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Josiah Westbrook of Bellingham's Squalicum High will play for Washington State, reports Cougfan.com. He is the second instate player to commit to WSU in less than a week, following Federal Way's D'jimon Jones last Thursday. Last season the Cougars did not sign any instate recruits.
Westbrook, a 6-foot-2, 177-pound receiver, is a two-star player according to Scout.com. He reportedly also has a scholarship offer from Hawaii. He is also apparently quite the basketball player. A three-sport athlete, Westbrook ran an electronically timed 100-meter dash in 11.05 seconds during the 2015 outdoor track season.
But football is how Westbrook will pay for college and you can see highlights of his gridiron exploits below.
Washington State's Sept. 12 game at Rutgers will kickoff at 12:30 p.m. (PT) and be televised on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.
Friday's announcement means that game times have been set for four WSU games, with the rest to be announced either six or 12 days prior to kickoff.
Here is the release from WSU athletics.
Even as Washington State begins adds commitments for t 2016, the Cougars are still wrapping up their 2015 recruiting class. Sort of.
Tavares Martin from West Palm Beach, Florida, turned in his national letter of intent to the WSU coaching staff on Tuesday, according to multiple outlets. Martin was recruited in the 2015 class but will likely count as a member of the 2016 class for the Cougars. More on that below.
Martin originally planned to sign with West Virginia, but had his scholarship offer rescinded following an arrest for attempted burglary. Martin allegedly broke into a home and stole some stuff, including a flat screen TV.
While the arrest happened long before Martin committed to WVU, various reports state that it was the reason for the scholarship offer to be revoked. He then signed with Ellsworth Community College in Iowa.
Because theft is one of WSU coach Mike Leach's three violations that are cause for immediate dismissal, Martin will undoubtedly be under tight scrutiny from both fans and coaches.
Martin told Cougfan.com that he had a one-on-one meeting with athletic director Bill Moos, who apparently gave Leach the go-ahead to sign the talented receiver.
In the article, available to Cougfan subscribers, Martin said, "(Moos) told me that he's glad that I learned from my mistakes and that I need to make better decision. I need to hang around better people … Mr. Moos gave coach Leach the stamp of approval."
In Martin the Cougars are getting an undeniably talented receiver, one who reportedly had scholarship offers from Alabama, Forida, Ohio State and many other successful programs.
He also fills a need, since Rickey Preston (another late addition to the class), opted to sign with Tulane a few weeks ago. Because WSU already has the max of 25 scholarships given out for 2015, the plan for Preston was to sign financial aid papers and count against the 2016 class, while still being able to play right away. It seems reasonable to assume that's what Martin will do, and that he actually signed financial aid papers, rather than an NLI. I'm still trying to confirm that's the case and will update when I can.
Washington State's offense showed it can score from anywhere on the field on Tuesday. That'll be important if it can't clean up some mistakes.
If it hadn't been for wide receiver drops and false starts by the starting offensive line, it would have been a banner day for the Cougars offense. After practice, Mike Leach said that the drops were more of an individual problem.
But when asked if the false starts were due to the Cougars playing around with some snap counts – as a couple of the offensive linemen suggested – he replied, "No, we're playing with making those guys do up-downs when they jump offside."
All that and more in today's practice report:
— The Cougars are always 100 percent healthy, but today they were even healthier. Sulaiman Hameed, Frankie Luvu and Robert Barber were all as active as I've seen them, although Barber is still somewhat limited. Still limited today were Brett Bartolone, Alijah Lee, Nick Begg, Nate DeRider, River Cracraft, Philip Schulte and Jeremiah Mitchell. Hameed ran with the twos at safety.
Chandler Leniu also saw a lot of time with the twos at middle linebacker, Dylan Hanser was in there at Rush linebacker and Kingston Fernandez was with the second unit at defensive end.
—Moritz Christ was pulled out of a drill early and made to do up-downs after he jumped offside. The Cougars had a lot of false starts in the scrimmage on Saturday and the coaches appear to be taking more steps to address them, although the issue remains apparently unsolved.
— I've written before about Barry Ware and how the talented freshman receiver looks like a future contributor but that he needs to tighten up his routes before he's going to see playing time. Well, he ran one of his best routes of the spring during WR vs. DB drills today, a comeback route near the sideline in which he turned on a dime to get the receiver behind him and used his body to maintain leverage the rest of the route, giving himself just enough space to make the catch and step out of bounds. When he starts doing that consistently he'll be hard to keep off the field.
Also, they really aren't kidding about this "Dan Post" thing. Daniel Lilienthal ran two routes during the initial portion of the WR vs. DB drill, both of them posts.
— David Bucannon looked good in man coverage while breaking up a shallow crossing route.
— One player that I've been impressed with lately while watching practice is Marcellus Pippins. In my two-deep projections I had him backing up a junior college transfer next year, but I think I'll change that in my post spring projections. Not only is he playing well, breaking up passes and intercepting two of them in Saturday's scrimmage, but he's emerged as a leader here in his first year of college football.
From where I stand in practice, I'm usually pretty near Pippins and can see/hear his interactions with the team. Lately, he's been doing a lot of teaching, telling the other cornerbacks – none of them are younger than he is – the intricacies of the defense such as whether or not a coverage calls for the defender to force the receiver inside or outside, what the DB should expect from the receiver, how far to play off the line and things like that.
Based on his play late last season and the leadership role he's taking on in the spring, I expect he'll have a lot of opportunities going forward.
— Pippins and Gabe Marks were the two return men during the punting drill. However, the drill was primarily aimed at coverage.
— Now, for the quarterbacks, both of whom suffered because of some receiver drops.
Luke Falk started slowly during 7-on-7, completing a short pass that was credited as a defensive stop, and then another pass to Calvin Green, before throwing an incompletion, having a pass dropped by Gerard Wicks and then overthrowing a pass that was easily intercepted by Isaac Dotson.
He recovered easily enough, completing his final 12 passes and airing it out a bit more than he has recently, throwing touchdowns to Gabe Marks and Tyler Baker.
Quick digression: Baker has consistently played really well this spring with River Cracraft out. While Cracraft is going to be one of the hardest players on the team to unseat, I have to imagine that Baker has carved out a significant role for himself next fall because he's fearless over the middle, has good hands and has been very good in the red zone. Now, back to the quarterbacks.
Bender's first pass of the session was right to linebacker Kyle Newsom, who dropped it. After another incompletion, he completed his final eight passes. However, two of those were considered defensive stops and Bender was a little too eager to make the check-down, it seemed. At one point he missed a receiver that was wide open downfield and instead threw to the flat, which prompted Leach to stop the drill so he could correct him.
Falk came in for some third-down 7-on-7 work, converting on three of seven plays. However, John Thompson dropped one pass that would have been a conversion and dropped or fumbled another. Dotson also broke up a pass in the end zone that Lilienthal got his hands on.
Bender's first pass was another to Newsom, who again couldn't haul in the interception. His next was over the middle to Baker, who made the catch while diving and splitting two defenders.
Bender's first pass of the team period went to Thompson, who had another drop. Bender went back to Thompson on the next play, however, and the receiver reeled it in for a moderate gain. Bender finished 10 of 15 with touchdown passes to D.J. Thompson and Gabe Marks, who pushed off when making his grab. D.J. Thompson also dropped the final pass of Bender's series. During the drive, Keith Harrington ripped off a run of 20 or so yards.
Falk's series was marked by explosive plays. His first pass was a short one to Jamal Morrow, who got to the sideline and went untouched 83 yards for a score. After completing a 15-yard pass to Marks he found John Thompson, who either went 75 yards for a score or about 20 and stepped out of bounds, we never got a consensus and you can't trust Graham Harrell on these matters, because he's always lobbying the scorekeepers on behalf of the offense.
Then, things got sloppy for the offense. Calvin Green dropped a pass and Gunnar Eklund false started and a coupe plays later Falk was sacked. Kyrin Priester and John Thompson each dropped passes and, after Falk hit Baker for a 17-yard touchdown and a pass to Morrow, Darryl Paulo and Destiny Vaeao combined to sack Falk and force a fumble.
Ultimately, Falk finished 11 of 15 and threw a pass that went off John Thompson's hands and was intercepted by Jeremiah Allison in the end zone. The final three passes occurred after Leach called a timeout. The first was a touchdown pass to Dom Williams in the end zone over Pippins. Falk tried the same play on the next pass and Pippins broke up the play, maybe committing a little interference in the process.
Falk found Marks on the opposite side for a touchdown to end practice.
It's spring game season in college football and what that means depends on what school you're talking about.
College football coaches have come up with myriad ways of making their annual scrimmages interesting for fans and at some schools that means coming up with some gimmicky scoring systems so that the No. 1 offense can test itself against the No. 1 defense and so forth.
For example, at Southern IIllinois there will be a two-way scoring system where points are awarded for a variety of reasons. Rice's offensive players can get extra points for getting multiple first downs, Nevada is trying something new this year and at Oklahoma it's all about what color jersey the quarterback is wearing.
But the Washington State Cougars are going to split into roughly equal teams in Spokane on Saturday, and just play some football, according to coach Mike Leach:
"I think what we're going do is split the team in half and let them play. I don't want any of those scoring systems that require an accountant to sort it out. I hate that. Well, you're out there trying to run plays and you're standing there on the sideline and everyone's murmuring and wondering, 'well, do we get one point …' I hate that."
WSU had its second scrimmage of the spring today. Here's what I noticed:
— In the last week or so Peyton Bender seems to have become a lot more comfortable in the offense. He always threw a pretty, accurate ball, but appeared to force it at times and didn't always make the correct read. But in the last few practices he's been identifying the open receiver quickly and making good, quick passes that go over the defenders and hit the receivers in stride.
He threw six touchdown passes during Saturday's scrimmage, the most impressive, in my opinion was a 22-yarder to Gabe Marks in which the defense rushed offside and Bender recognized that he had a free play, so he took the deep shot and lofted a high-arcing pass that fell directly in Marks' cradle. However, he showed that he's still got some work to do on the next play, locking on Robert Lewis and throwing a pass off his back foot. Marcellus Pippins read Bender's eyes and stepped in front of the pass, Bender's only interception of the day.
— With the way Bender's stepped up, it appears more and more like the Cougars have a true quarterback competition this spring. Mike Leach said after the scrimmage that he won't name a starting quarterback until the fall. I still think Luke Falk has pole position based on the number of reps each quarterback receivers with the starting unit in practice, and Leach said today that overall Falk has outplayed Bender slightly up until this point. But Bender is forcing the issue with the skills he's shown and the sheer volume of good plays he's accumulating, so it looks like that competition won't be fully decided for some time.
— That being said, it's important to note when looking at Bender's gaudy statistics that Falk is facing a tougher defense most of the time. By my count, Falk faced the starters on three of his four drives and the second team just once. Conversely, Bender faces the twos three times and had just one series against the starters – the one where he got picked off.
While it's true that Falk is also playing with the first team offense more often, my read is that the backups on defense are further behind their starting counterparts than on offense, where the second unit is still going to have playmakers like Kyrin Priester and D.J Thompson – they caught two and three touchdowns, respectively – and one of the three running backs that are essentially interchangeable.
But the really good athletes on defense are starting – Pippins picked off each quarterback once, and cornerback Charleston White has an extra gear that the backups don't have. The defensive second unit does have some playmakers along the line but also has some guys that just aren't able to consistently cover some of those receivers, meaning Bender has a lot more wide open guys to throw it to.
— It was a mixed bag for the offensive line. On the one hand, they only gave up three sacks in 91 drop-backs – pretty good. On the other hand, they jumped offside at least four or five times.
From the start of Washington State's practice on Tuesday, everything seemed just a little off. The weather, for one, kept fluctuating between sunny with blue skies and snow flurries as overcast skies blotted out the sun.
Plenty of normally consistent players on the offensive side of the ball all had their worst practice on the same day, and the result was plenty of up-downs, a few extra rounds in the make-them-miss drill and some work after practice for the receivers.
It wasn't all bad, though. When the offense has a rough day, the defense necessarily has a good one and many of the offense's struggles were a result of a great pass-rush. The linebackers and defensive backs made some good plays as well. I'll tell you all about it in our practice report below.
— There were some limited players today. Specifically, Brett Bartolone, River Cracraft, Nick Begg, Jamal Morrow, Andre Dillard, Nate DeRider, Sulaiman Hameed and Drew Griffin were in yellow. I didn't actually see Robert Barber or Frankie Luvu at practice, but since they've each been limited for awhile I expect they were probably just getting treatment or working out somewhere else.
Cracraft stayed long after practice playing catch with Luke Falk.
— Did you notice who I didn't list? Ngalu Tapa is back fully participating and spent the entirety of practice running with the twos. He looked OK for a big guy who has been sitting out most of spring and I expect him to compete for playing time. Running back Jamal Morrow is also no longer being held out.
Another player that saw some time with the second unit was David Bucannon, who has had a solid spring at safety. Bucannon has been one of the team's biggest hitters since I started covering the Cougars early in the 2013 season, but has been buried on the depth chart. But it looks like he's improved his ability to move laterally and has taken advantage of the clean slate and impressed his new defensive coaches enough to get a shot in the two-deep.
The starting defense remained the same with the exception of Taylor Taliulu filling in for Hameed.
— The Cougars worked out some more with the under center formation today and are attacking all parts of the field now: sweeps, dives, vertical passes, etc.
— Outside linebackers coach Roy Manning seems very hands-on and technique oriented. He spent about five minutes today working one-on-one with Ivan McLennan on his backpedal and then another 15 minutes working with the Rush linebacker on rushing the quarterback and getting past various types of blocking techniques.
— During the skeleton drill Falk completed his first eight passes and finished 19 of 24 and found Gerard Wicks on a wheel route for a touchdown. Two of the missed passes were drops by Keith Harrington, who really struggled on Tuesday after playing very well in Saturday's scrimmage. Of course, I should note that at least three of Falk's completions traveled less than five yards and so were scored as defensive stops.
Peyton Bender completed his first two passes, then threw one over the middle that linebacker Peyton Pelluer picked off, fully extending toward the ball while keeping his feet in a nice display of athleticism. Bender recovered throwing a touchdown to D.J. Thompson – a walk-on who's had a good spring – and had a score over the middle to Tyler Baker that I'm almost reluctant to count because good gawd it was wide open. Bender finished skeleton 12 of 18 by my count.
— Bender definitely had the better team period of the two quarterbacks, however. He's got a quicker release than Falk does and was better able to manage the heavy pass rush. He's also been nails in the red zone lately, somehow seemingly becoming more accurate when the spaces get tighter.
The period didn't begin well, however, for Bender, who was sacked on the first play by Ivan McLennan, I believe. His second pass was a short screen that went nowhere and then Harrington was stuffed on the next play. He completed a couple more short ones, then outdid a ferocious rush by getting the ball out of his hands on a pass to Dom Williams so quickly he looked like a shortstop making the exchange on throw to first base. Williams caught the ball with no defenders around – they were all trying to sack Bender – and got a nice gain out of it. Bender was good the rest of the period except for a pair of pass breakups by Darius Lemora and Pelluer. Once the offense got close to the red zone he threw four touchdowns, two each to Baker and John Thompson.
Falk's third pass was a touchdown to Dom Williams, but the receiver did all the work, juking a couple defenders and finding a seam to race 70-yards downfield. On the next play, Kache Palacio and Hercules Mata'afa combined to sack Falk, whose next pass was broken up by Deion Singleton. The period ended poorly for Falk, who threw a pass that was batted by a receiver and then intercepted by Brendan Hay, was sacked on three consecutive plays by Destiny Vaeao, then Jeremiah Allison, then Darryl Paulo. On the last sack he got the pass off, anyway, and it was picked off by Charleston White.
— The Cougars often end practice with a "make-you-miss" drill, in which an offensive player and a defensive player stand about 10 yards apart with their backs facing each other. On a whistle the players turn and the offensive player has to get by the defensive player with about five yards in which to move laterally.
Unhappy with the play of the offense, Mike Leach demanded that each receiver and running back go through the drill three times, much more than usual. It's a physical drill and tempers between the offense and defense flared more than once.
The first 2016 recruit to publicly commit to playing at Washington State is, what else, a quarterback.
Ian Book took to Twitter on Saturday evening to announce his decision.
Proud to announce I have committed to Washington State University! Can't wait to be a coug🐾 pic.twitter.com/fd0WpCfrvZ— Ian book (@ian_book23) April 12, 2015
While nothing is binding until the letters of intent are signed next February, quarterbacks typically decide early and, because there are fewer spots open late in the year, less likely to flip. Book chose the Cougars over reported scholarship offers from Boise State, UNLV and others.
Book is a consensus three-star recruit among the recruiting services and reportedly runs the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds, firmly establishing him as a mobile quarterback. His film does that as well:
Air Raid offenses at places like Baylor, East Carolina and West Virginia have had some success pressuring defenses with a quarterback that can move, and when I asked Mike Leach about it last season he seemed open to the idea of recruiting a running quarterback.
Air Raid offenses at places like Baylor, East Carolina and West Virginia have had some success pressuring defenses with a quarterback that can move, and when I asked Mike Leach about it last season he seemed open to the idea of recruiting a running quarterback.
Now, he's got one.
The passing game and pass rush were dominant on Saturday and one running back had an auspicious debut for the fans.
Washington State's secondary still looks a work in progress and the offensive linemen are probably ready for a do-over. But overall, with the exception of one inauspicious drive, the Cougars were energetic and it looked like a productive first scrimmage.
The final stats from the scrimmage are available here, and my observations are below.
— The scrimmage afforded an opportunity to clarify some positions that had seen some movement throughout the spring. The starting outside receivers were Gabe Marks and Dom Williams, as expected, with Calvin Green and Daniel Lilienthal backing them up. At inside receiver D.J. and John Thompson backed up starters Robert Lewis and Tyler Baker.
Hercules Mata'afa and Jeremiah Mitchell were the second unit defensive ends, although defensive coordinator Alex Grinch told me after practice that he's been very impressed with Reggie Coates at that spot and that the Nevada transfer is still in the mix. Reading between the lines, I wouldn't be surprised if Coates sees the field more against pass-heavy teams while Mata'afa is the backup when the Cougars are expecting run.
For now, it looks like the third string offensive line, from left to right, is Brandon Evers, Sean Krepsz, Carlos Freeman, Mack Hopkins and B.J. Salmonson.
Of course, that could all be different on Tuesdsay, depending on how those players graded out in the scrimmage.
— Oops, I forgot to list the limited players first. That's OK. The men in yellow today were Brett Bartolone, Nick Begg, Nate DeRider, Reece Alvardo, Drew Griffin, Sulaiman Hameed, Jamal Morrow and Frankie Luvu.
— Peyton Bender took the first series, which was second-string offense against second-string defense, and was nearly perfect. He completed his first five passes and finished 7-8, capping the drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Green.
The freshman was just as sharp in his second series, this time leading the first team offense against the starting defense. In that series Bender went 6 of 7 with a pass broken up by Charleston White and an 18-yard touchdown to Dom Williams, who made the catch over Marcellus Pippins. Bender was also sacked by Darryl Paulo on the play prior to the touchdown.
— Luke Falk led a nice opening drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Baker and was overall very sharp on the day. He even called his own number on the first driveBut he was a little frustrated afterwards due quarterbacking to the offense's most lethargic, one that led to some extra exercise for the first team. The drive began with a17-yard scamper by Keith Harrington (more on him later) and also included a 12-yard run by Gerard Wicks. But Leach had a word with the offense after Falk was sacked by Peyton Pelluer, Wicks lost a yard and Falk threw an incomplete pass. Following the heart-to-heart, Falk found Dom Williams for 13-yards but was sacked by Daniel Ekuale and threw a pass to Gabe Marks that was batted by Charleston White and intercepted by Taylor Taliulu. I'll let Leach tell you what happened next:
"I issued a 'We didn't have great effort the first five plays so we'll do 30 up-downs,' and I didn't think we had great effort doing the 30 so I upped the ante to 40 and after that we played hard and played together."
— The secondary is still learning a new defense, and they'll get better, but the defensive coaches were frustrated by how open the receivers were getting throughout the scrimmage. While Bender had a very good day throwing the ball, he left a couple touchdowns on the field by not seeing that Wicks or another receiver had found an opening with nobody near him.
— Freshman quarterback Tyler Hilinksi had kind of a rough start, taking three consecutive sacks, including a fumble forced by Ivan McLennan and recovered by Jeremiah Mitchell, to end his opening drive. But once he got used to the speed of the game, he settled in nicely, and only missed three passes in 19 attempts.
— Running back Keith Harrington and wide receiver Daniel Lilienthal each had impressive days on offense. Leach said afterwards that if Harrington keeps playing like he is, he might contend for a starting spot. Wicks looked pretty good, too, but Harrington's quickness and vision were on full display Saturday. He had 85 yards on just six carries, including long scampers of 32 and 27 yards, while also adding 53 yards on four receptions. His most impressive play still might have been his seven-yard touchdown, in which he appeared to hit one hole at full speed, back step, and pick a different hole to finish the play.
Lilienthal is simply big and fast, and he is really, really good at planting his foot on post routes to create separation. In fact, he had six catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns and at least four of those receptions, if not five or six, came on post routes. The route is such a specialty for him, in fact, that it's led to a new nickname…
"His name's Dan Post, that's why. That's what we called him," Leach said. "When we first got here, Lilienthal, that's a long name, that's a mouthful. And so, we said well we're going to shorten this and he'd just got a post so we called him Dan Post. One syllabled the thing and he catches posts pretty good."
— While it was a good day for the offense, the defense got nine sacks. That's quite a few. While WSU's defensive line had a good game, it's very apparent that Grinch intends to blitz the linebackers, a lot. Rush linebacker Ivan McLennan lived in the backfield, leading the team with three sacks. Dylan Hanser, also a linebacker, was second with 2.5 sacks.
"That's what coach Grinch says, we've got to get after the quarterback and that's exactly what we did," Jeremiah Allison said. "I mean we did pretty good there but there's always room for improvement. I'm definitely blitzing, we're all blitzing as a collective but you could say I'm blitzing more."
Today was practice No. 7, so we're almost halfway through spring ball at Washington State and the offense is hitting its stride.
Actually, since WSU's Crimson and Gray game will be practice No. 14, we're exactly halfway to the big scrimmage in Spokane. Speaking of scrimmages, the Cougars will hold one on Saturday at 11 a.m. that is expected to last about 70 plays.
WSU's defense seemed a little ahead of the offense in the first few practices, which was a little surprising because the Cougars are implementing a new defense while the offensive players have all been doing the same thing for at least a year.
But over the last couple practices the offense has overtaken their counterparts, and the Air Raid scored practically every other play, figuratively speaking, during Thursday's practice.
Here is the report …
— Let's get the limiteds out of the way early, like always. Brett Bartolone, River Cracraft, Reece Alvardo, Nick Begg, Robert Barber, Nate DeRider, Frankie Luvu, Ngalu Tapa and Drew Griffin were limited throughout practice, while Sulaiman Hameed was limited for the second half. However, Begg usually runs around with the receivers during drills and today guys like Tapa and Luvu were participating a little more than usual.
Jamal Morrow wasn't at practice but Mike Leach said afterward that the running back will probably participate in Saturday's scrimmage.
— Nevada transfer Reggie Coates is just 6-foot, 237-pounds and still listed as a linebacker, but he continues to make moves at defensive end. He seems pretty set on the second-team along the line right now, and he's been getting a few reps with the ones during drills. That may be a pass-rush package.
I also saw Hercules Mata'afa running with the second unit at defensive end. He's been primarily with the scouts, but was pretty unstoppable last year as a redshirt because of his innate strength and burst, so it makes sense that he's starting to get some reps with experience.
There was also an interesting second-unit package that appeared to have Parker Henry and Dylan Hanser both at Rush linebacker, rushing the quarterback from opposite sides, with Chandler Leniu and Kyle Newsom, or Greg Hoyd and Paris Taylor, at the interior linebacker spots.
— The Cougars did some more work under center today, this time including a defense and doing more passing than I'd previously seen. I also got a good look at the No. 2 offensive line, and it struck me just how big that group is. Left to right it goes, Gunnar Eklund, (6-7, 308), Cody O'Connell (6-8, 356), Sam Flor (6-4, 308), Moritz Christ (6-5, 318) and Jacob Seydel (6-6, 287). That's a big line.
— Today I saw one of the worst football plays I've ever seen line – nobody had their head on straight. The snap bounced off Luke Falk's chest and up in the air, but he caught it. Marcellus Pippins got caught napping – maybe he thought the play was over – and so Dom Williams was left uncovered on his streak down the sidelines. Falk saw and threw a pass that was a bit to the right of Williams in the end zone, but still very much catchable, and Williams simply swung with his arms and miss. Yeesh.
Overall, that was a good drill for the defense. It's 11-on-11 at thud tempo and the emphasis appears to be on running and short passes, with some deep passes to keep the defense honest. Earlier in practice, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch had been working on man defense with the defensive backs, and Charleston White made a great play to breakup a Falk pass to Gabe Marks on a crossing route. The defense consistently got to the ball quickly and Daniel Ekuale made a nice play to catch up to Gerard Wicks in the backfield and send him backward.
— The team did some punting today. Erik Powell did all the kicking and was OK, but had a few short ones. Marcellus Pippins received all the punts and appears to be the team's punt returner going forward.
— Like I said, the offense won the day. How much did they win by? Well, Luke Falk completed his first 14 passes during the Skeleton drill, and they weren't all easy ones. His second pass went to Dom Williams on a streak down the sideline and the receiver caught it over the outstretched Pippins. Falk also had touchdown passes to Keith Harrington and Wicks – both were of the catch-and-run variety – and finished the segment 14 of 15.
Peyton Bender's first pass was incomplete because the receiver dropped it. He completed the next one and then found Gabe Marks deep for a touchdown. Bender went 11 of 15 with another touchdown to D.J. Thompson.
Then the Cougars did their red zone skeleton with Falk completing one of three passes, a touchdown to Daniel Lilienthal. Bender's first pass was batted by the linemen that stand in front of the quarterbacks with pads over their heads to simulate the trench battle, and then found Marks for touchdowns on his next two throws. (This should be apparent in the quarterback descriptions of these practice reports but Marks has been pretty dominant all spring.)
The quarterbacks finished the skeleton drill by each taking two attempts from about five-yards out. Falk scrambled on his first attempt and found Daniel Lilienthal in the corner of the end zone and completed his next pass, but it was not a touchdown. Bender threw a touchdown pass to John Thompson on his first attempt and was incomplete on his second.
— Bender looked good during the team period, but was sacked twice, once each by Ivan McLennan and Jeremiah Allison. The pass-rush was one area where the defense was sharp all day.
After practice, Leach said, "I think the leader (of the defensive line) to begin with was Destiny (Vaeao), and I thought our defensive line played really well today. We made some plays on offense but they moved the quarterback around and affected him, so I thought it was good."
Bender was 10 of 12 during the period, with one completion coming after a tipped pass. He threw touchdown passes to Lilienthal and Tyler Baker, but the defense looked solid against the run, getting Wicks in the backfield twice.
Falk was 8 of 11 in team period and scrambled twice, getting about 10 yards on the first and maybe five on the second. He ended practice by throwing a pair of touchdown passes, both of which were caught by Marks.
Washington State's receivers struggled mightily early in Tuesday's practice. That didn't last long.
The Cougars spent some time working on deep routes with the constraint that the receivers must catch the ball over their outside shoulders. The receivers didn't take to the drill, only successfully pulling off the maneuver and completing the catch two of the first nine times.
The coaches noticed, of course, and for awhile it seemed like the receivers were going to have a bad practice. Then the Cougars added a defense and all heck broke loose. More on that in our practice report below.
— First and foremost, here are the players that were limited in some capacity: Reece Alvardo, Brett Bartolone, Nick Begg, Frankie Luvu, Andre Dillard, Robert Barber, Dylan Hanser and River Cracraft.
— Now, lets shore up the defensive positions a bit. Isaac Dotson was again starting at free safety and it seems like that will continue as long as he continues to play well. The defensive line is still Darryl Paulo and Destiny Vaeao at the ends, with Daniel Ekuale in the middle and Kache Palacio at Rush linebacker. Peyton Pelluer and Jeremiah Allison are pretty set at starting linebacker, it seems. Sulaiman Hameed is the starting strong safety, Marcellus Pippins and Charleston White seem set at field and boundary cornerback, respectively, while Darius Lemora is the primary nickelback. So, that's the first team.
Now for the second team, which, admittedly sees more substitutions. But it appears that Nevada transfer Reggie Coates will continue to play as a backup defensive end alongside former offensive lineman Devonte McClain in the middle and Jeremiah Mitchell at the other end spot, with Ivan McLennan at Rush linebacker. Greg Hoyd and Paris Taylor appear to be the backup linebackers and today Dakota Sinchak was the boundary cornerback and Brendan Haywas the field cornerback, with Jeff Farrar seeing some time at field corner as well. Taylor Taliulu was the free safety, Willie Roach was at strong safety and Colton Teglovic continues to backup Lemora at nickelback.
— So, after the receivers dropped the ball (yeesh) during the early drills, they started to heat up during the WR vs. DB drill. Dom Williams made a nice play early to pluck a ball high out of the air before Charleston White could make an attempt on it and Daniel Lilienthal, one of the team's strongest receivers, ripped a ball away from Sinchak. Gabe Mark even made a beautiful outside-shoulder grab on the same route the unit struggled with earlier. Lilienthal and Marks each followed with impressive end zone catches once the offense moved into the red zone, with Marks laying out to make the catch despite getting the wind knocked out of him for awhile.
One receiver who seems to have a lot of potential is Barry Ware. A 6-2, 205 freshman with good ball skills, Ware has a chance to make an impact outside for the Cougars, who graduated a couple of big receivers last year. But Ware's routes need work and he has a tendency to drift quite a bit instead of squeezing the defensive back into a space. Once he gets that down, he could be a really nice player for the Cougars.
— In the first 7-on-7 segment, Luke Falk went 11 of 13 with a pass broken up by Brendan Hay and another dropped by Lilienthal. He also suffered a coverage sack, but was generally sharp, finding Calvin Green in stride for a big gain when Green flashed some nice wheels.
Peyton Bender was a solid 12 of 16, albeit with an interception to Pelluer that didn't seem to have a chance of being caught by anyone else. During this period, David Bucannon, never much of a talker, unleashed a string of salty language that lasted a good 30-45 seconds, demanding that a tired walk-on get back on the field after taking himself out of the drill.
— Really, the entire defense started to look a little weary during the 7-on-7 period, something Mike Leach acknowledged after practice. We learned just how tired they were during the team period, when seemingly ever receiver was able to take a short pass for a big gain. Bender went first, as always, and on his third pass found Robert Lewis on a short pass, who went for a big gain thanks to a block from Tyler Baker. On his next pass he found Baker on the sideline, who laid out to make a catch while tapping his foot to make sure it counted. Keith Harrington had a big run, and then Lewis took a pass 60 yards for a score, 20 of which came during a shifty run after the catch. Then, Kyrin Priester put the spin cycle on Hameed and then Dom Williams had about a 45-yard receiving touchdown. Bender also found Lewis and Marks for touchdowns and finished 10 of 13 with four scores. One of the incompletions came courtesy of a hurry by Coates.
— It took four passes for the defense to break down during Falk's turn, with Gerard Wicks taking a short pass 70 yards for a score after breaking one tackle. Priester had a 35-yard score running up the sidelines and then Wicks followed with one of his own. Baker scored on the last play of the drill and then Leach called the team around and told them that, despite the offense being well ahead in the drill, the offense would take one snap from the 3-yard-line and if they scored the defense would do three up-downs, and the offense would do the up-downs if they were stopped. Falk found Marks in the end zone and the defense had to do the up-downs. The quarterback finished the team period 11 of 16 with a couple of decent passes broken up thanks to big hits by Pippins and Bucannon.
Over the course of 1,011 snaps last season the WSU quarterbacks received the ball under center just once. Expect that number to go up drastically next season.
The Cougars have devoted a short portion of each spring practice I've seen to practicing under-center handoffs. The centers, quarterbacks and backs practice primarily dives plays to help the players get used to the new timing and quarterback depths, although they have been expanding to more stuff.
Expect them to add quite a bit, however, as both Mike Leach and running backs coach Jim Mastro said that Washington State's offense could line up in an under-center formation as often as one quarter of the plays next season.
For more on WSU's new look on offense as well as thoughts from the players and coaches, check out my story in tomorrow's paper.
In the meantime, here's what else I saw at practice on Saturday morning …
— As always, we'll begin with the players of limited participation: Nate DeRider, Brett Bartolone, Andre Dillard, Pat Porter, River Cracraft, Robert Barber, Ngalu Tapa, Reece Alvarado and Frankie Luvu all donned the yellow jerseys on Saturday.
— A freshman kicker from Burien, Daniel Garcia, got the call today at the start of practice. He looked pretty sharp in warm-ups, but missed his first and closest kick. The 5-foot-7 kicker recovered nicely, though, making his final two.
— Freshman Deion Singleton is starting to play fast after being away from the game for awhile. If you remember, Singleton was one of the prize recruits a year ago and a Signing Day surprise for the Cougars, but never made it into camp. He's there now, however, and is starting to look the part.
He broke up a pair of passes during the WR vs. DB drill, both of which were hitch routes. Because of his athleticism, Singleton is able to stay close to the receiver, turn when he turns, and get some momentum going the opposite direction. That being said, he's still got some learning to do, as we saw when Robert Lewis turned him around with a quick faint on a short route in the end zone.
— Isaac Dotson had one of his best days and making his case to lock up the starting free safety spot. When you look at Dotson you imagine a big, lumber-laying safety and, to be fair, his favorite player to emulate is Kam Chancellor. He does use his size well and breaks up passes by running through receivers instead of trying to bat a pass away.
But what he's gotten better at, and what's starting to set him apart, is his ability to cover receivers. Offensive players generally have an advantage in the WR vs. DB drill because they're acting while the defense is reacting, they know where the play is going to go, and they have a lot of space to get open. So it was notable when Dotson broke up consecutive passes and generally did a nice job of sticking to his man.
Backup nickelback Colton Teglovic also had a good day, intercepting a pass.
— Now for the quarterbacks. Luke Falk was especially sharp during the skeleton drill, completing his first 10 passes and completing 14 of 15. The incompletion was kind of weird in that Falk just threw it low to the middle of the field near nobody, maybe throwing it away of assuming a player was going to be there.
Bender finished 12 of 15 with the interception to Teglovic. He also had the best pass of the period, lofting a throw deep over two defenders and directly into Tyler Baker's breadbasket for a score.
Bender has looked really good at those 25-30 yard throws, maybe even better than Falk. But Falk appears to have a big upper hand in the red zone and goal line situations and threw consecutive touchdowns to Dom Williams and Daniel Lilienthal from about seven yards out today.
Bender went first in the team drill and went 11 of 15. He had a nice pass up the seam to Tyler Baker for about 25 yards and finished the period by finding a diving Baker in the back of the end zone, who made a great catch that drove him painfully into the upright.
Falk's team session began with a sack by Kache Palacio, who seems to have adapted nicely to his new role as a "Rush" linebacker. He found Gabe Marks on the next play and the two seem to have a good thing going, connecting four times during the period. Falk completed all 13 of his passes, scoring when Dom Williams took an intermediate pass, made one move and ran 10-15 yards for the score.
— I hadn't mentioned this earlier but Nick Begg has been working out as a receiver/tight end. Begg has worked out with that group before and with the offensive line. Leach has said that Begg could even end up on defense, so no matter what, he'll finish his career as the definitive expert on the team's position coaches.
Thursday would have been a great day for the Washington State defense, if only the receivers had cooperated.
See, the WSU defenders made a bunch of really good plays during today's practice, big hits, interceptions, etc. The offense never really got into a rhythm, but it wasn't a total mismatch thanks to a number of explosive plays by the WSU receivers, and one running back that's making a strong case for more carries next fall.
Here is the blow-by-blow…
— First, here are the players that were limited or unable to practice: River Cracraft, Robert Barber, Ngalu Tapa, Nate DeRider, Brett Bartolone and Frankie Luvu.
— I spent quite a bit of time watching the secondary today (more on that in tomorrow's paper) and a few things stood out. First, it's clear that Taylor Taliulu, Isaac Dotson and Sulaiman Hameed are the top three safeties, especially since Darius Lemora is now the full-time starting nickel back. Dotson and Hameed, both sophomores, are each more athletic than Taliulu, but Taliulu has done the best so far of learning Grinch's defense and all the new terminology and signals, etc.
That's important because the safeties are tasked with setting the defense before each snap, with the field safety (strong safety) aligning the defenders on the side with a lot grass and the boundary safety (free safety) setting up his teammates that are close to the sideline.
While the Cougars spend a lot of their time in nickel, the nickelback's responsibilities are actually pretty similar to those of the Sam linebacker he replaced, so it's not like the coverage duties of the safeties have actually changed very much.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch says he's been pleased with how well the starters have been able to pick up the new terminology and assignments.
"Those top guys have done pretty well," Grinch said. "They really have, and it's a whole new language for them."
One defensive back that played pretty well on Thursday was Colton Teglovic, a walk-on, who has emerged as the backup nickelback. Teglovic broke up the first pass of the team period, a dart from Peyton Bender, and also knocked one of Falk's passes away later in the practice. Coach Mike Leach had some good things to say about Teglovic at the end of the day.
"He's always been a guy that hustles around, runs hard, kind of just a blue collar guy," Leach said. "He did good last year, too."
— One defensive lineman that is getting a long look from the coaches is junior college transfer Jeremiah Mitchell. He looks a little bigger than the 260-pounds he's listed at, and plays like a bigger guy. The Cougars did a running drill that got pretty violent and Mitchell did a nice job of getting off his block and bringing down the running backs as they passed the linemen.
Running back Gerard Wicks also looked really good in that drill. Wicks, who is up to 219-pounds now, embarrassed the defense on his first run, bouncing off three or four tacklers and shoving his way into the secondary. But the highlight of the drill was when he sprung around the line and into the secondary, where he was met head on by Hameed. The safety developed a reputation for laying blows as a freshman last season, but was no match for Wicks, who outweighs him by 30 pounds, appearing to fly backwards as the two collided.
— When I saw that freshman linebacker Chandler Leniu was up to 255 pounds already, I assumed he might be outgrowing the position. But he still moves pretty well and had an athletic pass breakup on Thursday.
— Luke Falk didn't have his best day at quarterback, missing a couple throws during the skeleton drill and taking a pair of sacks during the team period. I had Falk finishing the team period 6 of 11 with no scores and the offense did up-downs afterwards as the defense won, 26-20. The period was mostly good-on-good, although the second unit did check in for a few plays.
Peyton Bender started off poorly, throwing an interception to Kyle Newsom early during the skeleton drill, but responded well, finding D.J. Thompson for a 30-yard touchdown over the middle of the defense that drew quite a bit of fire from the defensive coaches. He had another touchdown on a short pass to Gabe Marks, whose gentle hip feint threw off Teglovic and gave him a clear path to the end zone. Bender threw a third touchdown to running back Jamal Morrow, who was wide open on a wheel route.
Bender, throwing mostly against the second unit but occasionally the first, finished the team period 9 of 15, with a deep touchdown to Daniel Lilienthal on a post route.
"He's got a good combination of size and speed and it comes together, because he can play faster than he is," said Leach when asked about the receiver. "There was a flash of that when he ran for a touchdown where he really played fast and we've got to get him comfortable to where he plays at that speed every snap."
Bender also found Marks for an 18-yard touchdown during the team period.
Cornerback Sebastian LaRue, expected to compete for a starting spot on next year's team, was dismissed from the Washington State football program for violating a team rule.
While we don't know the nature of the violation, coach Mike Leach has three often-cited rules that are grounds for immediate dismissal if broken: Don't steal, don't hit women and don't do drugs. Any time a player is dismissed, we take a look at the local court records. These are publicly available online but those records do not describe the nature of any offenses, just the names, dates and case numbers.
I wanted to mention that because the search for LaRue's name yielded a pair of March results, which I followed up with a public records request. Because neither offense violated any of Leach's cardinal rules, and neither were violent, I believe it's appropriate to address them here.
LaRue was pulled over early this month for speeding with a headlight out and was pulled over again, just a couple days ago, for speeding. That's all, and neither would likely be cause for any discipline from Leach or even attract his attention.
It's still possible that LaRue was dismissed for committing some crime or other, and the coaching staff obviously considers whatever he did to be serious. But the offenses that pop up during an online records search are not malicious, and I thought it was worth nipping any potential speculation on them in the bud.
I'm about to hop on a plane so I wont be transcribing coach Mike Leach's entire teleconference, but I've jotted down the highlights:
— Leach confirmed that Sebastian LaRue, Jordan Dascalo and Wes Concepcion are no longer on the team. LaRue's departure leaves an already thin secondary a little thinner, and Dascalo and Concepcion were the only two punters listed on the roster, so that will be something to watch this spring.
— Leach said that while he would ideally like to start spring practice a little earlier, he doesn't want to break the schedule up to accommodate spring break.
— He heaped praise on Luke Falk for his performance last year, calling his play "… as impressive as any freshman I've ever dealt with" and saying that, "Luke's five games as a freshman are probably better than any freshman in history."
That being said, he said that Falk will split first-team reps with redshirt freshman Peyton Bender and that Falk isn't necessarily the presumed starter.
— I asked him a bit about Alex Grinch and what the new defensive coordinator should expect during his first practices in charge of an entire side of the ball. Leach said secondary and offensive line coach are the best assistant positions to prepare someone to become a coordinator.
"You have to be mindful of the technique at your position but also broaden it out so you're seeing the big picture," he said.
Leach said that in the time he's spent with Grinch so far he's been very impressed. "Every time you talk to him he's talking about teaching. How do we teach this how do we teach that."
— Leach said there are three main things he hopes to accomplish each spring: 1) "Evaluating your talent because none of it stayed the same. The vast majority improved and developed and you need to plug new faces in to where they can best impact the team." 2) "Arm them with as many skills and things as you can within the context of their role so they can continue to develop their skills over the summer." 3) Experiment with new stuff. This is the least important of the three, according to Leach.
— I asked Leach what the characteristic that will define Grinch's style will be. Here is his answer: "At Missouri what really allowed them to excel in the SEC, and one thing impressive about Missouri, you know the SEC and not the conference as a whole, but you saw the same stuff I did and a lot of it was kind of fan-based rather than conference based but the SEC insulted their intelligence to even have Missouri in the conference. And then what have they done they've won the East the past two years and I think the biggest place they improved was their defensive identity and unifying that and there was a sense that Mizzou wasn't going to stop these SEC offenses and that proved to be false."
I just got off a plane here in sunny Las Vegas to see that Washington State has released an updated football roster. Notably missing are cornerback Sebastian LaRue and punter Jordan Dascalo. Larue was expected to contend for a starting spot in the secondary — or maybe switch back to offense — and Dascalo showed a booming leg as WSU's starting punter last season.
The punting depth in particular took a hit, since Wes Concepcion, who made a few career starts, no longer appears on the roster, either. I also see that linebacker Nathan Hundeby is no longer on the roster.
No reason to speculate on their status with the program — coach Mike Leach is about to hold a teleconference so I'm sure we'll get an update shortly.
Here is the roster:
Mike Leach was in Seattle yesterday for the final "A Night with Cougar Football" but first dropped by for a visit with 710 ESPN Seattle Danny Dave and Moore.
We've got highlights from the interview below and you can listen to the whole thing here.
Leach said that these days he's watching a lot of video of high school film as the WSU coaches try to pare down the thousands of prospects on their radar to a manageable recruiting list.
Dave Wyman – a former Stanford and NFL linebacker – asked Leach about the advances in video technology that make it possible to simply press a button and call up a recruit's film, rather than cut tape reels together and Leach acknowledged, while he "barely touched the 16 mm phase where you touch shiny side to shiny side," the current system is "one of the best things ever."
Then he told a story about being in Arizona trolling for film back in his days as an assistant at Kentucky.
Leach said he was in Scottsdale, Arizona and only had two days to get tape from a bunch of schools but he met with a coach who told him, "I just got fired; here's all the film and if you get your own tapes you can record the whole conference."
While waiting around Leach wandered over to the school's art department and met the department head, who told him if he came back later he'd love to show him what the students were working on.
"I go back there and go into the thing looking for him and right in the middle of the floor is a nude model," Leach said. "And I've got the Kentucky shirt and I'm the last guy to walk in and it's like a warehouse and there's a whole circle around the model either drawing or painting."
Unsure of how to proceed, Leach decided to "walk around to their paintings and drawings and would nod my head like I was a real connoisseur of art."
Leach was asked about social media and says he tweets occasionally although he also has people do it for him. He has SnapChat on his phone that he essentially only uses to receive short videos of his infant granddaughter.
The hosts then changed the subject to the NFL draft, specifically what makes evaluating quarterbacks so difficult.
"I think there's a lot of things that make it tough," Leach said. "It's the most poorly-evaluated position and everybody's starting QB isn't a first rounder but everyone picks them in the first round."
He added that the rate at which coaches are hired and fired in the NFL makes it so that teams don't always want the same traits as the guy they just drafted and pointed out that quarterbacks often come from smaller schools while running backs generally come from powerhouses as evidence that quarterbacks are harder to evaluate.
"The quarterback's ultimate job is to make the people around him better," Leach said. "If you're accurate and can throw 45 yards or better and you can develop those skills at a lot of different places."
He added, "All teams have defensive ends that can throw the thing a mile and they'd love to play quarterback."
The hosts asked about the personality of quarterbacks and what sort of things he asks recruits to determine if they have the right mental makeup.
"I want to get a feel for them and you want a guy that has a little charisma that you feel like your players and the rest of your team will draw from," Leach said. "What their coaches and classmates think of them."
He also said he doesn't like bad GPAs because if recruits have bad grades they "might be dumb but the biggest thing is they're lazy—if you've got a bad GPA, you're lazy."
Leach said the most important trait for a quarterback was confidence.
Moore asked Leach about Connor Halliday's draft prospects.
"I think (he will do) really well, I think he'll get drafted," Leach said. "He's got the best arm of anybody coming out. Throws it better, throws it more accurately, comes off his hand quicker. It's unfortunate he got injured but if you're going to get injured a clean ankle break is about as good as you can hope for."
In fact, Leach said that Halliday told him that the ankle that was broken feels stronger than the other one since he had a rod inserted.
"Isn't this sort of like breast implants," Leach says he asked Halliday. "Why didn't you get them both done?"
Joel Filani will come to Washington State as the new offensive quality control assistant, according to coach-tracking website FootballScoop.com.
The contributions of quality control assistants are not very visible since they are not among the nine on-field coaches allowed to instruct players during practices and games.
They do serve important roles, however, especially so at WSU. Special teams coordinator Eric Mele began his WSU career as an offensive quality control assistant while outside receivers coach Graham Harrell came to WSU last spring as an offensive analyst.
Filani had a productive college career as a receiver for Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2002-06, earning First-Team All-Big-12 honors his junior and senior seasons. He was later drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Most recently Filani coached at Boise State as a graduate assistant. Here is the original report from Football Scoop.
As a player at Texas Tech, Graham Harrell threw an NCAA-record 134 touchdown passes in Mike Leach's offense.
In his first college coaching job he will train the players on the other end of such scores. Harrell, hired last spring as an offensive analyst, will take over as Washington State's new outside receivers coach, a position that was recently vacated when Dennis Simmons left for Oklahoma.
The 29-year-old Harrell played three seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers before coming to WSU to help with offensive planning and film breakdown. During his days as a Red Raider (2004-08), Harrell passed for 15,793 yards, the second-most in NCAA history.
When the 2015 season begins next fall the Cougars will have a very different coaching staff, one that is decidedly younger. In addition to Harrell the Cougars also have new assistant coaches in defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, outside linebackers coach Roy Manning and special teams coordinator Eric Mele.
Like Harrell, Mele held a non-coaching role with the team before he was promoted following the midseason dismissal of Eric Russell last year.
Both Harrell's father and grandfather were high school football coaches in Texas.
Doug Samuels first reported the news of Harrell's promotion.
The Cougars announced 23 signees yesterday during the first day of the signing period, but that doesn’t mean they were done recruiting.
In fact, Washington State coach Mike Leach said that they planned to take a full class of 25 recruits. This afternoon the Cougars filled one of the vacant spots by signing cornerback Sean Harper out of Hartwell, Georgia's Hart County High.
Harper is the sixth defensive back to sign with the Cougars in the 2015 class (seven if athlete Logan Tago ends up in the secondary), two of which are junior college transfers.
Harper is 6-foot-1, 180-pounds and claims scholarship offers from Indiana, Louisville, Nebraska and other schools. Below is a video of WSU's newest signee in action.