PULLMAN – The thud of the football coming off a receiver’s hands. The crunch of a cornerback flying in to make a play. The collective whoop of the defensive sideline echoing after every incompletion and pass breakup.
If you weren’t one of the 10 or so people who braved brutal rainstorms, 40-degree weather and scattered winds early Saturday afternoon, those three audible sounds could have given you a pretty good idea of what happened during Washington State’s first scrimmage of the spring football season.
With a few exceptions on both sides, the wideouts were inconsistent and the defensive backs were physical throughout a mock game at Martin Stadium that lasted nearly two hours and 100 plays.
By most approximations, WSU’s pass-catchers should be among the best in the Pac-12 this fall, with seven starters returning and more than 300 receptions and 30 touchdowns coming back in 2019. Should they choose to flip through the various college football preview magazines that will come out this summer, or put their names into search engines, the receivers will find plenty of content beefing up their skill and ability.
For now, they still need to show Leach they’re worthy of the publicity.
“I thought our receivers were remarkably soft,” Leach said after the scrimmage.
The coach was critical of the group’s toughness, adding, “I don’t know if some of them think they accomplished something or they achieved something and think that we need to read their press clippings or something. I haven’t read any of them, so clearly I’m not informed on how great they think they are.”
Wet conditions made footballs harder to grip Saturday, but that wasn’t a team-wide crutch, so Leach didn’t give his wideouts a mulligan.
“They’re going to go out there and do a little skill-building after every practice,” he said. “You catch the ball or we’re going to work on it.”
Brandon Arconado was drop-free, catching each of the seven passes that were thrown to him by Trey Tinsley, John Bledsoe and Cammon Cooper. The seven receptions for Arconado, a little-used slot receiver in 2018, were a scrimmage high, as were the redshirt senior’s 121 yards and three touchdowns.
In past years, Arconado, a former walk-on who came to Pullman by way of sunny Chino Hills, California, might have struggled with the inclement conditions that Saturday’s scrimmage presented, but the Cougar receivers go through wet ball drills every Tuesday during the regular season.
“Sometimes you’ve got to use your body to catch the ball, but we’re in Washington. It rains a lot; we practice a lot in the rain,” Arconado said.
On the day, the quarterbacks completed 59 percent of their passes, and a handful of the ones that fell incomplete were DB-inflicted. Nickel Patrick Nunn had the only interception – and only defensive takeaway – but a number of his teammates batted down passes or flew in for big collisions to knock balls loose.
“I did think we played physical and I thought we played pretty fast,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “… We need to have a few more three-and-outs than what we did a year ago and get the ball back for our offense a little bit more. So, I was pleased with that and then I though the red zone, we did an awfully good job of keeping them from scoring touchdowns.”
The pass rush was effective, producing five touch sacks on the afternoon. Rush linebacker Dominick Silvels was the leader with two, while Will Rodgers III, Derrick Langford and Ron Stone Jr. each had one.
“I thought just as a unit (the defense) played pretty hard,” Leach said. “… They’d get push, not always sacks, but they’d get push. And it seemed to me the secondary flew around pretty good.”
Five quarterbacks got opportunities to run the offense. Redshirt seniors Anthony Gordon (14 for 23, 138 yards, four touchdowns) and Tinsley (11 for 19, 127 yards, one interception) were awarded the bulk of the snaps, but Cooper (5 for 11, 85 yards, one TD), Bledsoe (6 for 6, 53 yards, two TDs) and Gunner Cruz (5 for 10, 53 yards) all got one series apiece.
“Really, I thought they all moved it to an extent,” Leach said. “It’s a little hard to gauge because of dropped balls in key situations. You hit a guy in the chest, it’s going to move the sticks, so I’ll have to look at the film to really gauge that. I thought they all did a reasonable job behind center and moved the ball.”
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