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WSU coaches use extra time to assess talent

PULLMAN – During the season, Washington State’s football coaches don’t get much time with the underclassmen on the team. Except for the rare freshman whose talents dictate that they play extensively in games, the younger players attend different meetings than the first and second strings, and spend most of their time on scout team. As such, the players on the defensive scout team spend most of their practice time in front of offensive coaches, and vice versa, simulating the upcoming opponent’s playbook for the starters and their backups. It’s a way for the players to receive extensive repetitions while also helping the Saturday contributors prepare for the game ahead. “They got better each day because they’ve been on scout team,” defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. Only on Thursday nights, during the team’s weekly underclassmen scrimmage, do those relative newcomers get to show their future position coaches the improvement they’ve made during the season. Until this past week, that is. For the first five practices after the Apple Cup, the veteran players were sent to the weight room following the first half hour of practice, and the coaches worked exclusively with young players. Because the Cougars have been invited to the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, N.M., they are allowed additional practice time not allotted to teams that fail to make a bowl game. “It was really a chance for us to get some Spring Football in with those guys,” linebackers coach Ken Wilson said. “Obviously, we work with them on Thursday nights, but this has been the chance for us to get them in position meetings and go over the base stuff and watch it on the field, watch them in extended reps and see what we’ve got out there.” The practices were cumulative, with the players doing individual drills, 1-on-1 sessions, 7-on-7 sessions and then team periods when the scout team players finally got to spend some time running WSU’s base offense and defense. Besides giving the players a chance to impress their coaches, it was also an opportunity for the coaches to evaluate the players. After a season of development between fall camp and the bowl practices, the Cougars coaches assessed which players were standing out, who may be falling behind, and if certain players might excel at another position. “We’re moving some guys around. I think Jeremiah Allison, who’s played several positions for us, we’re kind of locking him in at the ‘Buck’ and the ‘Will’ linebacker positions,” Wilson said. “He’s getting good reps and obviously the young defensive linemen have been a big surprise to us.” Wilson also mentioned safety Darius Lemora and linebacker Peyton Pelluer as players who had stood out during bowl practices. If there is a shortcoming to WSU’s extra practice time, it lies in its brevity. The New Mexico Bowl, played on Dec. 21, will be the first bowl game played this season. With no limit on the number of bowl practices a team may use, the Cougars could have held off on implementing the game plan with the veterans longer, and had more time with the underclassmen. Still, an early game does mean the Cougars will be home for the holidays. “There’s not ever a perfect amount of practices that you can get with these guys, but we got some good time with them and now they’re going to play in a great bowl game, get to be home at Christmas and then we’re going to come right back in the second semester and get these guys rolling,” Wilson said. The veterans and game plan are the focal points of practice again and the majority of underclassmen are again relegated to the scout team. But they’ll have two more chances to show off their bowl-practice improvement to coaches. WSU will hold closed underclassmen scrimmages on Saturday and again in Albuquerque.
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