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Cougars at full-speed for first full-pads spring scrimmage

WSU spring football practice on Thursday, April 6, 2017, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Martin Stadium saw rain, and snow, and a bunch of defensive backs being thrown into the fire.

The Washington State Cougars held their first full-pads scrimmage of spring on Saturday morning. The hour-long scrimmage was a proving ground for young players who have been asked to absorb a lot of information in a short time.

“We try to stress them as much as we possibly can,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “For instance, in the scrimmage we play (with the cornerbacks on the line of scrimmage) every single snap. Now are you going to do that in a game? No. But we’re trying, again, until that scoreboard is real, we’re going to make it as tough as we possibly can on them.”

Football is unique among sports in that games are rarely played. It is practiced, certainly. Teams perform lots of drills to develop the skills they will use in those rare occasions when they are playing an opponent.

Teams will even play sports that resemble football, two-hand touch versions of the game to develop muscle memory they can rely on when they get into games. But football is too physical a sport to be played often, and so these full-contact scrimmages provide coaches and players with valuable insight into how good WSU is at actually playing football.

Right now, not so good. Fumbled snaps, dropped balls, missed assignments and missed kicks were the order of the day on Saturday, and that’s OK. The team needs to make mistakes now so it can learn what to drill before it plays football again.

That’s why WSU does not “script for success” during these scrimmages. Grinch, whose best safeties are all fairly new to the program, overloads his youngsters to see who swims and who sinks during the soggy Saturday scrimmage.

“For Sean Harper, in his eighth practice, we’ve installed like he’s been here for three years and the same thing with Zaire Webb,” Grinch said. “Their heads are spinning. They’re making a million mistakes. Hopefully, the mistakes they make Tuesday are better than the ones they make today.”

Harper, a junior college transfer who enrolled early, in particular played well on Saturday. The backup safety tied with linebacker Justus Rogers for the team lead with five tackles, and also broke up two passes. Rogers also intercepted Anthony Gordon. Grinch also singled out starting nickel Hunter Dale as a player who has had a good spring, and who made an impact on Saturday with two tackles and a hurry.

Isaac Dotson and Nick Begg each had two of the defense’s nine sacks.

Starting quarterback Luke Falk completed 9 of 21 passes for 97 yards. Tyler Hilinksi threw against lesser defensesand completed 16 of 24 passes for 203 yards and four TDs.

Hilinksi, being under less pass-rush pressure than Falk, was able to take more shots down field and had success, throwing a beautifully arcing ball over Renard Bell’s shoulder for a 24-yard score.

The offensive player who had the most enticing day was 6-foot-6 senior C.J. Dimry, who caught four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. Dimry has long hinted at the potential to be a strong player for the Cougars with good speed and unmatchable size, but he’s battled injuries throughout his career.

Dimry stretched out in the end zone to bring in an 8-yard touchdown pass with one hand, and had a 31-yard score when he used his considerable size to box out cornerback Marcellus Pippins.

He was granted a sixth year by the NCAA and continues to flash his potential throughout the spring. Kyrin Priester has not always been at practice as he focuses on shoring up his academic status, but he had catches of 15 and 16 yards in the scrimmage.

Jamal Morrow had the best day of the running backs, with four rushes for 43 yards and a 20-yard touchdown. James Williams added a 30-yard touchdown run, but he also dropped a pair of passes.

“I thought James ran well but I didn’t think James played as good as he can,” Mike Leach said. “He had been consistent but he turned the ball over and dropped balls. So, we’ll look at the film and see how he blocked.”