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Sac standouts: Five Washington State players who helped their case in Lewiston

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 9, 2019, 10:14 p.m.

LEWISTON – Fall camp isn’t over at Washington State, but the Cougars have made it through the most grueling and daunting part: six days in Lewiston, where temperatures hovered between 96 and 106 degrees and practices ran around 3 hours long.

The team will hold 15 more practices and two important scrimmages before opening the season at New Mexico State. While the Cougars haven’t released any sort of depth chart, five players helped their chances this past week in Lewiston.

We take a look at five who left Lewiston looking better than they did when they arrived.

Anthony Gordon, quarterback

WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon (18) throws during a practice on Friday, August 2, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon (18) throws during a practice on Friday, August 2, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The Cougars, in all likeliness, weren’t expecting to come out of Lewiston with a starting quarterback. Even though Gordon beat out Trey Tinsley and Gage Gubrud for a spot on this list, it doesn’t mean he’s a shoo-in to succeed Gardner Minshew. Friday’s live scrimmage will be another important step in that process, but this waiting game could continue through the rest of the month.

All three were sporadic with their accuracy and efficiency and none truly separated himself during the team’s six-day stay at Sacajawea. But Gordon, I believe, was the one who best helped his chances. In Lewiston, Gordon got five offensive drives over the course of six practices. Simply because of the rotation, Gubrud and Tinsley each had four. In the scored reps, we tallied 36 completions for Gordon on 58 attempts, giving him a final percentage of 62. Tinsley matched him, while Gubrud finished below 60%.

Tinsley and Gubrud weren’t intercepted in Lewiston, while Gordon had three picks, but Gordon was the touchdown leader with nine, compared to seven for Tinsley and five for Gubrud. Gordon strung together two of the most impressive drives this camp during a two-day span. After throwing a pick on the first snap of Tuesday’s team period, he wasn’t intercepted again. He completed 16 of his final 26 passes, while throwing six touchdowns during that stretch.

Friday’s scrimmage could generate more than a few answers from the quarterback competition, but for now, Gordon looks like the most decisive, most accurate signal-caller out there, and as we’ve noted before, he has the most capable arm of the three.

Dillon Sherman, “Mike” linebacker

In this Aug. 2, 2017 photo, Washington State linebacker Dillon Sherman, right, duels cornerback Gerard Wicks, left, for a pass during practice. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
In this Aug. 2, 2017 photo, Washington State linebacker Dillon Sherman, right, duels cornerback Gerard Wicks, left, for a pass during practice. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

When the redshirt junior walked up to a group interview Sunday, he looked much leaner and stronger than he did a year ago. Sherman didn’t lack either thing as a redshirt sophomore, either. But his newfound instincts in pass coverage could give Sherman the edge he needs to win the “Mike” linebacker job, where the Cougars have to replace esteemed program leader Peyton Pelluer.

Sherman has played in 26 games for the Cougars since his redshirt freshman season, but the linebacker who has 53 career tackles still doesn’t have a pass breakup or interception. It’s evident he’s improved in that area, though, because on Monday, he looked just as disruptive as any defensive back, tallying two pass breakups.

When the offense and defense were at a stalemate near the end of the team period, head coach Mike Leach was prepared to award a victory to the unit that won the final play.

Max Borghi caught a pass from Gordon in the flat. In a situation in which he could have easily overpursued, Sherman trusted his fundamentals and stood the running back up as help came.

Just like quarterback, it’s hard to declare a firm starter at the “Mike” spot after six days in Lewiston, but Sherman is still giving Justus Rogers a run for his money.

“(Justus) is a good linebacker. He’s really good, really smart out there,” Sherman said. “I learn from him, he learns from me. That linebacker room is really tight and we really love each other.”

Which brings us to No. 2 on the list …

Justus Rogers, “Mike” linebacker

Washington State linebacker Justus Rogers (37) smiles between plays during a practice on Thursday, April 5, 2018, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State linebacker Justus Rogers (37) smiles between plays during a practice on Thursday, April 5, 2018, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

For now, Rogers is still taking the majority of No. 1 reps at “Mike” linebacker, although defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has been adamant the competition at every spot is fluid. There’s still plenty of time to rearrange the depth chart before the season opener if Claeys notices a drop-off in play or effort from any of the starters.

Rogers hasn’t had to worry about that. So far, he hasn’t lost his place in the pecking order because he’s played as well as Sherman throughout the first week at camp – and better at times. The redshirt junior is a former quarterback who’s still more adept in pass coverage than Sherman, and had an exceptional fifth day, snagging two interceptions and leaving another one on the table. He had four pass breakups on the day, between the skeleton drills and team period.

The Cougars are still unproven at a number of positions on defense – spots like nose tackle, cornerback and free safety are being contested by players without much experience – and waiting for somebody to emerge as a starting-caliber player.

At “Mike,” they essentially have two starters, and will rotate both throughout games, so it’s just a matter of which one takes the first snap of the game.

“They’re both doing really, really well,” inside linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni said Wednesday. “I talked to Dillon about it last night and it’s not day to day, it’s even play to play.

“They’re both stepping up. The competition between those two guys is neck and neck. They’re both doing a really good job. I’m really happy with where they’re at.”

Daniel Isom, free safety

Washington State Cougars defensive back Daniel Isom (3) watches teammates run drills during a practice on Wednesday, August 7, 2019, at Sacajawea Jr. High School in Lewiston. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars defensive back Daniel Isom (3) watches teammates run drills during a practice on Wednesday, August 7, 2019, at Sacajawea Jr. High School in Lewiston. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Isom, the junior college transfer from Iowa Western, trained at cornerback during the spring, but a sudden need at free safety after the departure of Jalen Thompson prompted Claeys and his staff to change his position. Isom told reporters Wednesday he hadn’t played safety since his sophomore year of high school, but you wouldn’t know it judging by seven days of camp.

When camp opened, the Cougars were giving redshirt freshman Tyrese Ross the early repetitions at free safety.

But that changed after the fourth day in camp, and the third day in Lewiston, when coaches replaced Ross with Isom. Ever since, Isom has been working with the No. 1 defense.

In a defensive secondary that could be primarily comprised of junior college transfers, Isom had an interception on Gordon on the second day and knocked away two Gubrud passes on the fourth.

Asked where he’s improved since spring camp, Isom said, “probably just buying in to saying, ‘Let’s do more.’ Just kind of focusing on doing my job and stuff, not talking about it. Just making sure I can come in every day and help out the team and do what I can.”

Kassidy Woods, “Y” receiver

Washington State wide receiver Kassidy Woods, left, runs the ball during a practice on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, at Sacajawea Jr. High School in Lewiston. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State wide receiver Kassidy Woods, left, runs the ball during a practice on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, at Sacajawea Jr. High School in Lewiston. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Woods and Brandon Arconado are the team’s top options at “Y.” Even though Leach plays two guys at each receiver position, Woods and Arconado could be battling for one spot. If Jamire Calvin returns to the field in the next week or two, we can presume the two-year starter will eventually take his job back. So these fall camps feel crucial for Woods and Arconado.

In seven practices, we unofficially have Woods down for 15 total catches and three touchdown grabs. Even with the volume the Cougars use in their passing game, those numbers are impressive, considering how many wideouts are getting reps.

“He’s doing a great job taking coaching,” slot receiver Travell Harris said. “He wanted another big guy in the slot and we feel like that’s what we need. So he’s doing a good job.”

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