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In WSU’s 13th spring practice, DBs make plays and offensive linemen adjust to new coach

Washington State Cougars defensive back Cole Norah (34) intercepts a pass intended for tight end Mahki Whitney (86) during WSU’s second spring scrimmage on Saturday, Apr. 20, 2024, at Gesa Field in Pullman, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Moments before he took the practice field for a drill Tuesday morning, Adrian Wilson got in Jaylon Edmond’s ear.

“We gotta make a play here,” Wilson told Edmond, one Washington State defensive back encouraging another.

Edmond obliged. The true freshman nickel sat back in coverage, waited for the pass to come over the middle and jumped in front of it, diving for an interception , the highlight of WSU’s 13th of 15 spring practices.

“I was like, ‘Great job.’ He’s just doing what he was told to do,” Wilson said of Edmond, an early enrollee from Los Angeles. “He’s adapting to his surroundings and where he is, because he’s from so far (away).

“I think that’s a big leap, going straight from high school to college. I’m really proud that he’s growing into the person he’s becoming.”

It was a welcome sight for the WSU secondary, which is in need of a makeover following the departures of safeties Jaden Hicks (NFL draft) and Sam Lockett III (graduation), plus cornerbacks Chau Smith-Wade and Cam Lampkin, both of whom are entering the NFL draft.

The Cougars return a few pieces in the secondary – nickelback Kapena Gushiken will feature prominently in Jeff Schmedding’s defense, as will veteran safeties Jackson Lataimua and Tyson Durant, the latter an Akron transfer – but they might get a boost from young safeties like Wilson, a redshirt freshman.

A Dallas native, Wilson sat out last year to learn the defense from Hicks, Lockett and others. He might have gleaned lessons about their style – “Just to communicate and trust my abilities, and go make plays,” he said – but what he internalized was something else.

“I think more so just confidence, and you gotta believe in who you are as a person,” Wilson said, “so you can come out here and actually execute and understand what’s going on.

“More so just being in the now and not worrying about the past or the future. I feel like that really matured me because of them.”

Elsewhere on the WSU practice field, the Cougars’ offensive linemen are adjusting to new position coach Jared Kaster, who coached last season at Austin Peay.

After the season, Kaster accepted the offensive line coaching job at UTEP – but two months into that job, he got the opportunity at WSU, which lost previous offensive line coach Clay McGuire to Texas Tech.

The call came from offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle, Kaster said. Kaster once hired Arbuckle as an offensive line graduate assistant at a previous stop.

That gave them the connection Arbuckle needed to bring Kaster to WSU, though, and now Kaster has a real challenge ahead of him.

It’s one thing that the Cougars are shorthanded on the offensive line – guards Christian Hilborn and Brock Dieu are out with injuries, as is tackle Fa’alili Fa’amoe, making it tough on Kaster to get an accurate gauge on his unit’s status – and it’s another that they need to improve as run blockers. That group also permitted 16 sacks, third most in the Pac-12. It also allowed 91 pressures, according to PFF, second most in the conference.

Playing a schedule heavy on Mountain West opponents next year, the Cougs might have it easier in the competition department this fall, but Kaster and his staff know their front five have work in front of them.

“I think you have to emphasize it,” Kaster said. “You have to approach it, you have to talk about it in meetings, when you’re eating – everything that you do has got to have an intent about being physical. And that is one thing that we want to kind of lean in and take our direction is controlling the line of scrimmage, being able to run the ball.”