From Pullman -- The Washington State Cougars recently wrapped up their first practice of the spring. The defense shined early but the offense won the day. Follow the jump for today’s practice report
The Cougars were in shorts and helmets today (also socks, jerseys, etc.) but went through their normal spring routine as if it had been a full pads practice. The defensive coaches still exhorted their charges to pop offensive players and the defenders appeared to have the upper hand early.
Overall the coaches were pleased with the practice.
"I thought it was a very good start. Everybody started quick and pretty alert and attentive," Mike Leach said. "Obviously we’ve gotten a lot of work done in the offseason I think but I thought good effort all the way around and some of the young guys have definitely gotten better as time has gone on."
In 7-on-7 passing drills the defense held starting quarterback Connor Halliday to just 12 of 22 with a pair of interceptions. Backup quarterback Tyler Bruggman fared even worse, going 8 of 19 with three passes picked off.
Meanwhile the young secondary shined. Despite losing all four players who started at the end of last season the defensive backs got the best of the veteran quarterback and receiving corps early. Starting strong safety Isaac Dotson broke up one Halliday pass and picked off another. Backup free safety Beau Glover made a diving interception and cornerback Daquawn Brown showed off his athleticism to leap up and snag another pass.
Even though the defense easily won the session the coaches were at times unsatisfied with their intensity and called over linebackers Jeremiah Allison and Mitchell Peterson, who were working on a separate drill, to see if they could pick up the intensity.
Things looked a little better for the offense in WR vs. DB drills. Halliday spun the ball very well in this drill and so did his wide receivers. Diminutive Robert Lewis used his agility to turn Markell Sanders around, breaking free for an easy completion.
Dom Williams similarly shook one of the Greene brother lose in the session. However, Brown again picked off Halliday toward the end of the session, leading to up downs for the offense.
In the team session however, the offense roared back to win the day. Halliday went 12 of 15 with four touchdowns and no interceptions and that included a dropped pass.
His first touchdown came on a 15-yard pass to Brett Bartolone who made a quick cut to shake Glover and sprinted the remaining 45-yards to the end zone. The second came on a deep 50-yard pass over the head of Marcellus Pippins.
He later found River Cracraft and Vince Mayle in the corner of the end zone on consecutive passes from about 15 yards out.
"I feel good, threw the ball well today," Halliday said adding that, "Up front we looked really good for how young we are."
Bruggman didn’t fare as well early in the drill. Following an incomplete pass with an interception by Darius Lemora. But he hit Rickey Galvin on a fly pattern for 30 yards and followed that with a 60-yard bomb to Vince Mayle on a similar route. Mayle -- who dropped 21 pounds during winter condition leaving him a svelte 6-foot-3, 219 pounds – showed off his newfound speed throughout practice.
The redshirt freshman quarterback finished 10 of 17, unofficially.
-- The Cougars tried a number of players at punt returner on Thursday including Bartolone, Lewis, Brown, Pippins, Jamal Morrow and Sebastian LaRue. It was LaRue, who transferred this offseason from Texas A&M that had the greatest “make people miss in a phone booth” quality to him, repeatedly finding a gap between multiple defenders. Pippin had the day’s best return, however, making one cut and taking it to the house.
-- LaRue, a redshirt freshman, is hoping to play this season for the Cougars. WSU has filed an appeal in the hopes the NCAA will waive the requirement that he sit out one season after transferring, but the WSU coaches are uncertain when they will hear back.
-- River Cracraft turned in an impressive freshman campaign last fall, earning Pac-12 honorable mention honors. Cracraft doesn’t look like a freshman anymore, showing up to spring practices notably larger than last season, and all of it muscle. He’s listed on the roster as 6-foot, 197 but observers would be surprised if he wasn’t taller and a little heavier as well.
-- The Cougars were missing some players for undetermined reasons. I couldn’t find Domenic Rockey, Bennett Bontemps, Clayton Simundson, Micah Brown or Donovan Aldridge on the field.
-- Wide receivers Isiah Myers and Gabe Marks were limited, as was offensive lineman Cody O’Connell.