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Alex Grinch says WSU camp battles are most competitive yet

WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch coaches up his players during spring football practice on Thursday, April 6, 2017, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The Washington State football team is preparing local fans for Saturday’s Crimson and Gray game at Joe Albi with “Spokane Week,” hosting a series of events in the area.

To that end, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch joined Derek Deis of KXLY for the weekly Cougar Calls show Monday morning for a discussion of the Cougars defense with Deis and WSU broadcasters Jason Gesser and Matt Chazanow.

Grinch told the hosts that the Cougars have had five defensive backs that missed practice this week for various reasons, none of them disciplinary. While their absence has made things harder for the defense in its competitions with the Cougars offense, it has allowed younger players to step up and get more reps.

For example, Grinch explained that freshman Isaiah Love in particular has benefited from the extra reps. Love “gray-shirted,” or delayed his enrollment for a year.

“One of the reasons he gray-shirted and delayed his enrollment was he was injured his senior year of high school, pretty significantly in the neck/back region,” Grinch said. “He hasn’t played football in two years. He’s come in and looked like a guy who hasn’t played football in two years. But he’s got athleticism and the want-to to be a contributor in our program.”

Players like Love, sophomore Marcus Strong, safeties Zaire Webb and Sean Harper and redshirt freshman Grant Porter, who recently converted to defense from wide receiver, have all had plenty of passes completed on them this spring.

“News flash: we throw the ball a lot,” Grinch said. “So as a young defensive back in this program you’ll get plenty of balls thrown your way.”

But Grinch has seen significant improvement in those players, thanks in large part to getting so many reps. He singled out Harper, a junior college transfer who plays safety, for having improved significantly and “exceeded expectations” during his 11 practices at WSU.

He also said he was pleased to see Strong put on muscle and “play bigger” after breaking his ribs while playing as a freshman and missing much of the season. He also noted that Porter has reacted well to his old teammates on the offensive side of the ball trying to test his defensive skills.

During Saturday’s scrimmage the first deep pass went to Porter’s man, but the young cornerback made a play on the ball and knocked it down.

“They tried to expose him. Which is just great teamwork,” Grinch said with a laugh. “But he’s shown well. He’s gotten hands on footballs. Those Saturdays are to play live, and that’s what he did – he played. He’s not hiding at the back of the line, he’s not hoping the ball doesn’t come his way. He’s competed.”

Finally, Grinch was asked which offensive players were making it hard for his defense. Grinch is the primary defensive backs coach, and his players get about 100 combined reps each practice against the wide receivers in skeleton and one-on-one drills, in addition to team period.

Grinch singled out sophomore receiver Dezmon Patmon as someone who has made a lot of plays, and said the battles between offense and defense this year have been particularly competitive.

“First spring where you see more of a consistent battle between the two sides,” Grinch said. “In past we haven’t had enough guys on our side of the ball who would try to cover Gabe Marks. That’s not a great quality and not good from the defensive standpoint. What I’ve seen this spring is young guys stepping up to the plate, or a Jalen Thompson willing to go play corner and step up against a 6-foot-3, or 6-foot-4-plus wide receiver.”