Washington State will hold 25 preseason practices before opening the season 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 ninth day of fall camp in Pullman.
- For the first time since Thursday, the Cougars were back at Rogers Field with air quality improving throughout the region. WSU players were in half-pads for the first time since Wednesday and will be holding more fully padded sessions throughout the week leading into Saturday’s second preseason scrimmage.
- A handful of key players was held out of Monday’s practice. The list included linebacker Jahad Woods, edge Willie Taylor III, cornerback Chris Jackson, edge Gabriel Lopez, wide receiver Lincoln Victor, wide receiver Marshawn Buchanan and defensive back Jackson Lataimua.
- Quarterback Jayden de Laura wore a brace over his left knee for the first time this preseason. The sophomore was still a full participant during practice, and the brace didn’t seem to impact his movement inside or outside the pocket. De Laura was limited in his participation during multiple practices last week, but coach Nick Rolovich indicated the QB was suffering from a sore arm and not anything related to his lower body.
- Wide receiver Travell Harris continued to work with strength coaches behind one of the end zones at Rogers Field and didn’t participate in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills.
- For the third time in two weeks, multiple NFL scouts were in attendance at practice. Teams represented included the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, Washington Football Team and Arizona Cardinals.
- It took nine practices, but a small skirmish finally broke out between offensive and defensive players during 11-on-11 work. It’s unclear what prompted the shoving match, but defensive tackle Ahmir Crowder and offensive guard Rodrick Tialavea appeared to be the players engaging before other offensive and defensive players joined in.
Keeping up with the QBs
Judging by the comments Rolovich made after the team’s first scrimmage on Saturday, it seemed the Cougars were still at least a week out – or longer – from naming a starting quarterback and the second-year confirmed as much on Monday.
“I saw a little more juice from a couple of them,” Rolovich said. “This is not as much, obviously we want to know who runs the offense good but we want to know who’s going to lead. Who’s going to take the other 10 guys and inspire them to be better and that’s what we want them to concentrate on this week and I saw some effort in that area from a couple guys.”
Asked if he’d expect to name a starter by the end of the week, Rolovich responded “No, no, I don’t.”
De Laura, Cammon Cooper, Jarrett Guarantano and walk-on Victor Gabalis all got opportunities during the 11-on-11 period, but sticking with the rotation the Cougars have followed through preseason camp, de Laura and Gabalis were the only QBs working with the first and second team offense during 7-on-7 drills.
In the 7-on-7 period, de Laura opened 5 of 7 and looked decisive peppering throws to four different wideouts. The returning starter completed one of his final four passes, however, and accounted for the day’s only interception, lobbing a ball toward the back right quadrant of the end zone, where cornerback Chau Smith-Wade swiped it out of the air.
There weren’t as many pass opportunities for WSU’s returning starter in the 11-on-11 period, but he finished 3 of 3 in those and capped his practice with a designed run that resulted in a short touchdown and a passing touchdown to slot receiver Drake Owen on a slant route.
Cooper and Guarantano were both 3 of 3 during the initial team period, which seemed to highlight short, quick passes, but the QBs challenging de Laura were a combined 1 of 5 in the final segment of 11-on-11 and each was forced to throw the ball away after being pressured out of the pocket.
Three big plays
1. Smith-Wade’s interception was the top defensive highlight, and the only takeaway, during day nine of camp. The sophomore corner read de Laura’s eyes as the QB looked toward the back of the end zone and once the pass was thrown, Smith-Wade backpedaled three steps before high-pointing the ball and coming down with it cleanly.
2. In post-practice interviews, Rolovich highlighted the recent efforts of Owen, a walk-on receiver and Central Washington transfer. “I think he does a lot of things right and he’s dependable,” the coach said. “That’s probably not talked about enough in the receiver room for us.” Two of the last three plays of the 11-on-11 period resulted in Owen catching TD passes, from de Laura and Gabalis.
3. After throwing incomplete and taking a touch sack on the next play, Guarantano was able to refocus and execute a clean option pitch to Max Borghi for a decent gain. As Guarantano rolled right, the QB drew a swarm of pass-rushers and instantly flipped to Borghi who carried the ball for another 10 yards before going out of bounds.
“That’s just mental. I mean, we all can catch the ball. That’s why we’re here. We’re receivers in the first place. It’s just more mental, getting your head into it. Stop thinking about the drops and more thinking about what I can do next play.”
– Joey Hobert on the emphasis WSU’s receivers are placing on avoiding dropped balls after struggling in Saturday’s scrimmage.