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Sports >  WSU football

With 118 players on the roster, Cougars open preseason: Notes and observations from Day 1 of Washington State camp

Aug. 6, 2021 Updated Fri., Aug. 6, 2021 at 8:10 p.m.

Washington State players huddle Friday at the end of the first day of football practice in Pullman.  (Associated Press)
Washington State players huddle Friday at the end of the first day of football practice in Pullman. (Associated Press)

Washington State will hold 25 preseason practices before opening the season on Sept. 4 against Utah State. The Spokesman-Review will be in attendance for each of those, tracking the relevant storylines, notes, depth chart developments and key plays as the Cougars ramp up to the 2021 football season. Below are observations from the first day of fall camp in Pullman.

The notes

  • With super-seniors in the fold this fall, WSU’s roster is up to 118 players, unofficially a record number for the program. That’s presented a few logistical challenges for the Cougars as they keep social-distancing measures in place. Running back Max Borghi said the team is using the “game room” adjacent to the locker room as an additional locker room.
  • “All the freshmen are in there,” Borghi said. “Welcome to college football.”
  • Two offensive players expected to figure into the equation for WSU this fall were notably absent from the first day of preseason camp. Coach Nick Rolovich said running back Deon McIntosh and wide receiver CJ Moore were late to practice and therefore not allowed to participate Friday morning.
  • In other personnel notes, wide receiver Travell Harris was a limited participant, as was transfer safety Tyrone Hill Jr. In his news conference Thursday, Rolovich indicated at least a few players would be on “pitch counts” at the start of camp, meaning they’d only partake in certain activities. OL Konner Gomness, OL Dylan Mayginnes, OL Patrick Utschinski, DB Jackson Lataimua and DL David Gusta also didn’t appear to be in attendance.
  • Right guard is the only position on the offensive line at which the Cougars don’t have a returning starter, but Cade Beresford worked primarily at that spot with the first team offense on Friday.
  • As Rolovich noted Thursday, Calvin Jackson Jr. would have an opportunity to play at inside receiver this fall. With Renard Bell out for the year and Harris mostly sidelined on Friday, there were plenty of opportunities for Jackson on the first day. He capitalized on one of those, but we’ll get to that a little later.
  • The Cougars wore only shoulder pads and didn’t engage in a full 11-on-11 period as they will in most practices. Instead, the team wrapped up practice with kick/punt return drills. Those who could be in the mix for return positions include Harris, Jackson , Borghi, Joshua Meredith, Jouvensly Bazil, Kaleb Ford-Dement, Tsion Nunnally and Lincoln Victor. Borghi expressed interest in helping out on kick return in the post-practice interviews.

Keeping up with the QBs

The quarterback competition technically resumed with the first day of fall camp, but evaluating the three contenders – Jayden de Laura, Cammon Cooper and Jarrett Guarantano – didn’t prove as easy without live repetitions. There will be a better sense of who’s in the lead, and who needs to make up ground, when the Cougars engage in 11-on-11 drills, or team period, at the end of practice.

On Friday, all three QBs shared reps during 7-on-7 drills, seemingly taking four snaps at a time. There was no discernible separation between de Laura, Cooper and Guarantano. Given the nature of the drill, there was little need to record official pass completion totals. Cooper had the most impressive throw of the day, but he was also intercepted during the skeleton period. Come back tomorrow, and throughout camp, for more complete breakdowns of the QB competition.

Three big plays

1. In his first practice at the inside slot position, Jackson made an eye-opening touchdown grab near the start of the team period. The receiver soundly beat freshman safety Jaden Hicks off the line and raced down the sideline, corralling Cooper’s pass as he dove to the ground. “I thought Calvin’s catch, I thought it was good in many ways,” Rolovich said. “I thought it was a good football play and it was good coverage, good effort.”

2. Cooper’s biggest mistake was underthrowing a ball toward the sideline. Nickel Armani Marsh made a jump on the pass and picked it off, making what was probably the defensive play of the day during WSU’s 7-on-7 period.

3. Cornerback Jaylen Watson nearly came up with another defensive takeaway when the 6-foot-3 senior challenged 6-2 receiver De’Zhaun Stribling for a high ball thrown by de Laura near the right sideline. Watson checked Stribling in the air as he tried to grasp the ball with both hands, but it ultimately fell to the ground, prompting the corner to run 20 yards the opposite way in frustration.

Their words

“Obviously, a big difference for me as far as (Mike) Leach’s offense to this offense. More traditional running back in this offense. I’ll be running the ball a lot more. It’s going to be huge for me, as well as pass pro. Obviously, I can prove myself in that aspect and if I have aspirations of playing at the next level, obviously that’s huge. So I’m excited for pass pro. Then running the ball, obviously different zone schemes. Inside zone, outside zone, gap schemes, all that. I’m excited to just run the ball. I felt like Leach’s offense would frustrate me sometimes. I’d be, like, ‘Just run the ball.’ But we wouldn’t do it.

“It got frustrating, but I’m just excited for the running back room and myself. I think it’s going to be a big year running the ball. We’ve got some dudes, we’ve got some studs.”

- Running back Max Borghi on being more of a pure rusher in the run-and-shoot offense.

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