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Best guess at the 2015 WSU two-deep

The Washington State Cougars are now two-thirds of the way through spring football practices and while there is still movement among the first, second and third units, we're starting to get an idea of where guys stand. So, I thought it would be fun to take my best guess at next year's two-deep for the season-opener against Portland State.

A couple highly-regarded junior college transfers won't be arriving until the fall, so keep in mind that I'm simply guessing where they'll end up based on their reputations. For example, I have Shalom Luani at strong safety, but I wouldn't bat an eyelash if they decide to put him at the nickel position.

I'll put some notes down below, but here is what I came up with:

A couple things:

— Inside receiver is in a bit of flux right now, and while Tyler Baker has played well I'm still projecting River Cracraft to take over at the Y spot once he's no longer limited in practice. The Thompsons, D.J. and John, have both played well as backup inside receivers and really, either of them could win the backup H position. For now, I have D.J. Thompson there, but it also seems like every year there's a true freshman that impresses at receiver so maybe Kyle Sweet will come in and win the spot.

— At outside receiver Daniel Lilienthal has played well enough that I expect him to stay as the backup on the left side. While the Cougars did add a big junior college receiver in C.J. Dimry, my read is that the 6-foot-6 treetop will mostly be used in packages near the goal line, at least initially.

— I've flipped Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow at running back, and I expect Keith Harrington to see the field plenty as well. Really, the three positions will probably be interchangeable and who plays the most will be based on individual opponents. Still, I can't help but remember the way Morrow wore down toward the end of last season, to say nothing of some limited time this spring, and think that the bigger Wicks might be the favored option to bear the brunt of the workload this season.

— I feel pretty good about the front seven (six?), although I expect there will be lots of subbing and once the game gets going you'll see guys like Dylan Hanser, Reggie Coates and other sub in fairly frequently. However, I am taking a flyer on Porter at backup middle linebacker because of his reputation. If not him then expect to see Greg Hoyd III at that spot.

— The back end took a little more guesswork, since two junior college prospects seem likely to play. In fact, I have them both starting. I also have incoming freshman Sean Harper playing, based on his reputation and body type. But Marcellus Pippins has had a good camp so don't be surprised if he's able to hold off Broughton, or if one of the newcomers ends up at a different position. They're still figuring out the best spots for some guys and you could certainly see a situation where Shalom Luani comes in, beats out Sulaiman Hameed and the coaches decide to move Hameed to the nickel spot to keep the best players on the field.

— That's all for now, I'll let you know in the practice reports if my opinion changes as I'm sure it will. Don't forget, the Cougars are scrimmaging tomorrow at 1:20 p.m. in Martin Stadium.

Morning links: WSU defense amps up the pressure

The pressure of a quarterback competition has been nothing compared to what the WSU defense is throwing at Luke Falk and Peyton Bender.

For about a week the defense has looked really good in practice, particularly the pass rush. That's what I wrote about in the paper today. On the blog we have our practice report from yesterday and video of Mike Leach after practice.

The athletic department has a video recap of practice.

NFL.com has a story about Connor Halliday, who is making the NFL rounds. Wide receiver Vince Mayle has also met with a number of NFL teams, including the Giants.

ESPN Stats and Info says that the Cougars will play the easiest nonconference schedule over the next five years.

NFL teams really try to do their due diligence before drafting a kid, even if it's Marcus Mariota. … The Arizona Daily Star has a first look at what next year's two-deeps could look like for the Wildcats. … Dominic Green, a local recruit from Hazen High, will not be playing basketball at Arizona State. … With a top recruit signed, Cal's Cuonzo Martin expects big things next year. … Here's a Q&A with Oregon State's Jordan Villamin. … A 23-year-old sophomore walk-on is in the mix at defensive tackle for Utah.

Some new players emerge at WSU practice

Overall, Saturday's practice was pretty ordinary. The offense bounced back after Tuesday's subpar practice, but the defense also had lots of energy and practiced well.

But it was a notable day because a couple players that previously hadn't stood out much stepped up and had good practices. I'll explain below.

— Before we get to the fun stuff, here were the limited guys: Sulaiman Hameed, Frankie Luvu, Andre Dillard (who dressed for the first time in awhile), Nate DeRider, Drew Griffin and Brett Bartolone.

— Ngalu Tapa was limited up until Tuesday's practice but he's hit the ground running, as much as a 325-pounder can run, anyways. He's still with the second unit during team period but spent some time playing with the starters during drills.

— I know a lot of you have been curious about cornerback Jeff Farrar, who arrived at WSU as a true freshman at the end of fall camp last season and was immediately inserted into the two-deep, although he never played and ended up redshirting. Farrar originally signed with Virginia out of high school and had an impressive list of scholarship offers, and WSU's cornerbacks are all young, anyways, so it makes sense that people are curious.

Frankly, Farrar has been swimming a bit from what I've been able to observe – his coverage hasn't been great and I wonder if he's struggled to pick up the schemes a bit. He still seems pretty low on the list of CBs, behind a lot of guys in the same age group. But, he certainly looks the part at 5-foot-11, 208-pounds and if he can make a move up the depth chart it would go a long way toward getting more Pac-12 bodies on the field for the defense.

So, my eyebrows arched a little bit when Farrar ran stride-for-stride alongside Robert Lewis – one of the fastest receivers – on a vertical route during the WR vs. DB drill.  Farrar still has a long way to go before he'll be playing with the ones, but the secondary hasn't been great in man coverage so far this spring and if he can stick to receivers like that it'll really help his case.

— Erik Anderson spent last season switching time on scout team between quarterback and wide receiver, and it was kind of fun to watch him throw passes to Gabe Marks, give Marks his blue quarterback jersey and then catch passes the receiver (Marks was used to simulate speedier QBs). This year the 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore is a fulltime wide out and he looked pretty good on Thursday.

He seems to run his routes well and showed good concentration on Thursday as he made two nice end zone catches during the one-on-one drill. The Cougars have about 60 good receivers and some of the guys that are playing really well inside right now such as D.J. and John Thompson, will still have a hard time getting snaps once River Cracraft is good to go. But, it looks like Anderson is one more receiver that will be able to give the DBs a good look in practice and down the road, who knows?

— Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan have both been playing well at the Rush linebacker position, so if they stay healthy I wouldn't expect third-stringer Dylan Hanser to see a whole lot of time there next season. But those guys are both seniors, and outside linebackers coach Roy Manning and McLennan each raved about his play after practice, so he could definitely be the guy for two years starting in 2016.

They each referenced his impressive speed – even more apparent when going against the WSU offensive line and it's wide splits – and ability to eat up ground quickly. The sophomore from Billings, Montana is already 224-pounds but stands 6-foot-4 and seems to have a frame that could carry another 20 or so without losing any speed.

— Don't worry, I didn’t forget to watch the quarterbacks. It was sort of a streaky day for both of them and, while I would give the overall edge to Peyton Bender, Luke Falk's receivers didn't help him out much. Falk also goes against the first team defense a little more, although both QBs spend time going against the first and second units during the skeleton drill and team period.

Falk struggled initially in the skeleton drill, completing just two of his first five or six passes. Then he went on a tear, completing 10 of his next 11, albeit with two that were considered defensive stops because the receiver was less than five yards downfield when he was first touched by the defense. Jeremiah Allison ended Falk's session with a pass breakup over the middle, clinging to a receiver on a crossing route, I believe.

Bender completed eight of his first 10 pass attempts, most of which were short, and a couple that were so short as to be defensive wins. He also found Dom Williams on a comeback route about 20-yards downfield and the receiver took a looping route to get upfield, spinning Marcellus Pippins in the process and running for a touchdown.

Where Bender separated himself on Thursday was in the red zone portion of practice. Falk completed a couple good intermediate passes but was picked off by Pippins on his final throw and did not throw a touchdown in his first set. Bender threw touchdowns on each of his first three attempts, finding John Thompson and Tyler Baker on vertical routes and hitting Dom Williams from about eight-yards out.

Falk came back in and immediately threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Kyrin Priester, missed his next throw and had a third broken up by Kyle Newsom. Bender got one more pass – it was broken up by Parker Henry – and the Cougars moved on to special teams.

— Keith Harrington, Gabe Marks and Marcellus Pippins were the kick returners during special teams.

— Bender fared OK against the pass-rush on Tuesday, but the defense got to him a few times today. Jeremiah Mitchell sacked Bender on the first play of the team period, Palacio got him a little later on and there was a third sack by what we're just gonna call "Team." I have Falk finishing 9 of 12 with a drop by Marks. He also had some good luck, however, throwing his second touchdown to Marks, who caught it in the back of the end zone after the bullet pass was batted by a defender and ricocheted off another receiver.

Bender's first touchdown pass went to Dom Williams, who made the 12-yard reception with one hand while using the other and his body to shield the ball from the defender.

That session also saw a 15-yard run by Jamal Morrow up the middle and a 30-yard pass to John Thompson.

I had Falk going 10 of 15 with a touchdown to Marks, who may have landed out of bounds. Falk didn't take many shots downfield but he was able to consistently get short to moderate yardage. He also had to deal with back-to-back end zone drops by Dom Williams – the second of which would have been pretty hard to catch – and a drop on the drive by Baker.

— That's all for now. The Cougars will likely hold a second scrimmage on Saturday. We haven't gotten a time yet but the last one was 11 a.m.  (EDIT: After posting this I checked my email and found an announcement that the scrimmage will start at approximately 1:20 p.m. on Saturday.)

Morning links: WSU signs two

Yesterday was the first day of the spring signing period for men's basketball and the Cougars added to their already sizable class.

We've got a Signing Day story and a blog post with some additional thoughts from coach Ernie Kent.

And here are a few more links …

— Jeff Nusser writes about WSU's recruiting class over at CougCenter.

— King5's Pete Treperinas spoke with one of WSU's new signees, Viont'e Daniels.

— Former WSU baller Aaron Baynes made a music video with his Spurs teammates and it is something else.

— Ted Miller wrote about the WSU defense yesterday.

— Washington picked up a highly-regarded football recruit.

— Former Cal football player Brennan Scarlett got into Stanford.

Two basketball signees for WSU, with potentially more to come

The Washington State men's basketball program received letters of intent Wednesday morning from Charles Callison and Viont'e Daniels.

Coach Ernie Kent spoke to the media in the early afternoon and said that they, along with the three players that signed with Washington State during November's early signing period, possess skillsets that will allow the Cougars to better run Kent's system.

Daniels comes to WSU from Federal Way, where he led the FWHS Eagles to 27-2 overall record and was named the state's 4A Player of the Year by the Associated Press after averaging 24 points, six rebounds and four assists per game.

"I don't want to say he's come out of nowhere but I think he probably did shock the basketball world in terms of what he's been able to accomplish this year," Kent said. "What that tells you is he is somebody that's on the rise and I think he has a bright future ahead of him, and to be able to get a player of that kind of character and that type of talent out of one of the most respected programs over in that area, that's a feather in our cap, I believe.  I think when it's all said and done he has a chance to be a really special leader for us over here."

With Callison on board, the Cougars signed three junior college players in the class of 2015. With him they add a 6-foot, 180-pound point guard from San Bernardino Valley College who is expected to contribute immediately. Callison was named the Foothill Conference MVP after averaging 15.4 points, four assists and three boards per game while leading his team to a 29-2 record.

"We felt like we needed to strengthen our point guard position, we felt like we did that with Charles," Kent said. "He can play a couple different positions and, like Viont'e, I feel like he can play a couple different positions, he can move around from off-guard to point guard, back and forth. Charles is a lot more stronger, developed player coming into your program. He's a had a lot of success and I feel like he's a player that will step in right away and be a major factor."

The Cougars still have one scholarship available and Kent said that he hopes WSU will be able to land a post player. For now, Callison and Daniels join Derrien King, Robert Frank and Renard Suggs to form WSU's incoming recruiting class.

WSU also signed forward Jeff Pollard in November, but Kent confirmed on Wednesday that the Bountiful, Utah forward will delay his enrollment by a year to spend next season getting stronger and developing his game at the Impact Academy in Las Vegas.

Here are some highlights from Kent's interview:
  

(Will these guys be able to replace the outside shooting you lose with the graduations of DaVonté Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew?)

Yes, I think one thing our team next year – one thing I noticed is we have guys that are skilled and can shoot. Both of these players, along with the players we signed earlier, their skillset is really good. When you look at our team next year, I think people saw where Ike Iroegbu started really coming on strong, athletic, fast, really started to define his game.

Que Johnson, I think everybody knows he can score. He can really shoot the basketball. Brett Boese, I think everybody knows he can really shoot the basketball and then you saw what Josh (Hawkinson) is able to do it terms of his skillset. Along with that, now, we bring in a guard in Daniels who has a tremendous skillset: scoring, shooting, he can run. Charles Callison's another shooter that's big and strong. Darrien King can really score the basketball, he's got great length. Renard Suggs, he's a 3-point shooter with a tremendous feel for the game. And then Robert Franks, he's really skilled at that position, also, one of the toughest positions for us to find in terms of his versatility. And then you throw Jeff Pollard in, also, who has a strong basketball IQ, a very skilled basketball player. And yet, he's going to go to Impact Academy in Las Vegas for a year so he comes in the door bigger, stronger, more skilled so he has a chance to play really an extra year of high school basketball.

I just felt like with DaVonté leaving, with Dex leaving, we needed to continue to get scoring and shooting with the way we paly. I feel like we have a chance to be faster next year, we'll be deeper and I feel really good about the direction we're headed.

We still have one scholarship left. We're actively recruiting that and will continue to do that. It's very important scholarship because we want to get more size in the program.

(Does either guard bring the ability to change the game's tempo off the bench?)

I think after having a year of implementing our system, what I've already noticed about our team, for sure this offseason, we are so much faster across the board. Guys are making more plays because they're used to playing at that tempo.

Viont'e and Callison are both speed guys with the ball. They can get out and run, they can see plays, they can make plays. I feel like with Suggs and King, Callison and Daniels, we just got a lot faster and their skillset's better. Nothing against Trevor (Dunbar) or Jackie (Davis), but (them leaving) gave us a chance to get a little big deeper, a little big bigger, a little bit stronger.

(What do they bring defensively?)

… They're both excellent on-ball defenders, where they can handle their guy. Now,  Viont'e's got to get bigger and stronger, Callison's already there. I think Ike's going to be an improved defensive player, too, and King is long and athletic. We'll be built differently next year with Valentine (Izundu) becoming eligible to play and the next piece we're bringing in with some size. We feel like we got better and are moving in the right direction with all of these guys bringing skill, not only on the offensive side but on the defensive side as well.

(What are you expecting from the three junior college players?)

A couple of things. Number one, sometimes when people think Juco, they think bad academics, and that's not always the case, obviously. We make sure that we have strong academic personnel that can handle the academic rigor and will graduate from Washington State. Number two, we want them more ready to go, more ready to handle stuff at this level because they've already played two years and been away from home, been starters, hit big shots in big games, their teams have had some success along the way against really good competition. All those factors factor into it. So, when you find a junior college player they've got to be able to come in the door and help the program right away. Otherwise, there would be no point in going that route.

Morning links: Basketball signing day

Today is the beginning of the spring signing period for men's basketball and the Cougars are expected to add at least two new recruits.

Charles Callison and Viont'e Daniels – who we wrote a bit about here – are expected to sign national letters of intent today and it's possible the Cougars could still add a surprise. From what I gather, the Washington State is still looking to add a big, be it a transfer or recruit, from stateside or overseas.

On the football side, I wrote about freshman running back Keith Harrington today, an explosive Floridian who has looked like a standout for the Cougars, albeit inconsistently. I also have a report from yesterday's practice, where the pass rush was sublime and the offense was something less.

For today's baseball notebook I wrote about Gonzaga's pitching and how it's propping up a postseason push, along with notes on WSU and Whitworth.

Furthermore….

Jeff Nusser spotted a Grantland article that says Vince Mayle may be a better choice than another talented receiver with more baggage. … Washington WR/CB John Ross III participated in his first spring practice. …  Ted Miller profiles star Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright. … Utah receiver had his own personal pro day. … It was a rough year for Colorado football but at least the Buffalos performed well in the classroom. … USC will have another stacked roster next fall.

Offensive malaise plagues Cougars during Tuesday’s practice

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. 

Morning links: Three to read

Before we get to the day-to-day stuff, I've got three stories to pass along that I think are important reads for the well-rounded Cougar follower.

 

The first is the farewell column from longtime WSU writer Bud Withers. I grew up reading Bud's columns, and it has been a treat to get to know him these past two seasons. He will be sorely missed on the football beat next season and I hope he enjoys a well-deserved retirement.

Secondly, I'm passing along Wright Thompson's story from last week about the death of former WSU hoops assistant Jason Rabedeaux.  It will take you awhile to read, and it's really sad, but it is an exceptional example of journalism and well worth the effort.

Finally, I found this column by David Brooks to be very good. Bill Walton tweeted it out last night, which is how I'm justifying its inclusion in this space.

That's it for the heavy stuff. This weekend the Cougars held their first spring scrimmage and we've got a story, blog post full of observations and final stats. Additionally, here are post-scrimmage videos of Mike Leach, Luke Falk and Jeremiah Allison. Afterward, I went to Bailey-Brayton field to watch the WSU baseball team take on Washington. The Cougars lost that game, but still came away with a series win over the Huskies. Also, a 2016 quarterback recruit decided over the weekend that he wants to play for WSU.

WSU lands first 2016 recruit

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.

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.

Observations from WSU’s scrimmage

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."

WSU scrimmage stats

Courtesy of WSU athletics.

Morning links: Cougars get creative with special teams

Football teams punt, it's just something they do. But the Cougars don't have any punters listed on their spring roster.

So to get the punt work done in practice, the Cougars have had to get a little creative. We explain how in this story for today's paper. And here on the blog we have a post documenting everything that happened in yesterday's practice, video of Mike Leach talking after practice, and a fun video with Darryl Paulo, who answers some questions about the team.

Over at CougCenter, Brian Anderson has a really cool look at the X's and O's of WSU new package that has the quarterback lined up under center. Also, there's this video of outside linebackers coach Roy Manning mic'd up at practice.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12 …

— It looks like Washington's best basketball player is transferring.

— Arizona State has hired Bobby Hurley as its new basketball coach, completing a pretty good week for Duke and its graduates.


— Kevin Gemmell takes a look at UCLA's new defensive coordinator.

— Spring ball is almost over at USC.

WSU offense overtaking defense at the midway point

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.

Morning links: WSU baseball wins, football practices, women’s clinic on Friday

Washington State won for the third time in its last four games last night, as Donnie Marbut picked up his 300th win.

I was at the game and wrote this story. Before that, there was a football practice, so here is the practice report, video of Mike Leach and a story about how outside receivers coach Graham Harrell is helping out with the QBs, as well.

Also, this weekend is Mom's Weekend at WSU and the football program is once again putting on a women's clinic this Friday. If that sounds like something you or someone you know is interested in, here is some more information.

In other Pac-12 news …

— The Pac-12 Blog provides some Pac-12 draft tidbits.

— Arizona's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is off to the NBA.

— Duke assistant Jeff Capel passed on the Arizona State gig.

— Oregon kicker Matt Wogan is trying to reclaim his old starting gig.

— Oregon State's receiver's don’t appear to going above and beyond in practice.

— Drops have been a spring problem for USC's JuJu Smith.

WSU receivers redeem themselves, and then some

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.

Morning links: Raveling inducted, a bracket challenge won

One shining moment, indeed. When the book closed on one of the most exciting NCAA tournaments I remember we had two new champions…

There was Duke and there was … me?

That's right, I won the Spokesman-Review's bracket challenge. Unfortunately, I'm ineligible for the grand prize, so congratulations, Rick, on your new gift certificate. Email me at JacobT@Spokesman.com and we'll get it to you.

I still think I should get something for beating 45 of you readers, of course, so the next round is on Vince. Round of golf, that is.

What else happened yesterday? Well, a basketball recruit committed to playing for the Cougars. But more importantly, former WSU and USC coach George Raveling was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame. Here is a story our own John Blanchette did on Raveling when his induction was announced, and a nice profile of the coach by Trevor Williams for WSU Athletics. I also found this story yesterday about Raveling speaking to some students.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12…

— The Huskies practiced in the cold yesterday.

— Is Arizona's basketball team suffering because of a weakened Pac-12?

— A Cal transfer is set to start at left tackle for the Wildcats.

— UCLA's Kevon Looney threw his name into the NBA draft discussion.

— The Utes are trying to figure out how to go even deeper in next year's NCAA tournament.

Junior college point guard wants to keep winning at WSU

Charles Callison won 31 games this season at San Bernardino Valley College this past season. He'll try to keep the good mojo flowing at WSU next season.

Callison, a point guard, was named the Foothill Conference Player of the Year after averaging 15.4 points, four assists and three rebounds per game. Next year he'll be a Pac-12 basketball player, telling Cougfan.com that he plan on signing with the Cougars on April 15.

Because he's a junior college transfer, Callison will be expected to play right away for the Cougars. While freshman point guard Ny Redding started much of the season, late in the year Ernie Kent turned to Ike Iroegbu at that spot, although he seemed to have some reservations about taking Iroegbu out of his off-ball role.

If Callison can take care of the ball and allow Kent to keep Iroegbu at shooting guard, it seems like he'd have a good shot at starting next season.

The only tape of Callison I found is from his 2011-12 high school basketball season, but it gives you a sense of his game:

  

Morning links: Air Raid gets a makeover

I've covered Washington State for 19 months now, so naturally I thought I'd seen everything. But the Cougars can still surprise this old scribe.

WSU lined up behind center on less than .1 percent of its snaps last season but, lo and behold, the Cougars have been working on traditional handoffs this spring. We touch on that in yesterday's practice report and explore more in our story for today's paper. We also have a video of Mike Leach answering some questions yesterday's practice.

Here are the links…

— You already know this, but WSU's special teams haven't been special for the better part of a decade.

— Washington's quarterbacks are competing fiercely while last year's starter is absent.

— An article about Arizona's special teams.

— Could Arizona State's next basketball coach be on the bench during Monday's championship game?

— The saga of Cal's recruitment of an elite basketball recruit continues.

— Byron Marshall has one more spring at Oregon.

— Oregon State's passing game is a work in progress.

— Once again, Stanford is going to have a pretty good defense.

— There is a competition brewing among the backup quarterbacks at USC.

WSU quarterbacks spending time under center

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.

Morning links: Looking at WSU’s safety competition

With Darius Lemora at nickelback, there appear to be three candidates for the two starting safety positions.

We take a look at that competition in today's story for the paper. Also in the wrap we've got Jim Allen's story on WSU's ongoing search for a soccer coach. On the blog yesterday we had our practice report, a video of Mike Leach speaking after practice and we put the Five Questions to Isaac Dotson.

The Pac-12 Blog has a story from yesterday's pro day and includes Washington State's Jeremiah Mitchell on a list of impact junior college transfers.

Yesterday the Stanford basketball team won the NIT championship.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12 …

— The Huskies had a pro day of their own.

— Herb Sendek wrote a letter following his dismissal from Arizona State.

— Former Washington prep Christian Behrens will not return to California next season.

— UCLA's freshman quarterback looked good in his first real action.