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Practice report from Day 2 of Washington State preseason camp: Junior college defensive backs make their mark

A daily fall practice update from The Spokesman-Review’s Washington State beat writer, Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR). We set the scene, list the day’s important notes, highlight one big play, pick the standouts and slip-ups, track the quarterback race and dissect one talking point from post-practice interviews.

Setting the scene

Where: Sacajawea Middle School in Lewiston

Start/finish: 2 p.m./4:50 p.m.

Temperature: 92 degrees, clear

Attire: Helmets only


      Mike Leach reiterated why he enjoys shifting preseason camp to Lewiston every August. The team’s done it for the last six years now. “This is a great time of preparation for our squad and people get to know one another and we get to do a lot of work without distractions and appreciate where everybody started playing football, somewhere around junior high.”

    • During their Lewiston trip – six nights this year – the Cougars stay in the dorm rooms at local college Lewis-Clark State. Roommate pairings are somewhat random, Will Rodgers III told reporters, and coaches like to place players with teammates they wouldn’t usually spend time with, or ones that don’t share the same position group. Rodgers III, a defensive tackle, is bunking with wide receiver Easop Winston Jr. Quarterback Anthony Gordon is sharing a living space with receiver Dezmon Patmon.
    • There were a handful of players rotating through kick return Saturday. The group included expected starter Travell Harris, along with running back Max Borghi, running back Jouvensly Bazil, running back Deon McIntosh, wide receiver Rodrick Fisher, wide receiver Donovan Ollie and nickel Skyler Thomas.
    • Three kickers took aim at the uprights today and they didn’t miss. Blake Mazza was good from 28 and 33 yards, Jack Crane hit from 28, 33 and 37, and freshman walk-on Dean Janikowski made his lone field goal from 37 yards out.
    • The non-participants on Saturday were wide receiver Jamire Calvin, cornerback George Hicks III and offensive lineman Jimmy Price. The no-shows were offensive linemen Christian Haangana (see Friday’s report) and Michael Van Beek, along with quarterback John Bledsoe.
    • If you follow Drew Bledsoe’s Instagram account, you would’ve seen this injury update on son John a few weeks earlier. The WSU walk-on apparently suffered some type of left leg injury over the summer and is seen in the post using crutches.

  • The first day of camp in Lewiston is usually pretty well-attended and it didn’t hurt that the Cougars got down to Sacajawea on a Saturday. There were approximately 100 fans roaming around the field and perched in the metal bleachers adjacent to the grass.
  • The media met with Leach, offensive line coach Mason Miller, quarterback Anthony Gordon, wide receiver Easop Winston Jr. and defensive tackle Will Rodgers III after practice.

    One big play

    Yesterday, we highlighted an impressive touchdown catch from Calvin Jackson Jr. Today, we tip our hat to the defense and junior college transfer safety Daniel Isom, who snagged an interception during the first half of team period. The takeaway was partially set up by nickel Skyler Thomas, who snuck up to the line of scrimmage motioning a blitz before moving back as the ball was snapped. Thomas baited Gordon into throwing a deep pass to Travell Harris, who ran a post pattern toward the middle of the field. The QB would’ve been hard-pressed to complete the pass one way or the other with multiple defensive backs in the area, but it certainly didn’t help that Gordon underthrew it, allowing Isom to step up and make a clean pick.

    Gordon also said he checked out of the initial play, “which was a pretty bad idea,” the QB said, “so tagged a little individual route to Travell, didn’t see the safety roll to the middle, thought I had a wide-open touchdown and Isom had other ideas.”

    Leach said he took no issue with the check, but would’ve advised Gordon to choose a different progression.

    “I thought his check was fine,” Leach said. “He shouldn’t have forced the ball to the post. That was the biggest thing and he had it initially and just needs to put it out there. If he doesn’t have that, throw the slant.”

    (watch the play at the 2:21 mark of the video below)

    Standouts & slip-ups

    Standout: Across the board, the junior college defensive backs were thoroughly impressive today. That’s sophomore cornerback Derrick Langford, redshirt junior safety Daniel Isom, redshirt junior cornerback Shahman Moore and redshirt junior safety Bryce Beekman. Isom was in the right position, playing center field, when he got in front to intercept Gordon during the first team series. Langford tipped away one of Gordon’s throws a few plays earlier and we had him down for one more pass breakup during Gubrud’s series, when the cornerback hunted down Easop Winston, his fellow City College of San Francisco transfer, and swatted awy the pass. Beekman, who essentially earned his spot with the No. 1 defense during spring camp, has been solid and Moore was steady on day two after nabbing his first interception Friday.

    Slip-up: Both of the offensive line units allowed the pass-rush to break through on a fairly steady basis during Saturday’s team period. Gordon didn’t have much time to work with in the pocket on a number of his throws and Lamonte McDougle muscled through for a touch sack on the quarterback toward the end of his drive. Gubrud’s mobility bought him more time to make plays, but the O-line’s inability to hold a firm wall often forced the QB to extend with his feet.

    Keeping up with the QBs

    After Trey Tinsley and Gage Gubrud split up the quarterback reps Friday, Tinsley was left out of the rotation Saturday and Anthony Gordon made his camp debut as the Cougars moved to Lewiston. Gubrud wasn’t going to shake off the rust in a single day and he didn’t appear quite as sharp as Gordon during one-on-one and skeleton drills. He also had a lower completion percentage than Gordon in the team period – both QBs got one offensive series and approximately 20 snaps each, similar to Friday’s practice – but for the first time since Gubrud arrived on campus, we got a glimpse of the improvisation and play-extending ability that made him such a dynamic player at Eastern Washington.

    “Well he made two plays on scramble drill, I thought that was good and I think he’s doing some good things out there,” Leach said. “I thought all the quarterbacks have been really competitive.”

    Gubrud finished 7-of-13 with three touchdowns and no interceptions during the team period, while Gordon was 7-of-10 with one touchdown and the pick we broke down earlier. Gordon opened his series by launching downfield to Renard Bell, who had a step on Tyrese Ross and hauled in the pass for what would’ve been a 40-plus yard gain.

    Gubrud underthrew or overthrew a handful of his passes and he had one ball stuffed by Willie Taylor III at the line of scrimmage. He’s listed at 6-foot-2, just one inch taller than Gardner Minshew, who had sporadic problems lifting the ball over the defensive line last season.

    Who had the edge: Gubrud, even though he wasn’t quite as accurate, won the day, getting his offense into the end zone twice more than Gordon. And two of those scores came with Gubrud evading the pass-rush, scrambling out of the pocket and firing on the run.

    Talking point

    “I think we look for a different type of player on our offensive line. I don’t really look for a guy that’s got all the accolades and stars. I want the guy that’s going to be great in four years, not great when he’s 18 just because he’s bigger and stronger than everybody else. And plus I want guys that are not afraid to work.”

    – Offensive line coach Mason Miller, on his philosophy for recruiting offensive linemen.