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On practice, special teams (and facilities)

Wednesday's Washington State football practice was like many that have come before and many more that will surely follow. There were no position switches to mention and no previously anonymous players announced their presence through hyperbolically good play.

OK, there was one new guy. Kicker Ryan Bordner took a couple field goal attempts, hitting from up close and then missing to the left when they moved further back. Those reps don't indicate he'll be kicking in a game soon, however.

"We're saving some legs," special teams coordinator Eric Russell said. "Normally today Erik (Powell) would kick but (Utah's) kicker's a right-footed guy so to help our field goal block unit fly at angles and different things I just wanted to chill Erik a little bit and give him the day off."

Follow the jump for more from today's practice.

The Cougars have now had a pair of home games and that's means they've had two weekends to show off the new facilities to recruits on official and unofficial visits. (Official visits mean the school pays. Each recruit can take five of them.) We asked coach Mike Leach after practice what the recruits think of the new Cougar Football Complex, and if any room stands out in particular.

"It's been really good, hard to say what room," Leach said. "The cafeteria I'm sure is up there, the weight room I guess is probably the one that goes most impressively. It's huge, the equipment is brand new and it's top of the line. Some of it's top of the line to the point where there are very few places that even have it, so (the recruits) have to see it."

Wednesday was a productive day for WSU's freshmen defensive backs. Pat Porter came up with an interception off Gabe Marks and Charleston White followed with one off Peyton Bender. Not to be outdone by the other cornerbacks, Marcellus Pippins had another interception on a Connor Ennis pass, and safety Sulaiman Hameed got one of his own off Bender.

While those DBs may not have the cumulative reps of their older teammates, WSU's coaches appear happy to trade experience for athleticism.

"Well some of our younger guys have just, some of them are just better athletes to start out with than some of the others," Leach said. "They're better athletes starting from high school than the experienced guys and if that's the case of course we'd play them."

The guys who were limited during Wednesday's practice includes Isaac Dotson, Drew Springfield, Sherman Hutcherson, Mack Hopkins, Nick Begg, Nate DeRider and Destiny Vaeao.

Kristoff Williams did not appear to be at practice and when asked if he was likely to return to practice soon Leach said, "He's doing exactly what we want him to do."

Scout quarterback Connor Ennis hasn’t gotten as much ink as freshman Peyton Bender and redshirting receiver Gabe Marks, but he had a couple nice plays today that deserve mention. On one he gave an excellent torero impersonation, spinning out of a sack before delivering a pass to Keith Harrington.

Later he hit running back Squally Canada in stride with a nice pass just a split second before being enveloped by a heavy pass rush.

We spoke with Russell after practice to get an update on his thoughts with the progression of WSU's special teams. With K. Williams not playing the last couple weeks Jamal Morrow has taken over kick return duties.

"He's still young and he's still learning some things that we need to do," Russell said. "There was some errors earlier, not quite pressing the returns right and different things but he's coming along nicely."

Russell said that schematically it doesn't matter who is returning kicks for the Cougars. But what can make a difference, he acknowledged, is the comfort and confidence level the blockers have in the return man, and that's something he hopes to build upon.

Washington State's next opponent, Utah, provides a fine example in Kaelin Clay, who has already housed two punts and one kickoff.

"You watch Utah, they're going to continue to get better and better because their guy's running back touchdowns and guys want to be the ones to spring them," Russell said. "You get that when you have some success and that's obviously where one of these days we've got to get to."

The Cougars face a tremendous challenge against Clay, but the coverage teams have been pretty good for WSU. The Cougars rank No. 2 in the Pac-12 in net kickoff coverage, trailing only Stanford.

"They've done a good job and we've had to be mixing different guys out of there due to different reasons and whatnot so we haven't got that full cohesive group yet in our coverage units," Russell said. "There's been times where we've gotten away with some things and we'll continue to work and shore that up but our effort's been good and guys have been playing physical. We've been pretty good I think."

Jacob Thorpe
Jacob Thorpe joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the Sports Desk covering Washington State University athletics.

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