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.