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./5 p.m.
Temperature: 98 degrees, clear
Attire: Helmets and shoulder pads
- The first day of padded practice always seems to produce a few small scuffles between offensive and defensive players. There wasn’t much of that during a competitive team period, aside from a small pushing match between receiver Brandon Arconado and defensive lineman Tristan Brock, who apparently are rooming together in Lewiston.
- The introduction of shoulder pads also means the introduction of “bull in the ring,” which the Cougars hold at the start of practice, and the “make or miss” or “avoid drill” held at the tail end. In “make or miss,” the offensive player is stationed behind one tackling dummy with the ball in hand and the defensive player behind another about 10 yards away. The wall of players surrounding the drill made it hard to tell who the defensive player was, but running back Jouvensly Bazil side-stepped his challenger on the final rep, which instantly brought his offensive teammates to life. A look at the “avoid drill” below.
- A couple of defensive players have flipped roles this fall. Former inside linebacker Fa’vae Fa’vae has moved to “Rush” linebacker, while Dom Silvels, a part-time starter at “Rush” last season, is now working with the inside backers. The reason for both moves? “Depth. Depth and see if we can get Fa’vae on the field,” Mike Leach said.
- Silvels, of course, came to Pullman as a inside linebacker, so the move back should be pretty seamless. “He’s an athlete, he can jump all over the place,” Dillon Sherman said. “It’s good to see him back. We have a lot of young guys so adding him, it’s his third year I think, he understands the defense and what we need to do and the expectations we have on the defensive side of the ball.”
- Presumably because he didn’t practice Saturday, cornerback George Hicks III played with the No. 2 defense Sunday, which gave junior college transfer Derrick Langford some more time with the starters.
- The No. 1 defense looks something like this: Nnamdi Oguayo (DE), Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei (NT), Will Rodgers III (DT), Willie Taylor III (Rush), Jahad Woods (WLB), Justus Rogers (MLB), Skyler Thomas (nickel), Derrick Langford/George Hicks III (CB), Tyrese Ross (FS), Bryce Beekman (SS) and Marcus Strong (CB).
- And here’s a look at the second team we saw Sunday: Christian Mejia (DE), Lamonte McDougle (NT), Karson Block (DT), Ron Stone (Rush), Dominick Silvels (WLB), Dillon Sherman (MLB), Patrick Nunn (nickel), George Hicks III/Derrick Langford (CB), Chad Davis (SS), Daniel Isom (FS), Armani Marsh (CB).
- I’ll do this same drill with the offense tomorrow and provide a full projected depth chart later on in the week.
- Rogers was named the Special Teams Player of the Day by special teams coach Matt Brock.
- There was a very brief cameo from former WSU running back James Williams Sunday. Williams, of course, spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent before being waived in June. Williams, whose fiance Rye lives in the Lewiston are, met with a handful of his former teammates and coaches, and was spotted talking with Leach on the sideline at one point. So it’s good to see that relationship hasn’t been completely soured.
- Non-participants today were wide receiver Jamire Calvin, who’s in a walking boot still recovering from the leg injury he suffered in the spring, offensive lineman Jimmy Price and defensive lineman Tyler Garay-Harris. Linebacker Jahad Woods was a half-participant. Quarterback John Bledsoe and offensive lineman Christian Haangana were no-shows once again.
One big play
Coaches don’t place much stock in the final score of the team period and it’s never clear how points are awarded. But it adds to the competition nonetheless and toward the end of the final series Sunday, the offense and defense had essentially played to a stalemate, when Mike Leach declared that whoever won the last play of the drive would be victorious.
With the offense parked about 4 yards shy of the goal line, Anthony Gordon delivered a pass to Max Borghi on a halfback swing. The strong, quick and crafty running back is typically able to make his first man miss, but inside linebacker Dillon Sherman diagnosed the play call almost as soon as the ball was snapped and, unblocked, the redshirt junior shot out of a cannon to reach Borghi in the backfield.
Borghi tried to spin out of the tackle, but Sherman stood him up long enough to get help from Dominick Silvels, Bryce Beekman and Skyler Thomas. The play was quickly whistled dead and the defense emerged with the win.
“Borghi’s my boy, friendly competition with everyone on the team,” Sherman said. “But I give him some (expletive) here and there. He came up to me after, he’s like, ‘I would’ve ran you over.’ I said, ‘That wouldn’t have happened.’ But it’s all fun and games.”
“It was just a good read on the defense,” Borghi said. “Nothing else to it. That’s one of our plays where we’ve got two slants and you’ve got to hope they’re in man and they weren’t in man, so they just beat us right there in the coverage.”
Standouts & slip-ups
Standout: Without doing the research, we’ll go ahead and presume Kassidy Woods is the biggest slot receiver the Cougars have had under Leach. What was a spring experiment seems to have turned into a fall success and the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Woods has thrived since he moved into the slot. Until Jamire Calvin returns from his injury, it’ll be Woods and the much smaller Brandon Arconado competing at the “Y” receiver spot.
Woods was strong throughout Sunday’s session, twice beating Skyler Thomas in 1-on-1, wide receiver vs. defensive back drills, and he followed with a handful of grabs during the team period. The Texan caught three passes from Trey Tinsley before freeing himself on a route to the middle of the end zone and hauling in a short touchdown.
“He’s done good, he’s still picking some stuff up but he’s a big target,” Leach said. “Great, big kid and catches the ball good. Still getting in a rhythm I think.”
Slip-up: The usually-consistent Calvin Jackson Jr. had a few frustrating mistakes throughout the day. Behind fellow outside receiver Easop Winston, Jackson Jr. may have the next most reliable hands on the team, but the senior dropped three balls by count during 1-on-1 and skeleton drills. These won’t be recurring mistakes for Jackson Jr., surely, though there isn’t much room for error in a tight position battle with Tay Martin.
Keeping up with the QBs
Gage Gubrud sat out while Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon divided day three reps. Now that we’ve seen all three configurations, we should return to the original pairing of Gubrud and Tinsley on Monday.
We had Tinsley unofficially marked at 9-of-14 with three touchdowns and no interceptions during the team period, while Gordon was 9-of-13 with no touchdowns and one interception. Clay Markoff picked up a Gordon pass that *we think* hit the ground – and Halid Djibril, obviously not biased, told us that was the case – and ran it into the end zone, so the QB’s stats could be different depending on which unofficial scorer you ask.
Tinsley was steady eddy during his portion of the team period and completed each of his first three passes before uncorking a long pass to a wide-open Brandon Arconado down the right sideline. He overthrew Renard Bell on one attempt and badly missed Borghi down the middle of the field on another, but two of incompletions came on drops, so the completion percentage should’ve been a little better than it indicated.
Gordon’s biggest mistake was an interception in which he didn’t get enough air on a ball to Brandon Gray down the right sideline, allowing Djibril, who stands 4 inches shorter, to leap up and take the ball out of the air. Whether Gordon’s aforementioned pass to Markoff was complete or not, it too was underthrown. But the QB also had a couple of flashy highlights and the former 36th round MLB Draft pick put his pitching background to use, changing his arm angle to hit Arconado on a broken play while backpedaling.
“They were explosive and they’d hit a little dry spell,” Leach said of the QBs. “But they were generally fairly explosive I thought.”
Who had the edge: Tinsley. The numbers tell the story here, so we don’t need to.
“He’s doing really well. Throughout this last year, he’s gotten way better. I can’t even explain. He’s looking a little faster out there, he’s cut a little bit of weight, he’s leaned out a little bit. He’s cutting a little bit more, he’s getting downfield and he’s still big, so he’s making those hits.”
– Running back Max Borghi talks about the progress fullback Clay Markoff has made last season. Markoff is working in and out with the first team offense during camp and could carve out a role in the backfield as a redshirt junior.
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