Everything tagged

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Athlete Renard Bell commits to play at WSU

In the early afternoon on Thursday, Renard Bell of Cathedral HS in Los Angeles called WSU assistant Roy Manning.

Manning, a linebacker coach but the primary recruiter for the Cougars in southern California, has been recruiting Bell since early April, texting him or touching base almost every day.

That constant contact paid off, because Bell was calling to tell Manning that he plans on playing for WSU next fall.

"They showed a lot of love. They were the first team to offer me and ever since they offered me, they could not stop showing me love," Bell said. "My parents loved it and they were the school really showing me love out of all the offers that I have. So I felt comfortable and decided to go ahead and commit."

Bell also explained how Manning formed a relationship with him, saying, "They were being cool, asking me how my day was going, how's school, asking about track because I'm a track guy. They were joking around a lot and I felt very comfortable."

The Cougars initially recruited Bell as a cornerback, but the offensive coaches thought his talents as a receiver also merited a scholarship. Eventually they told the speedster, who clocked a 10.89 100-meter dash this spring, that he could play on either side of the ball. He says he prefers receiver.

Bell says he also had scholarship offers from Fresno State, San Diego State and Nevada.

"And I was talking to a lot of schools, Wyoming, UCLA, Boise State, Arizona State, Utah, Utah State and Colorado, and a couple other schools," He added. "But Washington State hit me up every day, every week and they were just keeping up with me."

Bell is friends with Jalen Thompson and Daevon Vigilant of Downey High in California, both of whom already have scholarship offers from the Cougars.

He will take an unofficial visit to WSU in June and then an official visit in the fall. He hasn't ruled out visiting other schools to compare, but says he will first talk with WSU's coaches.


Updated: Halliday is done with football

3:55 p.m. update: Connor Halliday told 700 ESPN this afternoon that he is not injured but has decided that he is done playing football.

Connor Halliday has been rehabbing since November to prepare himself for professional football, but now appears to be finished with the sport.

Washington signed Halliday, who was not drafted, but the quarterback is no longer listed on the team's roster ahead of this weekend's minicamp. John Keim of ESPN reported this morning that Halliday may be done playing football permanently.

If so, the timing is curious considering the work the quarterback put in to reach this point after breaking his ankle against USC on Nov. 1. Halliday was invited to the NFL Combine but did not throw there, waiting instead to conduct his own pro day at WSU on April 1, following an extensive rehab process in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Halliday threw well at his pro day, and Washington general manager Scot McCloughan seemed to take a lot of interest in him as a player, scouting him heavily throughout the pre-draft process.

In the past, the Spokane native has said that eventually he wants to coach high school football. His former coach at Ferris High, Jim Sharkey, says he has not spoken with Halliday about leaving football and that earlier this week he seemed excited for the chance to earn a roster spot.

I have reached out to Halliday and will update when we know more.


WSU releases post-spring depth chart

For the most part, the depth chart is pretty much what we saw and reported throughout the spring. There is one notable surprise, however. David Bucannon is listed as a backup cornerback. At 6-foot, 197-pounds, the former safety is by far the biggest cornerback on the team.

The Cougars are expected to add some corners this offseason, including junior college transfer Treshon Broughton, so it will be interesting to see if Bucannon can hold onto the position in fall camp.

It's also interesting to see Andre Dillard listed as the backup left tackle. While the coaches have been pretty excited about Dillard since he first started practicing, I'd still expect Gunnar Eklund to slide over if for some reason Joe Dahl couldn't play. Despite being limited all spring, River Cracraft is still the starting Y receiver and "Dan Post" did enough to play himself into the backup position at X.

Courtesy of WSU Athletics:

Connor Halliday signs with Washington

Connor Halliday wasn't selected in the NFL draft but will get his shot in the pros with Washington.

The news of his signing comes courtesy of the Baltimore Sun's Ravens reporter:

Because Halliday wasn't drafted, he was free to sign with any team that offered him a spot, allowing him to search for the team where he was most comfortable with the coaches, personnel, scheme and depth chart.

Washington makes sense for a few reasons. The organization took a long look at Halliday during the buildup to the draft and he's likely pretty comfortable with general manager Scot McCloughan and coach Jay Gruden at this point.

However, the team also has three quarterbacks under contract already: Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and the recently re-signed Colt McCoy. So, Halliday will need to beat somebody out.

His college coach at Washington State, Mike Leach, certainly thinks he has the tools to succeed in the NFL. In a recent teleconference with reporters, Leach said: "I think he's got a better arm than anybody in the draft. The ball comes off his hand quicker than anybody in the draft. He's got quick feet, makes better decisions and he showed he can move the ball downfield."

Leach added: "I think he's a very good pro prospect. I hope he's not under-drafted."

Just because Halliday went undrafted doesn't mean he can't be an NFL success. NFL stars like Arian Foster, Wes Welker and quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Warren Moon all went undrafted out of college.

With pick No. 123, Mayle joins Cooper in Cleveland

So, which Browns jersey are you going to buy? The Xavier Cooper model, or the Vince Mayle edition?

Cleveland tapped the Pacific Northwest pipeline for the third time this draft Saturday morning, selecting Washington State wide receiver Vince Mayle with the 123rd pick (4th round). Yesterday evening, the Browns made WSU's Xavier Cooper their third-round choice.

The NFL has suspended Cleveland's star receiver, Josh Gordon, for at least one season and Browns management has been pretty candid about its frustration with the wideout.

Mayle, a 6-2, 224-pound bully that was a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist last season, should be able to contribute immediately to a Browns receiving corps that didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver last season and Travis Benjamin led the team with three receiving touchdowns.

Morning links: And the draft goes on

Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle will find out their professional destinations today. But Xavier Cooper already knows where he's going.

Cleveland selected Cooper with the 96th pick in the draft, which was fitting because he wore No. 96 at Washington State. We have a story and blog post on Cooper's selection. Here is some reaction to Cooper's selection and some analysis from ESPN.

When the pick was made I was covering WSU's baseball game against Arizona. It didn't go so well for the home team.

Cleveland takes Xavier Cooper with the 96th pick

PULLMAN—Xavier Cooper sat at a draft party he hosted with Tacoma football royalty and angrily texted his agent.

Told by his representatives and others that he would be a mid-to-late second round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, the third round's end was fast approaching and defensive linemen were flying off the board, none of them him.

"I was getting ready to shut the party down to be honest," Cooper said.

Fellow Wilson High graduates and current NFL players Desmond and Isaiah Trufant and their parents, waited anxiously beside him, wondering when their fellow Ram would discover his professional destination.

To work through his stress, Cooper called a nephew, currently incarcerated. So he was busy when the Cleveland Browns made a trade with the New England Patriots to acquire the 96th pick in the draft, the one that would end his long wait.

With the 96th pick, Cleveland selected the Washington State defensive lineman, adding him to a draft class that already included Washington's Danny Shelton and Utah's Nate Orchard.

Last year the Cleveland defensive line room was full of injuries. This year it will be full of Pac-12 alumni.

While Cooper played primarily at defensive end for WSU, the Browns are expected to use him as an interior player and the team website lists him as a defensive tackle. It's likely Cleveland plans to pair him with the much larger Shelton to provide a pass rush in the middle of their defense.

"They plan on using me right next to him," Cooper said. "Danny's more of a nose tackle, I'm more of a three technique. We're both different players but us together, you're talking about what could be one of the best defensive lines in the national football league for years to come."

In fact, the Browns liked that idea so much they traded up in the draft to select Cooper, taking the 96th pick from the Patriots along with a seventh-round selection in exchange for Cleveland's fourth, fifth and sixth rounders.

While Cooper and Shelton both grew up on the west side of the state – Shelton attended Auburn High – the Cougar said that he never knew the Washington nose tackle growing up.

But Cooper trained with former Huskies Marcus Peters and Shaq Thompson, and Desmond Trufant played with Shelton in college as well, and he said all gave glowing references.

His selection makes Cooper the highest-drafted WSU defensive lineman since Dorian Boose and Leon Bender were drafted in the second round of the 1998 draft. He is the first Cougars defensive lineman drafted since the Tennessee Titans selected Rien Long in the fourth round of the 2003 draft.

He started the final 34 of the 36 games he played for the Cougars, leading the team with 9.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt junior this past season, also collecting 37 tackles and five sacks.

"I really felt like he was a difference maker," said Browns general manager Ray Farmer. "The guy played with an unbelievable motor. Ran and hustled to the ball. Showed that quick first-step explosion to beat and block and get upfield. I think the guy has a chance to be a really good NFL player."

Still waiting to be selected are former Cougars Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle, who each will hope to be selected on Saturday as the draft concludes with rounds 4-7. Perhaps boding well for Halliday is that Washington acquired picks No. 112, No. 167 and No. 181 from the Seattle Seahawks as part of a trade on Friday.

The Redskins have been linked to Halliday throughout the draft evaluation process, perhaps more than any other team.

WSU wraps up spring football

Washington State practiced for the 15th and final time this spring on Tuesday.

I confess, I didn't watch all of practice because I'm also covering the Pac-12 golf championships at Palouse Ridge. But here are some things I saw, and some other things we learned while watching the Cougars this spring:

— Some backups that have come on strong in recent practices appear to have grasped positions with the second unit, for now at least. Chandler Leniu looks like a strong backup for Peyton Pelluer at Mike linebacker, although don't discount Aaron Porter once he arrives this summer. Linebacker actually looks like one of WSU's strongest positions heading into next season. Pelluer and Jeremiah Allison both played well in their more traditional roles, and the Rush linebackers will be one of the most talented, deepest units next year.

I also think Carlos Freeman is likely to stick at backup center. He's got some nasty to him that the coaches like and, a former wrestler, he's got some athleticism, too. I'm not sure I see him beating out Riley Sorenson, who has uncommon size and athleticism for the position, to say nothing of a year of starting experience. But the sophomore will be a player to watch along the line.

Colton Teglovic has held off all challenges at the No. 2 nickelback spot backing up Darius Lemora, and today I saw Deion Singleton running with the twos at cornerback. BUT…

— Singleton will not be eligible to play next season and will sit out as an academic redshirt. The defensive back had some grade issues coming out of high school and that's believed to be why he wasn't on the team this past season despite signing as a member of the 2014 recruiting class.  Starting in 2016, the NCAA will institute something called an "academic redshirt," that will allow some students to receive financial aid and be held to lower academic stands for their first year as long as they redshirt.

Mike Leach told me after practice that Singleton redshirting was a condition for getting him into school. So it's likely that Singleton is a nonqualifier who was granted a partial approval of a waiver. That means that he cannot compete next season but can receive financial aid and practice. If this is the case with Singleton, it means the NCAA believes there were mitigating circumstances in his failure to qualify and his academic record makes it seem likely that he will be academically successful.

— The Cougars bounced around and all that during team period. Peyton Bender completed an early pass to D.J. Thompson, who made a bunch of guys miss as he reversed course and cut upfield. However, he fumbled at the end of the run, although I think the ground caused the fumble. Bender completed eight of his first nine passes, the 10th was a drop, and then two more after that. Pat Porter showed up with a nice pass breakup in tight coverage of Gabe Marks in the end zone, and Dylan Hanser followed with a sack. Bender had the final say, though, hitting Thompson in the end zone for a touchdown.

I had Falk going 7-of-10 with a 10-yard scramble and a sack by Kache Palacio. He hit Gerard Wicks on a wheel route out of the backfield for about a 12-yard touchdown. Wicks was wide open due to some defensive miscommunication. Charleston White had a nice pass breakup.

— More than anything, even the quarterbacks, this spring was about the defense. Alex Grinch got his first 15 practices as defensive coordinator, and he's been pretty blunt about the fact that the defense isn't quite what he's used to working with in the SEC. But, to my eye the defense is getting better, especially at closing to the ball, and I think he's seeing the same thing.

I asked him after practice today if he was feeling good about the defense and he said, "No, quite honestly. But by the same token, they're getting better. The work that we'll do both on their own and this summer will be crucial." He emphasized that the defense needs to be better on the first day of fall camp than they are today and it's obvious that he thinks that a lot of what will determine whether or not the defense will be improved next year will be what happens this summer.

Grinch's energy has been good for the defense, it seems and the players seem to respond to him. They certainly say they do (what else are they gonna say, right?). But where Grinch has really stood out so far this spring is his emphasis on individual technique, mostly with the secondary, and we've seen that show up recently in the improved play of guys like Charleston White, Deion Singleton and Marcellus Pippins.

Safety could still be a little better and it's not going to help Sulaiman Hameed's development that he spent most of spring football limited. Isaac Dotson is a big-hitter and his coverage has improved, but I'm not sure he's a great open-field tackler yet. You could see a little tentativeness when he closed on Kyrin Priester during the spring game, and Priester was able to make a move and get by him. Sure, Priester's a good receiver. There are a lot of good receivers in the Pac-12.

But I do think Dotson will be an improvement at safety and Hameed  has some good tools if he's healthy. Shalom Luani's arrival should help the Cougars on the back end, too.

— The bulk of WSU's special teams struggles last season were related to coverage issues and I do think that will be a lot better. Once Eric Mele became the special teams coach midseason a lot of those issues cleared up, and the Cougars drilled kickoff and punt coverage a fair amount this spring. But the kicking/punting game will be a worry until it isn't.

The Cougars effectively went through spring without a punter. Erik Powell did a yeoman's job filling in considering he hasn't done it since high school, but didn't do enough where I would be comfortable sending him out in a tight game if I was a coach. After him, the punters were Frankie Luvu and a Jugs machine, and Luvu was limited for most of the spring.

Maybe the Jugs machine still has some eligibility?

The Cougars will doubtlessly bring in punters but if it was that easy to find someone off the street than everyone would do it. The hope is that incoming kicker Matt Abramo can suffice as a freshman and maybe he can. Again, we'll see. Abramo will get every chance to contribute early at kicker as well, since Quentin Breshears didn't have an incredible spring and badly missed a short putt in the spring game. Powell looked a little better, but lost his starting job early last season. So either one of those two needs to improve significantly or the Cougars could be relying on a freshman at both positions.

— The guy with the safest spot on the team is left tackle Joe Dahl. Dahl hasn't gotten enough ink this spring, but he's been crushing people in every practice and has been a rock for the Cougars. Very few sacks come from the quarterback's blind side when the first string offensive line is in the game and having a cornerstone left tackle will make whoever plays quarterback next season's job a lot easier.

Initial observations from WSU spring game

— With just one practice left in the spring, Luke Falk is still the apparent starter at quarterback. While Peyton Bender made some nice plays on Saturday, he still makes more mistakes as well. He missed on one throw that ended up in defensive back Willie Roach's hands and tested long-armed cornerback Charleston White downfield despite the fact that White had good position on Gabe Marks, leading to another interception.

Falk, conversely, made safe, simple plays to keep the offense moving while waiting for his receivers to make plays or the defense to make a mistake, which eventually happened more often than not. He found the open receiver – usually Dom Williams – and accurately placed the ball so the receiver could make a play after the catch. He did take a shot downfield, trying to hit Robert Lewis when he got behind David Bucannon, but hung the ball up so Bucannon had time to recover and breakup the pass.

That's a play that the Cougars aren't going to have in their arsenal as much this year; last year Connor Halliday seemed to complete two of them a game to Vince Mayle, but neither of the quarterbacks this year have Halliday's cannon.

But Falk has his own strengths, such as a 12-yard run to pick up a first down when the defense was hanging back in coverage, which likely never would have even occurred to Halliday. Ultimately, while Bender pushed Falk this spring like a coach hopes a backup would, Falk played well enough to remain the favorite to start next fall.

— Offensive lineman Carlos Freeman has come on at center this spring and has been running with the twos lately, splitting time there with Sam Flor. Freeman appears to have moved into the backup role and was the starting center for Gray on Saturday. Riley Sorenson remains the starting center and I don't see that changing.

— Gerard Wicks seems to be the guy at running back right now, with Keith Harrington and Jamal Morrow providing depth and different looks. While Morrow was the starter last season, he got just four carries and one reception to Wicks' 10 carries and three catches.

The caveat is that Morrow missed some practice time and we don't know if he's 100 percent right now. But Wicks has run strong this spring. Keith Harrington was a good receiver out of the backfield, amassing 58 yards on 10 catches, but didn't do much in the running game. While Harrington's had a solid spring and doubtlessly earned a spot in the rotation, I expect the hard-running Wicks to get the plurality of the carries next season.

— We didn't see much of Clemson transfer Kyrin Priester and the read here is that the coaches have scaled back his use since he won't be able to play next year, anyway. Priester is a physical receiver that still has some shake to his game, and will likely be a key player in 2016. He got some work at the end of the spring game, and actually subbed in earlier for the Crimson team, despite his gray jersey. He caught one pass and made a nice move to avoid Isaac Dotson, who came in pretty tentatively, and get upfield for 19 yards. But, I think he might have benefited slightly from wearing the same jersey as the defense on the play.

— While the final score was Crimson 31, Gray 20, the score to remember is 31-17. That's what the difference was at the first drives of the fourth quarter when Mike Leach pulled the first units and took Bender and Falk out. Gray also took back-to-back fourth-quarter possessions, helping Tyler Hilinski to cut the score with touchdown passes to Erik Anderson and Zaire Andre.

— While Deion Singleton lined up at cornerback, I'm not sure that means he's made a complete switch to safety. With Charlesotn White and walk-on Brendan Hay the only corners on the Crimson roster, I expect the coaches were merely doing what they could to make the depth work. Jeff Farrar, a cornerback who appears to have fallen down the depth this spring, was listed as a DB.

Colton Teglovic started at nickelback for his squad and remains the primary backup to Darius Lemora at that position.

— Erik Powell made a 42-yard field goal and Quentin Breshears missed from 20-yards out. Based on that, I'll call Powell the front-runner for the kicking job heading into the summer.

Crimson wins initial skirmish with Gray

Washington State's Crimson and Gray teams will compete for real on Saturday in Spokane, but we got an early spring game preview at practice.

The Cougars were only in helmets and game jerseys on Thursday, with the Crimson and Gray teams each in their respective colors.  Overall, it was a pretty dreary practice with rain beating down throughout.

Things picked up during a modified team period, however. Rather than split into starters and backups, the teams were the same ones that will compete in Saturday's Crimson and Gray game with quarterback Luke Falk leading the Crimson and Peyton Bender behind center for the Gray.

They Gray was on offense first and Bender started off sharp, completing four of his first passes, three of them to D.J. Thompson. But the Gray stalled near the end zone and Bender was sacked by Hercules Mata'afa.

The freshman from Florida had more success on his next drive, finding Gabe Marks for a score, but also threw an interception to Brendan Hay, a walk-on that tried out for the team and has had a pretty good spring.

On Falk's first series he completed short passes to Dom Williams and Robert Lewis, then found John Thompson in the end zone. And on his final series we got some controversy.

Falk didn't get much going on his second drive, which featured a lot of runs. But on the final play he completed a pass to Robert Lewis just short of the goal on the sideline, and the receiver spun around and reached the ball across the end zone in a fashion very similar to this play.

The sides couldn't agree whether or not the ball actually crossed the end zone plane before Lewis was pushed out of bounds and the score was so tight that whether or not the touchdown stood would have decided the period. So the teams went to a sudden death overtime.

On Bender's first play he threw a touchdown pass to Tyler Baker and Falk followed by calling his own number and running in for a score. Then Hay, the walk-on cornerback, ended the day by intercepting Bender for the second time.

Crimson and Gray Game rosters announced

Washington State's annual spring game will take place at 2 p.m. at Joe Albi Stadium, and will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

The school released the rosters today and I'm told that there was no draft or anything, they simply tried to divvy up the teams evenly. The Crimson team will wear crimson, the Gray team will wear gray, and teams will use a regular scoring format. But we knew that.

The game's format will be just slightly different. The first two quarters will be normal, 15-minute quarters and the second two will use a running clock to speed things up a bit. As is Mike Leach's custom, there will be an additional practice on the Tuesday following the spring game at 2:30.

Here are the rosters:

WSU offense explosive, but with miscues

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.

WSU chat transcript

Apr 21 2015, 11:58 AM

srchat: Alright, let's get started. Thanks for joining our live chat. Fire away with your WSU questions and I'll do my best to answer them.

Apr 21 2015, 11:59 AM

BING (guest): How is the secondary looking?

Apr 21 2015, 12:01 PM

srchat: The starters looked better in Saturday's scrimmage than a week ago. Cornerback Marcellus Pippins' two interceptions were obviously the highlight, but more important was seeing the DBs much nearer the play. In the first scrimmage the receivers were wide open. The receivers are still ahead of the DBs, but it appears that DC Alex Grinch's hands-on coaching is paying off because the gap shrunk this week.

Apr 21 2015, 12:03 PM

Guest6387 (guest): What's the biggest difference you have noticed with Grinch at the helm of the defense?

Apr 21 2015, 12:05 PM

srchat: There is a lot more energy. The new coaches are pretty hyper on the practice field and that's particularly effective early on, since the players know that they have to impress their new coaches to earn spots. The overall effect is that the defense is a much louder unit than it used to be and that energy is starting to show up on the field, particularly in the pass rush. I'd also note that Grinch and Manning spend a lot more time working on technique one-on-one with an individual player.

Apr 21 2015, 12:05 PM

BING (guest): Do you see Bender's reads improving enough to beat out Falk?

Apr 21 2015, 12:07 PM

srchat: That's a good question, because Bender has played very well lately. I still think Falk will be the starter next season for a couple reasons. One, Bender's stats come down to earth a bit when he faces the starting defense, which is who Falk spends 75% of his snaps throwing against. Two, I still feel as if Falk makes the safer read most of the time — Bender is just good enough to make a play out of the unsafe read while going against the twos.

Apr 21 2015, 12:08 PM

srchat: But you're right that Bender's reads are getting better and he's starting to finish more series clean, so it could happen.

Apr 21 2015, 12:08 PM

Guest4036 (guest): How is the competition looking at Y receiver? Is it true that Robert Lewis is the leader to start there?

Apr 21 2015, 12:09 PM

srchat: No, Robert Lewis is firmly entrenched at H receiver. While it can be easy to mix up the inside receivers, remember that the H is usually going to be on the left side and that it's usually the smaller, quicker receiver. Tyler Baker is playing well at Y, where he took over for River Cracraft last season. I still expect Cracraft to start at Y once he's healthy.

Apr 21 2015, 12:09 PM

georgeforman (guest): what do you expect to see this year in terms of run/pass ratio?

Apr 21 2015, 12:11 PM

srchat: Last year the Cougars finished with pretty close to a 3:1 pass-rush ratio. This year I think they'll run a little more, maybe 5:2 or so.

Apr 21 2015, 12:11 PM

Guest6387 (guest): How is Barry Ware doing?

Apr 21 2015, 12:12 PM

srchat: Ware has been running with the threes mostly. He's a good player with a lot of natural talent and some instincts, but he's still got a ways to go in terms or route-running and technique. I think a lot of fans have high expectations of Ware because he played so well during Thursday Night Football scrimmages last season.

Apr 21 2015, 12:12 PM

srchat: But you've got to remember: He was going up against freshman during those scrimmages, and the best freshmen defensive backs were starting at that point.

Apr 21 2015, 12:12 PM

Guest4036 (guest): Thanks, Jake. Guess some reporters know the personnel just a little better than others!

Apr 21 2015, 12:13 PM

BING (guest): Gabe Marks is so talented. Is he back to showing off that talent?

Apr 21 2015, 12:13 PM

srchat: Yes, Marks is the most dynamic player in just about every practice.

Apr 21 2015, 12:13 PM

Guest1292 (guest): How is Leniu looking ?

Apr 21 2015, 12:14 PM

srchat: Leniu has been solid, but hasn't stood out a whole lot. He's still just a freshman, however. I have been impressed by how well he's able to move at 255 pounds.

Apr 21 2015, 12:14 PM

Guest6420 (guest): What's your sense? Is the D going to better this year?

Apr 21 2015, 12:15 PM

srchat: My sense is that the defense is going to be deeper this year and better able to survive the injuries or setbacks that will undoubtedly happen, as they do with any team. I think the secondary will be better. But I also think the defense lost enough upperclassmen talent this offseason that it will be tough to take a huge leap forward in Grinch's first year.

Apr 21 2015, 12:15 PM

Guest6387 (guest): Have you had a chance to interview Manning or Grinch much? If so, how are they adjusting to Pullman? The team?

Apr 21 2015, 12:17 PM

srchat: Before practices began I sat down for about 45 minutes with Grinch to watch some film and talk about the defense and talk to him every few practice, and have had a few conversations with Manning. Those stories are available in our WSU coverage here at the S-R. I think Grinch has adjusted fine but is spending too much time working to really get to know Pullman. Manning raved to me about the weather the other day; I guess compared to Ann Arbor, Pullman is pretty temperate.

Apr 21 2015, 12:18 PM

srchat: I think the Rush linebackers have really taken to Manning; he seems to be a popular guy with the whole defense. I think Grinch has taken well to the team but recognizes that the talent level needs to be higher and that he's got to manufacture something until that happens.

Apr 21 2015, 12:19 PM

Guest1292 (guest): Will Brett B ever see the field again…and can you send us a picture of Wicks blowing up Shaq Thompson in last years Apple cup ! ?

Apr 21 2015, 12:22 PM

srchat: Bartolone has been limited all spring and I'd be surprised if he's able to see the field again, given how long it's been and the guys ahead of him. Here is our gallery from the Apple Cup

Apr 21 2015, 12:22 PM

srchat: http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/sportslink/2014/nov/29/apple-cup-2014/

Apple Cup 2014 | The Spokesman-Review

Apr 21 2015, 12:22 PM

chiveonjiveon: How have farrar and Singleton looked??

Apr 21 2015, 12:25 PM

srchat: Farrar is one of the bigger, more physical defensive backs but has struggled in coverage. But I mentioned in a practice report last week that he's starting to do better in the man-to-man stuff, at least in drills. Still, I think he's swimming right now and needs to improve in coverage technique and understanding of responsibilities to see the field. Singleton is still shaking the rust off after not playing for a year but his athleticism is apparent and he's got good instincts. Again, I think he'll need some

time to develop.

Apr 21 2015, 12:25 PM

georgeforman (guest): how is deion singleton doing? do you expect him to have an impact during his career? and how much do you see calvin green getting on the field?

Apr 21 2015, 12:26 PM

srchat: For Singleton, see above. I expect Green will see the field plenty this fall. I have him as a backup outside receiver on my projected two-deep. http://bit.ly/1b64M8G

Best guess at the 2015 WSU two-deep | The Spokesman-Review

Apr 21 2015, 12:26 PM

srchat: That would mean he plays quite a bit next year with a great chance to start the following year when Dom Williams — and maybe Gabe Marks, honestly — are gone.

Apr 21 2015, 12:26 PM

Guest6387 (guest): In terms of manufacturing something on defense, will they rely on blitzing and pressure to make up for a lack of talent?

Apr 21 2015, 12:28 PM

srchat: They have been bringing a lot of pressure and, without getting into scheme, have come up with some interesting packages to create pressure. I don't think that's making up for talent as much as experience. Pippins and White are talented enough to make plays on the ball when the quarterback gets it out quickly but they haven't seen everything yet, so they might struggle to cover Pac-12 receivers for an extended period.

Apr 21 2015, 12:28 PM

cubsfan7331: When the freshmen and JUCO transfers start arriving in June what can they do football related?

Apr 21 2015, 12:29 PM

srchat: The same as everyone else, they'll be able to go workout and do unofficial, non-mandatory stuff with their teammates and they'll be able to spend a few hours each week with the coaches.

Apr 21 2015, 12:29 PM

Guest1292 (guest): Can Destiny become an All Pac 12 performer.?..seems to have the size, speeed, toughness…

Apr 21 2015, 12:29 PM

srchat: I think he can be, and I think the coaches think he can be, too. Leach has singled out Destiny Vaeao in particular this spring as someone he expects to take on a leadership role for the defense.

Apr 21 2015, 12:29 PM

Guest6387 (guest): Can you offer three reasons for fans to be optimistic about making a bowl this season?

Apr 21 2015, 12:31 PM

srchat: 1: The Cougars return every starter on the offensive line. 2: WSU had the talent to win at least 5 games last season but didn't get the breaks. 3: Falk showed last year he can win competitive Pac-12 games on the road.

Apr 21 2015, 12:31 PM

BING (guest): Heard a lot about Hercules and how strong he is and how well he played during TNF. Is that coming across this spring?

Apr 21 2015, 12:32 PM

srchat: Yes, Mata'afa has played primarily with the twos but I've been seeing him with the ones more and more. While he's not getting a sack every snap now that he's playing against starters, he's still a very impressive freshman.

Apr 21 2015, 12:33 PM

chiveonjiveon: Who, in your opinion, of the incoming freshman and JUCO guys has a legit chance of starting??

Apr 21 2015, 12:33 PM

srchat: I'll use this as another opportunity to plug the mock depth chart I put together, which I believe has three JC guys on it

Apr 21 2015, 12:33 PM

srchat: http://bit.ly/1b64M8G

Best guess at the 2015 WSU two-deep | The Spokesman-Review

Apr 21 2015, 12:34 PM

cubsfan7331: From your articles it looks like Leach is going to have a "draft" to select the teams for Saturday's game. When might you be able to get your hands on the rosters and, if so publish it prior to Saturday. If not will there be some type of program available at the game?

Apr 21 2015, 12:34 PM

srchat: Last year I don't believe we got the rosters until the day before the game, so check here on Friday, maybe Thursday. I assume there will be rosters available at the game, but I'll put them up here when I have them so people can print them off to be safe.

Apr 21 2015, 12:34 PM

Guest9463 (guest): When does fall camp usually start and how long does it last?

Apr 21 2015, 12:36 PM

srchat: Fall camp typically starts right around the beginning of August and goes until the week before the first game. However, WSU's season-opener isn't until Sept. 5 this year (last year was Aug. 28), so maybe we'll get an extra week of summer, which would be JUST FINE COACH.

Apr 21 2015, 12:37 PM

BING (guest): Anyone not mentioned much to this point that you think is going to have a break out year?

Apr 21 2015, 12:38 PM

srchat: He's not a "new" player so I don't know if he's generated as much excitement as some of the young guys we've mentioned but I think Robert Lewis could certainly catch 60 passes this year and be a key player for WSU. Peyton Pelluer is playing really well.

Apr 21 2015, 12:39 PM

Guest6420 (guest): Falk and Bender who looks best under center running the O and who from the shotgun? Or, does it matter?

Apr 21 2015, 12:40 PM

srchat: Too small a sample size to really say that one looks better. I will say that Bender has exceptional feet and can really throw accurately on the run, so I would imagine he'll be pretty good at the play-action stuff.

Apr 21 2015, 12:40 PM

Guest9463 (guest): Do you think Peyton Pelluer is fast enough? I seem to remember him getting outran a bit last year. If so will the extra experience help?

Apr 21 2015, 12:41 PM

srchat: I don't think he's slow, but his strength is his ability to diagnose and react to plays quickly. If he gets in a footrace with a receiver or running back he's probably not going to win, but a faster linebacker would get in more of those footraces than he does.

Apr 21 2015, 12:41 PM

Guest1292 (guest): Brett B has the skills and already show he can perform at a high level. sounds like is is just plain hurt all of the time…Is Begg showing up much..?..cougs will go 6-6 0r 7-5 Rutgers and Cal will be key games to get there and of course the AC

Apr 21 2015, 12:42 PM

srchat: The injuries haven't helped, but I also think guys like River Cracraft simply passed him by when he was healthy. Begg has seen some action as a tight end but has been pretty limited this spring.

Apr 21 2015, 12:42 PM

cubsfan7331: Halliday seems he never met a pass play he didn't like and always checked out of runs for passes. Falk seems to actually seek run first and pass second, how does Bender look in this aspect of the game?

Apr 21 2015, 12:43 PM

srchat: Well, I can assure you none of them seek run first pass second and the numbers reflect that. But I do think Falk is a little quicker to check into runs than Bender is.

Apr 21 2015, 12:43 PM

Guest9463 (guest): Ok thanks! Could you see the QBs sharing snaps in games at all or is it likely one plays the vast majority of the time?

Apr 21 2015, 12:43 PM

srchat: No, I think Leach will pick one guy. If that guy gets injured or plays poorly he'll go to the other guy.

Apr 21 2015, 12:43 PM

Guest1292 (guest): River is a much better player, more athletic, faster than Brett..Brett is great on his routes..good hands..too bad, he had a bright future

Apr 21 2015, 12:45 PM

Guest1292 (guest): besides Dahl…which ol has the best bet to be a all Pac 12 performer ?

Apr 21 2015, 12:46 PM

srchat: Riley Sorenson. He's got pretty unique size/athleticism for a center and he'll be a three-year starter at the position.

Apr 21 2015, 12:47 PM

cubsfan7331: During practice what % of time does Harrell spend with the QB's or is most of that interaction done after practice. By the way I think he was a great hire.Head coach in training.

Apr 21 2015, 12:48 PM

srchat: Out of a 2.5-3 hour practice he probably spends around 15-20 minutes, usually when the rest of the team is working on special teams. Typically he's working on throwing mechanics while the quarterbacks throw a football into a trash can or having them do footwork drills while he uses a stick to try and punch the ball out.

Apr 21 2015, 12:48 PM

Guest3947 (guest): Are there packages with McClennan and Palachio playing together? Seems like both could have big years

Apr 21 2015, 12:48 PM

srchat: I would not be surprised if such a package existed.

Apr 21 2015, 12:48 PM

Guest1292 (guest): Interesting, thought it might be Cole

Apr 21 2015, 12:49 PM

srchat: Madison could be a four-year starter at right tackle or they might move him to the left side once Dahl graduates, so that's certainly a possibility as well.

Apr 21 2015, 12:50 PM

Guest9463 (guest): Are Ekuale and Paulo big enough on the D-line. I know Paulo did well in limited action last year, but they are both under 290

Apr 21 2015, 12:51 PM

srchat: I think they're both big enough for how Grinch wants the defense. He's been pretty open about sacrificing size for speed.

Apr 21 2015, 12:51 PM

Guest1292 (guest): WR depth/skills seem to be a concern, seeing a lot of DJ Thomson and Dan Post, how will they fare in the regular season ?..hard to imagine the 6'6 JC kid being a mjor contributor other goal line

Apr 21 2015, 12:52 PM

srchat: I think both have shown enough that they could go into a game and contribute, and maybe make the top 8. I do think the depth will look a little better once Cracraft is back. Also, Gabe Marks, River Cracraft, Calvin Green … Leach isn't shy about playing freshman wide receivers, so don't be shocked if, say, Kyle Sweet comes in and contributes at inside receiver.

Apr 21 2015, 12:53 PM

Guest9463 (guest): Do you know if Grinch plans to change the nickel package when playing a run heavy team like Stanford?

Apr 21 2015, 12:53 PM

srchat: I think that will probably be the case.

Apr 21 2015, 12:53 PM

Guest6420 (guest): 2nd and goal. Do you throw a slant for a score or run a dive? Falk and Bender choices?

Apr 21 2015, 12:53 PM

srchat: I give Marshawn the ball and get the heck out of the way. Falk can give it to him.

Apr 21 2015, 12:55 PM

cubsfan7331: Anybody that might have been in Breske's doghouse getting a second look and if so who's seizing the opportunity?

Apr 21 2015, 12:56 PM

srchat: I don't know if he was in Breske's doghouse but I think David Bucannon has certainly taken advantage of the fresh slate.

Apr 21 2015, 12:56 PM

Guest1292 (guest): Tyler looking like a future Pac 12 qb?

Apr 21 2015, 12:56 PM

srchat: Too soon to tell on Tyler Hilinski, but he's certainly playing really well in scrimmages for someone who is not only younger than every other person on the field, but should really be getting ready for prom.

Apr 21 2015, 12:57 PM

Guest106 (guest): More than very little has been discussed about our punting and kickoff teams…call it "not so special". What's going on? Do we have anyone or 2 anyone's coming in latter…a sleeper player?

Apr 21 2015, 12:58 PM

srchat: I covered a lot of that in this story I wrote early in fall camp about special teams and how the Cougars are handing punting in particular. http://bit.ly/1CxOY4J The Cougars did sign a punter/kicker in Matt Abramo and I expect they'll add a couple walk-on punters in the fall

WSU spring football: Cougars find punting alternatives - Spokesman.com - April 10, 2015

Apr 21 2015, 12:59 PM

Guest9463 (guest): Who do you think leads the team in interceptions this year?

Apr 21 2015, 12:59 PM

srchat: Charleston White.

Apr 21 2015, 1:00 PM

srchat: Well that's the hour, folks. As always, thanks for joining our live chat. I'll get the transcript posted ASAP.

WSU spring game won’t feature any scoring gimmicks

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."

Observations from the WSU scrimmage

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.

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.

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.