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 12th day of fall camp in Pullman.
WSU practiced at Gesa Field for the first time of camp and donned full pads for the first time this week. Coach Nick Rolovich said the Cougars will go back to shoulder pads and helmets Friday before suiting everything up for their Saturday scrimmage. “I think you
- can get a lot done with just shells,” he said. “The way this team practices, they work on tackling fundamentals. … I like the teaching. If we’re not going to take people to the ground, I don’t think they need to be in full pads.”
- Wazzu worked a red-zone 11-on-11 drill and a brief 7-on-7 period – both of which featured light contact. The Cougs then closed the day with an 11-on-11 session that wasn’t short on loud collisions. WSU tinkered with front-seven rotations and tested multiple backup offensive linemen during the final drill.
Rolovich said Thursday’s “was a good, spirited practice. Very competitive. I think the last three days have been excellent for us.” The second-year boss was pleased with the back-and-forth between offense and defense. “We’re seeing competitive football plays. We’re not seeing busts,” he said.
Receiver Joey Hobert and defensive tackle Dallas Hobbs were full participants. They had missed the past couple of days. Star senior receiver Travell Harris and speedy pass-catcher Lincoln Victor were held out of full-contact portions of practice, but ran routes in individual drills. Standout linebacker Jahad Woods and safety Tyrone Hill Jr. also saw limited action. Overall, WSU’s roster appeared more complete Thursday than it had earlier this week. The only key players to not practice were receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. and center Brian Greene.
Keeping up with the QBs
Rolovich is employing a concept called “king of the hill” in hopes of fashioning some separation between the three competing quarterbacks.
In the system, one quarterback gets the “start” at practice and takes more reps than the others. But if he begins to struggle, the next man up has an opportunity to take control of the “hill.”
“We see a little bit more of the personal qualities, leadership qualities come in,” Rolovich said. “They get the ability to show it, rather than just being stagnant – going four plays, then the other guy’s in. They know they’re getting rewarded (with extra reps), or pulled.”
It was Jayden de Laura’s turn Thursday, and he had the best day out of the three.
The returning starter tossed two touchdowns in three passes in the red-zone 11-on-11 period, including an impressive dart through a tight window. He didn’t have an errant throw in 7-on-7, then went 4 of 9 in the full-contact drill – he offset a couple of drops with a 30-yard pass on target to Mitchell Quinn.
“He came out with some good energy,” Rolovich said of de Laura.
Jarrett Guarantano went 4 of 5 in the red zone, connecting solely on quick outs. He opened the final 11-on-11 drill with an errant pass, which was picked and returned for a touchdown by safety George Hicks III.
Yet Guarantano rebounded to finish the period 7 for 9. He looked the part in the intermediate game, showing veteran pocket presence and delivering quick, accurate strikes.
Cammon Cooper’s playing time was limited. He had a tough morning, completed 4 for 11.
The quarterbacks had their hands full with a WSU secondary that recorded an estimated four pass break-ups and contributed to five coverage sacks.
Rolovich has grown confident in his team’s quarterback depth, but he’s not ready to acknowledge if one is beginning to separate.
“A week ago, we weren’t sure if we were gonna be able to play quarterback (well), and now I think we’ve seen some incredible improvement this week from the three main guys,” he said.
“They’ve all made it tough (to choose a starter). … We’d like it to have happened earlier, but it’s good to finally get to the point where we feel like we got a bunch of guys that we can go into a game with.”
Three big plays
1. Hicks sat in shallow zone coverage, and Guarantano must not have seen the fifth-year Coug, who recently made the move from cornerback to safety. Hicks was gifted a ball right between the numbers. He was all alone, too, so he raced about 25 yards for a pick 6 before taking a moment to celebrate the day’s only turnover with teammates.
2. De Laura had the ball on the 5-yard line in a short-yardage 11-on-11 session earlier in practice. Just after collecting the snap, de Laura’s pocket began to break down, but the versatile sophomore has been elusive in such situations throughout camp. He spun out of trouble and rolled left, then flipped his shoulders and fired a pass on the move to freshman Reed Shumpert in the back of the end zone.
3. True freshman linebacker Francisco Mauigoa is among the most pleasant surprises of camp, according to Rolovich. Mauigoa was solid in the last 11-on-11 period. He twice met running backs at the line of scrimmage with punishing hits.
“It kind of hit me a couple of days ago that we’re seeing a lot of our freshmen doing some high-level things. I kind of thought to myself, ‘Let’s give them a shot to play in the stadium.’ I think they triggered the idea.”
– Rolovich on holding practice at Gesa Field, rather than Rogers Field.
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