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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.
Over the course of 1,011 snaps last season the WSU quarterbacks received the ball under center just once. Expect that number to go up drastically next season.
The Cougars have devoted a short portion of each spring practice I've seen to practicing under-center handoffs. The centers, quarterbacks and backs practice primarily dives plays to help the players get used to the new timing and quarterback depths, although they have been expanding to more stuff.
Expect them to add quite a bit, however, as both Mike Leach and running backs coach Jim Mastro said that Washington State's offense could line up in an under-center formation as often as one quarter of the plays next season.
For more on WSU's new look on offense as well as thoughts from the players and coaches, check out my story in tomorrow's paper.
In the meantime, here's what else I saw at practice on Saturday morning …
— As always, we'll begin with the players of limited participation: Nate DeRider, Brett Bartolone, Andre Dillard, Pat Porter, River Cracraft, Robert Barber, Ngalu Tapa, Reece Alvarado and Frankie Luvu all donned the yellow jerseys on Saturday.
— A freshman kicker from Burien, Daniel Garcia, got the call today at the start of practice. He looked pretty sharp in warm-ups, but missed his first and closest kick. The 5-foot-7 kicker recovered nicely, though, making his final two.
— Freshman Deion Singleton is starting to play fast after being away from the game for awhile. If you remember, Singleton was one of the prize recruits a year ago and a Signing Day surprise for the Cougars, but never made it into camp. He's there now, however, and is starting to look the part.
He broke up a pair of passes during the WR vs. DB drill, both of which were hitch routes. Because of his athleticism, Singleton is able to stay close to the receiver, turn when he turns, and get some momentum going the opposite direction. That being said, he's still got some learning to do, as we saw when Robert Lewis turned him around with a quick faint on a short route in the end zone.
— Isaac Dotson had one of his best days and making his case to lock up the starting free safety spot. When you look at Dotson you imagine a big, lumber-laying safety and, to be fair, his favorite player to emulate is Kam Chancellor. He does use his size well and breaks up passes by running through receivers instead of trying to bat a pass away.
But what he's gotten better at, and what's starting to set him apart, is his ability to cover receivers. Offensive players generally have an advantage in the WR vs. DB drill because they're acting while the defense is reacting, they know where the play is going to go, and they have a lot of space to get open. So it was notable when Dotson broke up consecutive passes and generally did a nice job of sticking to his man.
Backup nickelback Colton Teglovic also had a good day, intercepting a pass.
— Now for the quarterbacks. Luke Falk was especially sharp during the skeleton drill, completing his first 10 passes and completing 14 of 15. The incompletion was kind of weird in that Falk just threw it low to the middle of the field near nobody, maybe throwing it away of assuming a player was going to be there.
Bender finished 12 of 15 with the interception to Teglovic. He also had the best pass of the period, lofting a throw deep over two defenders and directly into Tyler Baker's breadbasket for a score.
Bender has looked really good at those 25-30 yard throws, maybe even better than Falk. But Falk appears to have a big upper hand in the red zone and goal line situations and threw consecutive touchdowns to Dom Williams and Daniel Lilienthal from about seven yards out today.
Bender went first in the team drill and went 11 of 15. He had a nice pass up the seam to Tyler Baker for about 25 yards and finished the period by finding a diving Baker in the back of the end zone, who made a great catch that drove him painfully into the upright.
Falk's team session began with a sack by Kache Palacio, who seems to have adapted nicely to his new role as a "Rush" linebacker. He found Gabe Marks on the next play and the two seem to have a good thing going, connecting four times during the period. Falk completed all 13 of his passes, scoring when Dom Williams took an intermediate pass, made one move and ran 10-15 yards for the score.
— I hadn't mentioned this earlier but Nick Begg has been working out as a receiver/tight end. Begg has worked out with that group before and with the offensive line. Leach has said that Begg could even end up on defense, so no matter what, he'll finish his career as the definitive expert on the team's position coaches.
Thursday would have been a great day for the Washington State defense, if only the receivers had cooperated.
See, the WSU defenders made a bunch of really good plays during today's practice, big hits, interceptions, etc. The offense never really got into a rhythm, but it wasn't a total mismatch thanks to a number of explosive plays by the WSU receivers, and one running back that's making a strong case for more carries next fall.
Here is the blow-by-blow…
— First, here are the players that were limited or unable to practice: River Cracraft, Robert Barber, Ngalu Tapa, Nate DeRider, Brett Bartolone and Frankie Luvu.
— I spent quite a bit of time watching the secondary today (more on that in tomorrow's paper) and a few things stood out. First, it's clear that Taylor Taliulu, Isaac Dotson and Sulaiman Hameed are the top three safeties, especially since Darius Lemora is now the full-time starting nickel back. Dotson and Hameed, both sophomores, are each more athletic than Taliulu, but Taliulu has done the best so far of learning Grinch's defense and all the new terminology and signals, etc.
That's important because the safeties are tasked with setting the defense before each snap, with the field safety (strong safety) aligning the defenders on the side with a lot grass and the boundary safety (free safety) setting up his teammates that are close to the sideline.
While the Cougars spend a lot of their time in nickel, the nickelback's responsibilities are actually pretty similar to those of the Sam linebacker he replaced, so it's not like the coverage duties of the safeties have actually changed very much.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch says he's been pleased with how well the starters have been able to pick up the new terminology and assignments.
"Those top guys have done pretty well," Grinch said. "They really have, and it's a whole new language for them."
One defensive back that played pretty well on Thursday was Colton Teglovic, a walk-on, who has emerged as the backup nickelback. Teglovic broke up the first pass of the team period, a dart from Peyton Bender, and also knocked one of Falk's passes away later in the practice. Coach Mike Leach had some good things to say about Teglovic at the end of the day.
"He's always been a guy that hustles around, runs hard, kind of just a blue collar guy," Leach said. "He did good last year, too."
— One defensive lineman that is getting a long look from the coaches is junior college transfer Jeremiah Mitchell. He looks a little bigger than the 260-pounds he's listed at, and plays like a bigger guy. The Cougars did a running drill that got pretty violent and Mitchell did a nice job of getting off his block and bringing down the running backs as they passed the linemen.
Running back Gerard Wicks also looked really good in that drill. Wicks, who is up to 219-pounds now, embarrassed the defense on his first run, bouncing off three or four tacklers and shoving his way into the secondary. But the highlight of the drill was when he sprung around the line and into the secondary, where he was met head on by Hameed. The safety developed a reputation for laying blows as a freshman last season, but was no match for Wicks, who outweighs him by 30 pounds, appearing to fly backwards as the two collided.
— When I saw that freshman linebacker Chandler Leniu was up to 255 pounds already, I assumed he might be outgrowing the position. But he still moves pretty well and had an athletic pass breakup on Thursday.
— Luke Falk didn't have his best day at quarterback, missing a couple throws during the skeleton drill and taking a pair of sacks during the team period. I had Falk finishing the team period 6 of 11 with no scores and the offense did up-downs afterwards as the defense won, 26-20. The period was mostly good-on-good, although the second unit did check in for a few plays.
Peyton Bender started off poorly, throwing an interception to Kyle Newsom early during the skeleton drill, but responded well, finding D.J. Thompson for a 30-yard touchdown over the middle of the defense that drew quite a bit of fire from the defensive coaches. He had another touchdown on a short pass to Gabe Marks, whose gentle hip feint threw off Teglovic and gave him a clear path to the end zone. Bender threw a third touchdown to running back Jamal Morrow, who was wide open on a wheel route.
Bender, throwing mostly against the second unit but occasionally the first, finished the team period 9 of 15, with a deep touchdown to Daniel Lilienthal on a post route.
"He's got a good combination of size and speed and it comes together, because he can play faster than he is," said Leach when asked about the receiver. "There was a flash of that when he ran for a touchdown where he really played fast and we've got to get him comfortable to where he plays at that speed every snap."
Bender also found Marks for an 18-yard touchdown during the team period.
There were NFL 13 scouts on hand to watch Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle work out on Wednesday, and one general manager.
Scot McCloughlan, the general manager of the NFL team in Washington D.C., planned to be on hand for the second WSU pro day, but it's unclear if he actually made it out to Pullman. Still, there were plenty of representatives on hand to watch Halliday and Mayle perform, and it sounds like they saw what they needed to from both players.
Below is my story from pro day that will run in tomorrow's paper.
PULLMAN—Neither Connor Halliday nor Vince Mayle have had an easy journey from Washington State to the NFL so it was fitting that during a workout in front of NFL scouts and executives on Wednesday, the two former Cougars did it the hard way.
Such workouts are usually conducted indoors but because of poor lighting and worse turf in WSU's indoor practice bubble, Halliday and Mayle elected to stage the workout outside on the Rogers practice field.
That meant a little rain, plenty of wind and temperatures hovering just under 40 degrees.
"I've been doing this ever since I was a little kid," Halliday said. "I'm from Spokane, played football here. It doesn't affect me but it does affect the ball a little bit. It is what it is and every ball I threw I threw into the wind. So, hopefully the scouts appreciate that."
The two Cougars began on adjacent practice fields. Mayle running through a gauntlet of four sets of cones spaced exactly 10-yards apart while Halliday played catch with a quarterback that was never drafted but managed an 11-year NFL career.
Mayle, who has signed an endorsement deal with Adidas, wore exclusively his new brand's apparel: cleats, socks, shorts and a skin-tight shirt with the long sleeves rolled up, all a subtle reminder no doubt to the scouts that the 222-pound receiver's obvious strength is his greatest strength.
Halliday, not beholden by any contractual agreements, clashed a thick long-sleeve Under Armour top with black WSU shorts by Nike.
On hand for the workout was Jim Sharkey, who coached Halliday for two years at Ferris High, as well as former WSU football players Jason Gesser and Brandon Gibson.
Xavier Cooper was on hand and had a private workout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Halliday threw with an audience for the first time since his ankle was broken on Nov. 1 against USC. Mayle is still nursing a broken thumb that hampered him at the NFL combine.
"It's (still) pretty bad," Mayle said. "It's something I've got to play through."
After posting an uninspiring 4.67-second 40-yard dash at the combine, Mayle's biggest priority on Wednesday was showing the 13 scouts – including three receivers coaches – that he has the speed to outrun NFL defensive backs. He did so on his final attempt, clocking in unofficially at around 4.5 seconds.
"The time doesn’t really concern me that much," said CBS NFL draft analyst Rob Rang. "If he can run in the 4.5s, 4.6s at 222-pounds, I know he's got hops, I know he's got lateral agility to make people miss and I've been impressed by his work ethic. When he signed there were all these questions about his commitment to football and I think he's answered those questions."
Perhaps the biggest obstacles for Mayle are the numerous rising receivers in this year's draft class who are surprising scouts while he simply tries to get back to full strength.
Halliday threw 70 passes, completing all but six. All six incomplete passes were drops, yet the receivers also saved Halliday on a couple occasions by catching poorly thrown balls.
He threw passes to Mayle; former WSU running backs Marcus Mason and Theron West; former Eastern Washington receiver Cory Mitchell and former WSU receiver Jeffrey Solomon.
Conducting the workout was former Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn, who coached Halliday's dad for two years at Boise State prior to his long career as an NFL coach and is now helping Connor Halliday prepare for the draft.
Zorn and Halliday reconnected recently at the Western Sports Star of the Year Awards, but Zorn first began scouting the quarterback as an NFL prospect a year ago.
"He came out to a spring practice out here around this time last year to see if I was worth a crap and thought I was alright," Halliday said. "He told me after my senior season that he wanted to work with me."
Halliday acknowledged after the workout that he still doesn't feel 100 percent – he's only been throwing for a couple weeks. But while both Cougars likely could have used a few more days of recovery, time is getting precious.
The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 30 and ends the following Saturday, meaning that teams need to start paring down their lists of prospects. But at least, for now, Halliday and Mayle have their biggest tests behind them.
"I can say it's been pretty stressful but now that I've finally got my pro day over with I can just relax and work out," Mayle said. "A coach told me last night to just enjoy this time because it's the last time I can be careless, be free."
Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle were each recovering from injuries at WSU's pro day. But scouts were on hand to watch them workout Wednesday.
While these things are usually held indoors, the Cougars braved the elements on a windy, at times rainy, Pullman morning in which the temperature never got above 40 degrees.
Mayle, still wearing a wrap on his broken thumb, struggled during his first attempts at a 40-yard dash, unofficially running in the 4.7 range. On his final attempt, however, he clocked just over a 4.5, pretty good considering the conditions.
While Mayle was running, Halliday warmed up by playing catch with former Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn, who coached Halliday's dad for two seasons as the Boise State quarterbacks coach.
Halliday threw 70 passes on the day to Mayle, former Eastern Washington receiver Cory Mitchell and former WSU receiver Jeffrey Solomon. Theron West and Marcus Mason also ran routes as running backs. Halliday completed 64 of his passes and the six misses were all drops, although a couple of those completed throws would have been incomplete if not for great plays by the receiver.
Mayle made a couple nice snares to bail out his quarterback, but also had a couple drops and it was obvious the wrap is affecting him.
Mayle said he hasn't been able to work out in two weeks but weighed in at a svelte 222 pounds. Halliday checked in at 199.
I saw scouts from around 10 NFL teams there and Scot McCloughan, the general manager of the NFL team in Washington D.C., was on hand as well.
I finally made it out to Martin Stadium to watch the Cougars in their third spring football practice and saw an impressive stand by the defense.
While the offense appeared to have the upper hand for most of practice (more on that in a bit), the defense rallied around booming defensive line coach Joe Salave'a's cries of "fourth quarter!" and forced a tie of 23 points apiece with one play to go from just a couple yards away from the end zone.
Quarterback Luke Falk thought he found a receiver in the end zone, but linebacker Jeremiah Allison tipped the ball high in the air and snagged it like a centerfielder, completing the defense's comeback and forcing the offense to do up-downs.
Here's what else I saw at practice:
— The starting team offensive line from last season returns intact and from left to right still goes: Joe Dahl, Gunnar Eklund, Riley Sorenson, Eduardo Middleton, Cole Madison. While the receivers sub liberally, it appears that if a game were played today the starters would be Dom Williams and Calvin Green on the outside, with Gabe Marks and Tyler Baker inside.
— There is obviously plenty of time for that to change, however, and those starters are influenced in part by the players that were limited during today's practice. Nick Begg, Brett Bartolone, Nate DeRider, Robert Barber, Ngalu Tapa, River Cracraft and Frankie Luvu all wore the yellow jerseys today, and I expect Barber and Cracraft will continue to throughout the spring.
— Alex Grinch wasn't lying about running a base nickel defense. The Cougars spent all practice in nickel with Darius Lemora appearing to take over as the starting nickel back. That left Allison and Peyton Pelluer as the starting linebackers, Marcellus Pippins and Charleston White as the starting cornerbacks and Daniel Ekuale, Darryl Paulo and Destiny Vaeao on the defensive line.
Kache Palacio was the starting Rush linebacker, which is similar to last year's Buck position except Palacio began far fewer snaps with his hand on the ground.
— Based on seeing him this one time, it looks like Clemson transfer will be one of WSU's better receivers next year. Shame that he won't be playing. Priest will have to sit out because of NCAA transfer rules but he should give the starting defense fits as a member of scout team. From what I saw, he runs very good routes and runs the quickly, has good ability in the open field and has good hands. In fact, I only saw him drop one pass …
— Priester dropped a pass because he was leveled by David Bucannon, little brother of Deone. The younger Bucannon had one of his best practices I've seen, laying a couple big hits and generally making his presence felt. In fact, I'm pretty sure Priester dropped the pass before Bucannon's hit because he knew it was coming. Bucannon, a redshirt junior, hasn't played much for the Cougars but appears to be taking full advantage of the "clean slate" given by a new defensive coordinator.
— Dom Williams also had a good day at receiver, and it looked like he's gotten a little better at contorting his body with the ball in the air to adjust to its flight path since last season.
— Robert Lewis really looks like he's coming into his own. Between the drills, skeleton drills and team period, he probably had more catches than anyone on the day. His most impressive came when he stopped in his tracks on a comeback route, sending Bucannon sprinting past him and opening himself up for an easy grab.
— Gabe Marks was solid as well – he ripped off a nice run during team period – but it was an otherwise pedestrian day for the receivers. The new crop of walk-ons, some of whom may not have played football for a year or more, could use some Stickum.
— A couple former Cougars at practice today. One was Xavier Cooper, who is preparing for the NFL draft. He's been very productive since the season's end and has season his stock rise rather quickly. We chatted for awhile toward the end of practice and he told me that NFL teams are telling him they expect him to be drafted as early as the late first round and not later than the early-to-mid third round.
Also dropping by practice was cornerback Daquawn Brown, who was dismissed for violating team rules after the season. While Brown had no contact with the coaches, he spent most of his time shouting encouragement to the defensive backs – OK, he also taunted the receivers a bit as well.
People close to the program told us and other outlets when he was dismissed that the Cougars did not intend to provide an avenue for him to return to the team, but situations can obviously change and if there was a way to get back in good standing with the team, showing up at practice can't hurt.
— The kick returners on Tuesday were Jamal Morrow, Gabe Marks and Marcellus Pippins.
— Now, for the quarterbacks. Falk and Peyton Bender split reps pretty evenly, although Falk spent a little more time with the first string offensive line, for what that's worth. Falk is clearly ahead and it's because of his command of the offense. There are times it seems like Bender throws a little better ball or pulls out a nice move, but he also throws the ball to the wrong spot or makes a bad read, occasionally. Falk almost never does either, at least in practice.
Falk also ripped off about a 30 yard run when he saw that the defense vacated the left side of the field on a passing play.
In the first skeleton drill, Falk completed 10 of 12 passes with the two incompletions coming on drops. Doesn't get much better. Bender missed his first pass and then completed the next 10, finishing 12 of 14.
During team period Bender went first and his first pass was tipped by Greg Hoyd III. I had him finishing 9 of 13. He threw a bad interception to Charleston White – it went right at the DB – but responded well by throwing a touchdown to Calvin Green on the next play. He also had a touchdown pass up against the goal line to Gabe Marks.
I had Falk finishing 8 of 12 with Gerard Wicks scoring on a seven-yard touchdown run. Lemora made a nice play in the slot from his new position, sticking with speedy Robert Lewis to break up a pass.
— The Cougars will practice again at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. The public is welcome to attend, and come say "hi" if you see me.
Cornerback Sebastian LaRue, expected to compete for a starting spot on next year's team, was dismissed from the Washington State football program for violating a team rule.
While we don't know the nature of the violation, coach Mike Leach has three often-cited rules that are grounds for immediate dismissal if broken: Don't steal, don't hit women and don't do drugs. Any time a player is dismissed, we take a look at the local court records. These are publicly available online but those records do not describe the nature of any offenses, just the names, dates and case numbers.
I wanted to mention that because the search for LaRue's name yielded a pair of March results, which I followed up with a public records request. Because neither offense violated any of Leach's cardinal rules, and neither were violent, I believe it's appropriate to address them here.
LaRue was pulled over early this month for speeding with a headlight out and was pulled over again, just a couple days ago, for speeding. That's all, and neither would likely be cause for any discipline from Leach or even attract his attention.
It's still possible that LaRue was dismissed for committing some crime or other, and the coaching staff obviously considers whatever he did to be serious. But the offenses that pop up during an online records search are not malicious, and I thought it was worth nipping any potential speculation on them in the bud.
I'm about to hop on a plane so I wont be transcribing coach Mike Leach's entire teleconference, but I've jotted down the highlights:
— Leach confirmed that Sebastian LaRue, Jordan Dascalo and Wes Concepcion are no longer on the team. LaRue's departure leaves an already thin secondary a little thinner, and Dascalo and Concepcion were the only two punters listed on the roster, so that will be something to watch this spring.
— Leach said that while he would ideally like to start spring practice a little earlier, he doesn't want to break the schedule up to accommodate spring break.
— He heaped praise on Luke Falk for his performance last year, calling his play "… as impressive as any freshman I've ever dealt with" and saying that, "Luke's five games as a freshman are probably better than any freshman in history."
That being said, he said that Falk will split first-team reps with redshirt freshman Peyton Bender and that Falk isn't necessarily the presumed starter.
— I asked him a bit about Alex Grinch and what the new defensive coordinator should expect during his first practices in charge of an entire side of the ball. Leach said secondary and offensive line coach are the best assistant positions to prepare someone to become a coordinator.
"You have to be mindful of the technique at your position but also broaden it out so you're seeing the big picture," he said.
Leach said that in the time he's spent with Grinch so far he's been very impressed. "Every time you talk to him he's talking about teaching. How do we teach this how do we teach that."
— Leach said there are three main things he hopes to accomplish each spring: 1) "Evaluating your talent because none of it stayed the same. The vast majority improved and developed and you need to plug new faces in to where they can best impact the team." 2) "Arm them with as many skills and things as you can within the context of their role so they can continue to develop their skills over the summer." 3) Experiment with new stuff. This is the least important of the three, according to Leach.
— I asked Leach what the characteristic that will define Grinch's style will be. Here is his answer: "At Missouri what really allowed them to excel in the SEC, and one thing impressive about Missouri, you know the SEC and not the conference as a whole, but you saw the same stuff I did and a lot of it was kind of fan-based rather than conference based but the SEC insulted their intelligence to even have Missouri in the conference. And then what have they done they've won the East the past two years and I think the biggest place they improved was their defensive identity and unifying that and there was a sense that Mizzou wasn't going to stop these SEC offenses and that proved to be false."
I just got off a plane here in sunny Las Vegas to see that Washington State has released an updated football roster. Notably missing are cornerback Sebastian LaRue and punter Jordan Dascalo. Larue was expected to contend for a starting spot in the secondary — or maybe switch back to offense — and Dascalo showed a booming leg as WSU's starting punter last season.
The punting depth in particular took a hit, since Wes Concepcion, who made a few career starts, no longer appears on the roster, either. I also see that linebacker Nathan Hundeby is no longer on the roster.
No reason to speculate on their status with the program — coach Mike Leach is about to hold a teleconference so I'm sure we'll get an update shortly.
Here is the roster:
During this brief layover at SeaTac I turned on my computer to discover that the Cougars have added a 25th player to their 2015 recruiting class.
They're already calling us to board, but here is the release from Washington State:
Cougar Football Adds Hunter Dale to 2015 Signing ClassPULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State head football coach Mike Leach announced Monday that safety Hunter Dale has signed a national letter of intent to play for the Cougars this fall.Dale is a 6-0, 190-pound safety from New Orleans and was a four-year starter at John Curtis High School, helping the Patriots to three-straight 3A state titles his first three seasons. He earned All-State honors as a junior and senior and also helped the Patriots to an undefeated season and a national championship as a sophomore. He picked off eight passes as a junior and recorded 53 tackles with three interceptions this past season, helping JCHS to the 3A state title game. He finished his career with 16 career interceptions and 110 solo tackles.Dale is rated a three-star prospect by ESPN.com. Scout.com and 247Sports.com and ranked the No. 81 safety prospect in country and No. 4 safety in Louisiana by Scout.com. Dale also plays baseball for the Patriots, recording nine doubles, two triples, one home run, 24 runs scored and eight stolen bases as a junior.
Mike Leach was in Seattle yesterday for the final "A Night with Cougar Football" but first dropped by for a visit with 710 ESPN Seattle Danny Dave and Moore.
We've got highlights from the interview below and you can listen to the whole thing here.
Leach said that these days he's watching a lot of video of high school film as the WSU coaches try to pare down the thousands of prospects on their radar to a manageable recruiting list.
Dave Wyman – a former Stanford and NFL linebacker – asked Leach about the advances in video technology that make it possible to simply press a button and call up a recruit's film, rather than cut tape reels together and Leach acknowledged, while he "barely touched the 16 mm phase where you touch shiny side to shiny side," the current system is "one of the best things ever."
Then he told a story about being in Arizona trolling for film back in his days as an assistant at Kentucky.
Leach said he was in Scottsdale, Arizona and only had two days to get tape from a bunch of schools but he met with a coach who told him, "I just got fired; here's all the film and if you get your own tapes you can record the whole conference."
While waiting around Leach wandered over to the school's art department and met the department head, who told him if he came back later he'd love to show him what the students were working on.
"I go back there and go into the thing looking for him and right in the middle of the floor is a nude model," Leach said. "And I've got the Kentucky shirt and I'm the last guy to walk in and it's like a warehouse and there's a whole circle around the model either drawing or painting."
Unsure of how to proceed, Leach decided to "walk around to their paintings and drawings and would nod my head like I was a real connoisseur of art."
Leach was asked about social media and says he tweets occasionally although he also has people do it for him. He has SnapChat on his phone that he essentially only uses to receive short videos of his infant granddaughter.
The hosts then changed the subject to the NFL draft, specifically what makes evaluating quarterbacks so difficult.
"I think there's a lot of things that make it tough," Leach said. "It's the most poorly-evaluated position and everybody's starting QB isn't a first rounder but everyone picks them in the first round."
He added that the rate at which coaches are hired and fired in the NFL makes it so that teams don't always want the same traits as the guy they just drafted and pointed out that quarterbacks often come from smaller schools while running backs generally come from powerhouses as evidence that quarterbacks are harder to evaluate.
"The quarterback's ultimate job is to make the people around him better," Leach said. "If you're accurate and can throw 45 yards or better and you can develop those skills at a lot of different places."
He added, "All teams have defensive ends that can throw the thing a mile and they'd love to play quarterback."
The hosts asked about the personality of quarterbacks and what sort of things he asks recruits to determine if they have the right mental makeup.
"I want to get a feel for them and you want a guy that has a little charisma that you feel like your players and the rest of your team will draw from," Leach said. "What their coaches and classmates think of them."
He also said he doesn't like bad GPAs because if recruits have bad grades they "might be dumb but the biggest thing is they're lazy—if you've got a bad GPA, you're lazy."
Leach said the most important trait for a quarterback was confidence.
Moore asked Leach about Connor Halliday's draft prospects.
"I think (he will do) really well, I think he'll get drafted," Leach said. "He's got the best arm of anybody coming out. Throws it better, throws it more accurately, comes off his hand quicker. It's unfortunate he got injured but if you're going to get injured a clean ankle break is about as good as you can hope for."
In fact, Leach said that Halliday told him that the ankle that was broken feels stronger than the other one since he had a rod inserted.
"Isn't this sort of like breast implants," Leach says he asked Halliday. "Why didn't you get them both done?"
As a player at Texas Tech, Graham Harrell threw an NCAA-record 134 touchdown passes in Mike Leach's offense.
In his first college coaching job he will train the players on the other end of such scores. Harrell, hired last spring as an offensive analyst, will take over as Washington State's new outside receivers coach, a position that was recently vacated when Dennis Simmons left for Oklahoma.
The 29-year-old Harrell played three seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers before coming to WSU to help with offensive planning and film breakdown. During his days as a Red Raider (2004-08), Harrell passed for 15,793 yards, the second-most in NCAA history.
When the 2015 season begins next fall the Cougars will have a very different coaching staff, one that is decidedly younger. In addition to Harrell the Cougars also have new assistant coaches in defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, outside linebackers coach Roy Manning and special teams coordinator Eric Mele.
Like Harrell, Mele held a non-coaching role with the team before he was promoted following the midseason dismissal of Eric Russell last year.
Both Harrell's father and grandfather were high school football coaches in Texas.
Doug Samuels first reported the news of Harrell's promotion.
Three former Washington State football players have been invited to attend the NFL scouting combine.
Quarterback Connor Halliday, wide receiver Vince Mayle and defensive lineman Xavier Cooper all received invitations to the annual showcase in which players perform drills designed to measure their strength and athleticism and meet with representatives from NFL teams.
Mayle is likely to perform well in this setting given his incredible size/speed ratio. Cooper can greatly help himself by putting up good numbers that show off his explosiveness, which for Halliday the combine is likely to be about proving that he's on the mend after his late-season injury and has been able to continue to put on muscle and weight.
The Cougars announced 23 signees yesterday during the first day of the signing period, but that doesn’t mean they were done recruiting.
In fact, Washington State coach Mike Leach said that they planned to take a full class of 25 recruits. This afternoon the Cougars filled one of the vacant spots by signing cornerback Sean Harper out of Hartwell, Georgia's Hart County High.
Harper is the sixth defensive back to sign with the Cougars in the 2015 class (seven if athlete Logan Tago ends up in the secondary), two of which are junior college transfers.
Harper is 6-foot-1, 180-pounds and claims scholarship offers from Indiana, Louisville, Nebraska and other schools. Below is a video of WSU's newest signee in action.
Yesterday was the first day football recruits in the class of 2015 could sign letters of intent.
Washington State signed 23 players in the class and while there could be a couple late additions, there is already plenty to digest.
The basketball team plays tonight at Oregon State at 7 p.m. and I'm just now making the overland trek so let's get to those links.
— WSU signed a very good class but it could have been great if not for some late defections.
— We've compiled profiles of each signee including rankings, video and Mike Leach's assessments.
— Here is our look at WSU's recruiting budget relative to its peers.
— We've got a story on one recruit who should contribute immediately.
— Here is the official release from the school.
— Leach confirmed yesterday that assistant coach Dennis Simmons is headed to Oklahoma.
— We also have a story on basketball coach Ernie Kent's return to Oregon, where he played and coached.
— SportsPressNW takes a look at the Washington schools' respective signing day hauls.
— The Pac-12 Blog grades the recruiting classes.
— The Huskies lost to the Ducks in a game that was close throughout.
— UCLA and USC had the best classes of any Pac-12 schools and the rivalry got a little juicier when Snoop Dogg's son spurned the Trojans for their rival.
Mike Leach confirmed on Wednesday recent speculation that outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons will be taking a similar position at Oklahoma.
The Football Brainiacs first reported last week that Simmons was a candidate for the vacant position at OU. Leach was asked about it during today's signing day press conference and confirmed that Simmons will be leaving the Cougars. Simmons has long been a Leach protege, serving as his chief of staff at Texas Tech and as a receivers coach.
He is highly-regarded as an assistant and has seen stars such as Michael Crabtree, Lance Lewis and most recently, Vince Mayle develop under his tutelage.
Shortly after Leach's press conference Simmons spoke with Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports and explained that the decision to move was good for him both professionally and personally:
"… this is an opportunity I couldn't pass up. My 5-year-old daughter (who lives Arlington, Texas) will only be a couple-hour drive away now and my wife's family will be much closer. It's an opportunity for me to have both of my kids grow up around each other and for my wife's mom to be able to watch her grandson. I never had a father in my household. My mother played the role of both parents in the household. Personally, this is very important to me.
The Cougars now once again have a vacant coaching position but without the deadline of an impending signing day.
The faxes are humming in Pullman so check in frequently as we update this list of which recruits have signed with the Cougars.
The school is announcing letters received via its official Twitter account, @wsucougfb. We'll have general information on the recruits here as well as some video. Cougars coach Mike Leach will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. today after which we'll update this post with his thoughts on each player.
And at 12:30 we'll have a live chat on the blog with WSU recruiting expert Britton Ransford of WazzuWatch.com to answer all of your questions about the class.
The most recent signee is nearest to the top.
— T.J. Fehoko, defensive lineman; HT: 6'1 WT: 265
Cottonwood High, Salt Lake City, Utah
ESPN: 3-Star, 79 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, unranked. Scout: 3-Star, No. 89 defensive end.
Also considered: Nevada, North Carolina State.
Leach's comments: "Has played on the end as well. Plays inside and on the end and just a quick, athletic defensive lineman."
Shalom Luani, defensive back; HT: 6'1 WT: 200
City College of San Francisco, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 79 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, unranked. Scout: 4-Star, No. 19 junior college prospect.
Also considered: Illinois, Oregon State, Washington.
Leach's comments: "One interesting thing about him is from what I understand he was on the Samoan national soccer team. Has great feet, very quick and an aggressive player and smart."
— Amosa Sakaria, offensive lineman; HT: 6'3 WT: 280
Tafuna High, Pago Pago, American Samoa
ESPN: 3-Star, 71 grade. Rivals: 2-Star, unranked. Scout: 2-Star, unranked.
Leach's comments: "Good, solid, strong player."
— Logan Tago, linebacker; HT: 6'3 WT: 205
Samoana High, Pago Pago, American Samoa
ESPN: Unranked. Rivals: 2-Stars, unranked. Scout: 3-Star, No. 96 outside linebacker.
Also considered: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon State, Washington.
Leach's comments: "Great athlete, can play on either side of the ball … Really good athlete. Versatile. I'm gonna name the positions he could play, safety, linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end, wide receiver, inside wide receiver, he could play a lot of stuff."
— Kameron Powell, defensive back; HT: 5'11 WT: 195
Upland High, Upland, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 75 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, No. 40 safety. Scout: 4-Star, No. 31 safety.
Also considered: Boston College, Colorado, Oregon State, Washington.
Leach's comments: "Might be taller than that … Not only a very intelligent player but also very quick into sorting it out and breaking on the ball."
— Kyle Sweet, wide receiver; HT: 6'1 WT: 190
Santa Margarita Catholic, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 75 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, unranked. Scout: 3-Star, No. 99 receiver.
Also considered: Hawaii.
Leach's comments: "Great feet, great coming out of his cuts. Has also played a lot of positions because of his ability to pick things up and being intelligent as a football player."
— C.J. Dimry, wide receiver; HT: 6'6 WT: 210
Saddleback College, Mission Viejo, Calif.
ESPN: No profile. Rivals: 2-Star, unranked. Scout: 2-Star, unranked.
Also considered: Syracuse.
Leach's comments: "Big target, great vertical route-runner and good at catching the ball over his head."
— Davis Perrott, offensive lineman; HT: 6'5 WT: 270
Mountain Pointe High, Phoenix, Ariz.
ESPN: 3-Star, 77 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, unranked. Scout: 3-Star, No. 89 offensive tackle.
Also considered: Boise State, California, Indiana.
Leach's comments: "Kind of a mean-streak guy. Quick feet."
— Hunter Mattox, defensive end; HT: 6'4 WT: 255
Sierra Canyon High, Chatsworth, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 74 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, unranked. Scout: 3-Star, No. 126 defensive end.
Also considered: Fresno State, Oregon State.
Leach's comments: "Big, strong football player. Good hands and very active out there at the line of scrimmage."
— Matthew Abramo, placekicker; HT: 6'2 WT: 170
Casa Grande High, Petaluma, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, No. 24 kicker. Rivals: 2-Star, unranked. Scout: 3-Star, unranked.
Also considered: Cal Poly, San Jose State, Yale.
Leach's comments: "Very strong kicker. Most notable thing about him is how strong his leg is, one of the strongest high school kicker's legs that I've seen."
— James Williams, running back; HT: 5'11 WT: 185
Burbank High, Burbank, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 76 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, No. 53 running back. Scout: 3-Star, No. 113 running back.
Also considered: Arizona, California, Utah.
Leach's comments: "Extremely explosive, low center of gravity but great out of his cuts."
— Treshon Broughton, defensive back; HT: 6'0 WT: 180
Riverside CC, Riverside, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 79 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, unranked. Scout: 3-Star, No. 57 junior college prospect.
Also considered: Fresno State, Oregon State.
Leach's comments: "Great cover corner, quick feet, instinctive."
— Darrien Molton, defensive back; HT: 5'10 WT: 165
Chaparral High, Temecula, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 77 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, unranked. Scout: 3-Star, No. 128 cornerback.
Also considered: California, Colorado, Duke, Utah.
Leach's comments: "As he continues to develop he'll get better and better. Incredibly quick."
— Aaron Porter, linebacker; HT: 6'3 WT: 230
Cerritos College, La Habra, Calif.
ESPN: 4-Star, 80 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, unranked. Scout: 3-Star.
Also considered: Nebraska, San Diego State.
Leach's comments: "Great at pursuiting the ball. Passion to play football. Great tackler."
— Joseph Price, offensive lineman; HT: 6'6 WT: 270
East Valley High, Redlands, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 75 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, unranked. Scout: 3-Star, No. 163 offensive tackle.
Also considered: California.
Leach's comments: "Another mean-streak guy that plays with a very aggressive mentality and has great feet."
— Tyler Hilinksi, quarterback; HT: 6'4 WT: 200
Upland High, Upland, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 74 grade. Rivals: 4-Star, No. 10 pro-style quarterback. Scout: 3-Star, No. 41 QB.
Also considered: California, Utah State.
Leach's comments: "He's on campus now … A big guy but also kind of mobile. Extremely productive both when he's in the pocket and outside the pocket."
— Jeremiah Mitchell, defensive end; HT: 6'4 WT: 265
Riverside City College, Riverside, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 73 grade. Rivals: 2-Star, unranked. Scout: 4-Star, No. 28 junior college prospect.
Also considered: Arizona State, Oregon, Purdue.
Leach's comments: "On campus. A big, strong, tenacious pass-rusher. A very high-motor guy and a great player."
— Kyrin Priester, wide receiver; HT: 6'1 WT: 185
Leach's comments: "On campus now … Very good in workouts. Big, strong, extremely physical at wide receiver as well as being fast. Just really an outstanding athlete."
— Deion Singleton, defensive back; HT: 6'2 WT: 180
Chiawana High, Pasco
Leach's comments: "On campus now … Tall, lanky safety. Also great feet."
— Nnamdi Oguayo, defensive end; HT: 6'4 WT: 215
High Point High, Beltsville, Md.
ESPN: Unranked. Rivals: 2-Star, unranked. Scout: Unranked.
Also considered: Indiana, Pittsburgh.
Leach's comments: "Big, tall, lanky. Big hands, big feet, outside linebacker who runs well and is going to turn into a very big, solid player, has a big frame to put a lot of weight on."
— Cedric Bigge-Duren, offensive lineman; HT: 6'6 WT: 310
Oceanside HS, Oceanside, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 72 grade. Rivals: 2-Star, unranked. Scout: 3-Star, No. 99 offensive guard.
Also considered: Montana, Nevada, San Jose St.
Leach's comments: "He might be bigger than that … A big offensive lineman who continues to develop and get better and better. Already had pretty good feet."
— Thomas Toki, defensive tackle; HT: 6'1 WT: 307
Saint Francis HS, Mountainview, Calif.
ESPN: 4-Star, 82 grade. Rivals: 4-Star, No. 21 defensive tackle. Scout: 4-Star, No. 27 defensive tackle.
Also considered: Arizona State, Oklahoma State, UCLA.
Leach's comments: "Very traditional, hard-nosed, aggressive nose guard."
— Noah Myers, offensive lineman; HT: 6'5 WT: 300
Las Lomas HS, Walnut Creek, Calif.
ESPN: 3-Star, 71 grade. Rivals: 3-Star, No. 43 offensive guard. Scout: 3-Star, No. 88 offensive guard.
Also considered: Montana, Weber St.
Leach's comments: "He's gotten bigger and stronger since we recruited him … Noah, like all these offensive linemen are fairly flat-stomach guys. Fairly athletic people that, in addition to their current frame, which is fairly big, we can put additional strength and weight on them."