Overall, Saturday's practice was pretty ordinary. The offense bounced back after Tuesday's subpar practice, but the defense also had lots of energy and practiced well.
But it was a notable day because a couple players that previously hadn't stood out much stepped up and had good practices. I'll explain below.
-- Before we get to the fun stuff, here were the limited guys: Sulaiman Hameed, Frankie Luvu, Andre Dillard (who dressed for the first time in awhile), Nate DeRider, Drew Griffin and Brett Bartolone.
-- Ngalu Tapa was limited up until Tuesday's practice but he's hit the ground running, as much as a 325-pounder can run, anyways. He's still with the second unit during team period but spent some time playing with the starters during drills.
-- I know a lot of you have been curious about cornerback Jeff Farrar, who arrived at WSU as a true freshman at the end of fall camp last season and was immediately inserted into the two-deep, although he never played and ended up redshirting. Farrar originally signed with Virginia out of high school and had an impressive list of scholarship offers, and WSU's cornerbacks are all young, anyways, so it makes sense that people are curious.
Frankly, Farrar has been swimming a bit from what I've been able to observe – his coverage hasn't been great and I wonder if he's struggled to pick up the schemes a bit. He still seems pretty low on the list of CBs, behind a lot of guys in the same age group. But, he certainly looks the part at 5-foot-11, 208-pounds and if he can make a move up the depth chart it would go a long way toward getting more Pac-12 bodies on the field for the defense.
So, my eyebrows arched a little bit when Farrar ran stride-for-stride alongside Robert Lewis – one of the fastest receivers – on a vertical route during the WR vs. DB drill. Farrar still has a long way to go before he'll be playing with the ones, but the secondary hasn't been great in man coverage so far this spring and if he can stick to receivers like that it'll really help his case.
-- Erik Anderson spent last season switching time on scout team between quarterback and wide receiver, and it was kind of fun to watch him throw passes to Gabe Marks, give Marks his blue quarterback jersey and then catch passes the receiver (Marks was used to simulate speedier QBs). This year the 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore is a fulltime wide out and he looked pretty good on Thursday.
He seems to run his routes well and showed good concentration on Thursday as he made two nice end zone catches during the one-on-one drill. The Cougars have about 60 good receivers and some of the guys that are playing really well inside right now such as D.J. and John Thompson, will still have a hard time getting snaps once River Cracraft is good to go. But, it looks like Anderson is one more receiver that will be able to give the DBs a good look in practice and down the road, who knows?
-- Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan have both been playing well at the Rush linebacker position, so if they stay healthy I wouldn't expect third-stringer Dylan Hanser to see a whole lot of time there next season. But those guys are both seniors, and outside linebackers coach Roy Manning and McLennan each raved about his play after practice, so he could definitely be the guy for two years starting in 2016.
They each referenced his impressive speed – even more apparent when going against the WSU offensive line and it's wide splits – and ability to eat up ground quickly. The sophomore from Billings, Montana is already 224-pounds but stands 6-foot-4 and seems to have a frame that could carry another 20 or so without losing any speed.
-- Don't worry, I didn’t forget to watch the quarterbacks. It was sort of a streaky day for both of them and, while I would give the overall edge to Peyton Bender, Luke Falk's receivers didn't help him out much. Falk also goes against the first team defense a little more, although both QBs spend time going against the first and second units during the skeleton drill and team period.
Falk struggled initially in the skeleton drill, completing just two of his first five or six passes. Then he went on a tear, completing 10 of his next 11, albeit with two that were considered defensive stops because the receiver was less than five yards downfield when he was first touched by the defense. Jeremiah Allison ended Falk's session with a pass breakup over the middle, clinging to a receiver on a crossing route, I believe.
Bender completed eight of his first 10 pass attempts, most of which were short, and a couple that were so short as to be defensive wins. He also found Dom Williams on a comeback route about 20-yards downfield and the receiver took a looping route to get upfield, spinning Marcellus Pippins in the process and running for a touchdown.
Where Bender separated himself on Thursday was in the red zone portion of practice. Falk completed a couple good intermediate passes but was picked off by Pippins on his final throw and did not throw a touchdown in his first set. Bender threw touchdowns on each of his first three attempts, finding John Thompson and Tyler Baker on vertical routes and hitting Dom Williams from about eight-yards out.
Falk came back in and immediately threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Kyrin Priester, missed his next throw and had a third broken up by Kyle Newsom. Bender got one more pass – it was broken up by Parker Henry – and the Cougars moved on to special teams.
-- Keith Harrington, Gabe Marks and Marcellus Pippins were the kick returners during special teams.
-- Bender fared OK against the pass-rush on Tuesday, but the defense got to him a few times today. Jeremiah Mitchell sacked Bender on the first play of the team period, Palacio got him a little later on and there was a third sack by what we're just gonna call "Team." I have Falk finishing 9 of 12 with a drop by Marks. He also had some good luck, however, throwing his second touchdown to Marks, who caught it in the back of the end zone after the bullet pass was batted by a defender and ricocheted off another receiver.
Bender's first touchdown pass went to Dom Williams, who made the 12-yard reception with one hand while using the other and his body to shield the ball from the defender.
That session also saw a 15-yard run by Jamal Morrow up the middle and a 30-yard pass to John Thompson.
I had Falk going 10 of 15 with a touchdown to Marks, who may have landed out of bounds. Falk didn't take many shots downfield but he was able to consistently get short to moderate yardage. He also had to deal with back-to-back end zone drops by Dom Williams – the second of which would have been pretty hard to catch – and a drop on the drive by Baker.
-- That's all for now. The Cougars will likely hold a second scrimmage on Saturday. We haven't gotten a time yet but the last one was 11 a.m. (EDIT: After posting this I checked my email and found an announcement that the scrimmage will start at approximately 1:20 p.m. on Saturday.)