Temperatures finally broke triple digits at Lewiston’s Sacajawea Junior High – the count was 102 when I arrived – as Washington State battled through another steamy, hazy day of preseason camp. Our daily notes and observations…
Notes and observations
– It was boiling hot Wednesday, but that didn’t seem to affect the team’s demeanor. Not long after arriving, I heard running backs coach Eric Mele tell players “You know who’s practicing today? Everybody in America. You know who’s sore today? Everybody in America.” Later on, I eavesdropped on Nick Begg telling a few teammates, “Beautiful day in Lewiston, Idaho, baby!”
– Which isn’t to say fatigue isn’t setting in. Mike Leach, however, was encouraged to see it on day six rather than earlier in camp. He believes it’s a signal his team is better conditioned than some of those in the past.
– More on the quarterbacks below, but Gardner Minshew, Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon all got multiple shots during the skeleton period and each had a series in 11-on-11. The competition is still neck-and-neck-and-neck, and Leach believes it’s one of the tightest he’s seen as a head coach – and probably the tightest one that’s involved three guys. “This is as tough as any of them because we have three guys,” Leach said, “and they’re all competing pretty hard and they’re all playing pretty well.”
– Tay Martin continues to look like an All-Pac-12 First Teamer in the making and the sophomore receiver is doing his best to make plays for all three QBs. He reeled in two touchdown balls from Gordon during the team period and made the other two look good during skeleton. “I just go out there and give it my all each play for every quarterback,” Martin said afterward. “Can’t really control what happens each play, but I try my best for each quarterback.”
– Special teams coach Matt Brock hasn’t been able to identify a starting kicker yet … or a starting punter for that matter. Ryan Henderson made a 35-yarder and hit the upright on a 37-yarder Wednesday. Jack Crane, meanwhile, bounced one off the upright from 35 yards out before making one from the same distance. Oscar Draguicevich and Oliver Graybar are still both in the mix to nail down the punting job.
– One thing Brock is sure of: Jamire Calvin and Travell Harris will contribute heavily in the return game this season and both will have a chance to help in punt return and kick return.
– Without a few defensive linemen available Wednesday (see below), the Cougars experimented with Willie Taylor III, Jonathan Lolohea and Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei up front during the team period.
– Non-participants on Wednesday included defensive linemen Logan Tago and Lamonte McDougle. Receiver Kyle Sweet, who’d been a non-participant each of the last two days, wasn’t in attendance. Defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo missed his third consecutive day of practice. Defensive lineman Derek Moore missed his second. Kedron Williams wore a yellow no-contact jersey, but Max Borghi returned to full participation – and looked strong – after two days in the yellow bib.
– After a full-pads practice on Tuesday, the Cougars stripped down to just shoulder pads on Wednesday. Thursday’s practice will be a shortened walkthrough before Friday’s scrimmage, which will take place sometime in the evening at Martin Stadium.
– Early in the 1-on-1 period, Dezmon Patmon beat Darrien Molton to the end zone and vaulted a few feet off the ground to high-point a throw from Tinsley. Still thinking he’ll be the Cougars’ toughest cover this season.
– Sean Harper Jr., who’s been the best DB not named Jalen Thompson this camp, flew across the middle during the skeleton period to come away with a pick on Tinsley, who was attempting to throw to Tay Martin.
– Gordon unleashed a deep one to Rodrick Fisher down the left sideline on his first snap in skelly. Fisher is already problematic with his speed, but the freshman from Spokane seems much more comfortable with contact than he did in the spring.
– In skelly, Thompson broke on a ball thrown by Minshew, intended for Robert Lewis, and deflected it into the air for Hunter Dale to grab.
– Thompson finally got his interception during Gordon’s skeleton series, catching a ball that whizzed right through the hands of freshman wideout Kassidy Woods.
– Gordon, who got the first snaps during 11-on-11, aired out a pretty ball over the defensive secondary to Renard Bell who caught it in the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown.
– Taylor and Lolohea combined to “sack” Gordon in the backfield a few plays later. Taylor got there first, sweeping around the back, and Lolohea met him in the front to finish it off.
– Gordon then threw consecutive TDs to Martin. His precision on the second was excellent, floating a 17-yard ball to the back left corner of the end zone, where Martin used his long arms to track it down and tap a toe in before stepping out.
– James Williams caught a shovel pass from Tinsley during the second series of 11-on-11, then cut outside and spun as he was getting hit before progressing another 5 yards or so. Williams ran for a physical 5-yard touchdown later in the period, breaking through about five defenders on his way to the end zone.
– The highlight of the day for Minshew came on a 50-yard touchdown pass to Easop Winston. Minshew hit Winston in stride down the right sideline and a split-second after coming down with the ball, the receiver split through two defenders – Deion Singleton and Isaiah Love – before dashing to the end zone. The defenders collided trying to tackle Winston and the play left Singleton shaken up.
– Karson Block stuffed Max Borghi for a loss of 2 yards after a handoff from Minshew.
– Minshew completed a long screen pass to Woods and the freshman receiver proceeded to gallop 20 yards around the right edge of the field, eventually crossing the goal line.
– Borghi danced through the defense and absorbed a few hits on his way to 7-yard rushing touchdown on the third to final play of practice.
– Minshew and Winston were clicking the same way Gordon and Martin were Wednesday afternoon. With two plays to go, the ECU transfer waited for his receiver to break across the back of the end zone before firing a bullet into his hands. Marcus Strong defended the play well, but Winston won out with his strong hands.
Keeping up with the QBs
Gardner Minshew: Leach said Wednesday “Gardner gets better and better the more reps he gets,” so it makes sense that day six was his most productive yet. Minshew was good, not great in skeleton period although he more than made up for it during the team period, completing 7-of-8 passes and getting through without an interceptoin. The one miss was a bad drop by Travell Harris, so you might as well mark it a perfect day for the East Carolina transfer. He showed impeccable touch on a few of his throws and scrambled out of the pocket when he felt defensive pressure – usually straight forward for a few yards.
Anthony Gordon: The redshirt junior probably had the best skeleton period of the three QBs, hitting on a few long bombs – including the very first play of the drill which saw him uncork a pass to Rodrick Fisher down the left sideline. He also threw a pick in skeleton – as did the other two – but kept clean during 11-on-11. He was 6-of-8 after throwing incomplete on two of his first three passes and threw four touchdowns during the period. Gordon generally is the least animated of the three QBs, but he was particularly amped up to throw his fourth TD – a 5-yarder to Renard Bell – and let out a “Let’s (expletive) go!” after the play ended.
Trey Tinsley: Tinsley completed six of his nine passes in the team period, which isn’t bad unless your competitors combined to go 13-for-16 the same day. He moved the offense, though it never felt like he found the same rhythm Minshew and Gordon did. He also didn’t close his series as efficiently as the other two. After going 6-of-7 to start, Tinsley threw incomplete twice in the red zone and was unable to pass for a TD, while his challengers each threw multiple.
Cammon Cooper: Leach repeatedly referred to the QB battle as a three-man competition Wednesday, so it seems less and less likely Cooper will be part of the equation.
“No, I think it’s ridiculous. You’re either on or off. You’re either commited to playing in college or you’re committed to playing professionally. Nobody needs a bunch of guys wallowing around thinking about what they’re going to do. They’re either in or they’re out. That’s how I think it should be.” – Mike Leach, on if college football should adopt the new college basketball rule allowing players to return to college if they go undrafted.
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