freshman Cammon Cooper, split up the repetitions during skeleton and team periods.

Pro Day on the horizon

A few of the 15 Cougars who’ll be participating in Pro Day workouts in Pullman Wednesday were on hand for practice.

Quarterback Gardner Minshew and offensive tackle Andre Dillard showed up at the start and stayed until the end. Nickel Hunter Dale made a cameo midway through the afternoon session.

Leach offered his thoughts on Pro Day at the end of practice.

“It’s an important step, but really it’s a starting point,” Leach said.

Here’s the full list of former Cougars who’ll be working out in front of NFL scouts Wednesday: Minshew (QB), Dillard (OL), Dale (DB), James Williams (RB), Peyton Pelluer (LB) Logan Tago (DL), Kyle Celli (LS), Kyle Sweet (WR), Robert Lewis (WR), Sean Harper Jr. (DB), Keith Harrington (RB), Darrien Molton (DB), Chima Onyeukwu (LB), Jamal Morrow (RB), Robert Taylor (DB).

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