SPRING BALL DAY 6: Halliday returns

PULLMAN — It was an efficient day of drills for the Cougars out on the Palouse Tuesday, with the defense dominating the final period of live action. Quarterback Connor Halliday returned to practice as a light participant and made some quality throws. Marquess Wilson absorbed two big hits, but held onto the ball both times. Special teams continued to be a focus -- with new drills being introduced.

"I thought we started out pretty good ... I thought we had some lapses ... the tempo of most of the drills was pretty good and it's the point where guys have to push through some stuff. We're a little over a third of the way in. There was more good than bad but there's plenty of work to do," said Mike Leach. Here's more from the head man:

Special teams and position drills were the focus. Connor Halliday was eased back in, seeing some time throwing the ball in passing drills and 7-on-7s. Halliday, who missed the last four practices, shook off some rust during the first couple of periods before returning to form as the day wore on.

The redshirt sophomore spent this day working with the 2s and developed good chemistry with WR Gino Simone as the two connected on four different occasions in the short session.

During 11-on-11s the defense owned the advantage against the offense, really controlling the tempo. Nose tackle Toni Pole fueled the D early on when he flew through the offensive line and "sacked" QB Jeff Tuel for a 5-yard loss. The rush up front was consistent, causing Tuel to either try and scramble outside of the pocket or check down to a receiver.

When Tuel would connect on a pass, Cougar defenders were there ready to make a play on the ball. Unfortunately for WR Marquess Wilson, he learned this up close and personal. On two plays, Wilson was drilled after catching balls in traffic, stood up first by LB Chester Sua and then by safety Deone Bucannon.

The linebackers led the way for big hits and pass deflections on Tuesday. MLB Darryl Monroe returned after missing Saturday's scrimmage. Darren Markle had a big hit in drills down near the goal line.

"I feel like as a unit, all the linebackers are coming together and we have plenty of chemistry," Monroe said. "We just have to keep talking about the schemes and it can be a great year for all of us."

Monroe wasn't expected to go full throttle this spring coming back from an Achilles injury.

"It feels good just because last year I couldn't play all season," Monroe said. "To get back on the field feels good and I just have to be smart and not try and over do it. As a linebacker you have to be a student of the game and there's so much to learn but I love it." Here's more from Monroe:

As for special teams, the team spent a good portion of Tuesday working on several drills they have never seen before.

Special teams coach Eric Russell ran stations during practice with fumble recoveries and punt blocking being the focus. For the recoveries portion, players would line up and sprint through a 4-foot goal, where on the other side an assistant would drop a tennis ball and the player would have to pick it up. The drill focused on footwork, agility, and hands.

For blocking, players would line up, have to fight through a defender and then try and block a boot from a punter. The only difference however is rather than block a football, the players would be blocking a soccer ball.

As for returners, the also joined in on the fun with inside receivers coach Eric Morris leading the direction. The players would have a football in hand, throw it high in the air, catch a punt, and then try and catch the original ball they threw in the air. Rahmel Dockery and Marcus Mason were able to do it at least once, and Leon Brooks was able to successfully perform the drill twice. He said he's enjoying all the new drills he's going through.

"They brought their own style, it was different, we haven't done something like that before and it helps out a lot," Brooks said of the new coaches.

"I think our guys do a really good job of teaching technique," Leach added. "Sometimes special teams gets to where it's just scheme related but one thing Coach Russell does a good job of is that it's not just scheme, its technique and here's how you do this at this position."

The Cougars have spent a great deal of time working on different drills to improve from last season and it appears to be paying dividends. Leach added that the team will continue to make special teams a focus and believes it can separate the Cougs from other teams in the conference.

"There's teams that don't even do special teams other than kickers and punters," Leach said. "I think its key because we develop skills of guys. It's a point of emphasis and it's the biggest exchange of yards on a play that exists in football."

  • Tempers flared a few times during practice. RB Carl Winston and DT Xavier Cooper had to be separated by teammates after a Winston run and were both visibly upset. On the ensuing play, Cooper took out his frustration on the line as he stormed through and knocked over both center Matt Goetz and right guard Elliott Bosch.

  • Goetz appeared to suffer a right leg injury mid-way through team drills and did not return. He was seen walking off the field with a brace applied over his right leg. With Goetz out, the offensive line shuffled around and was made up of LT John Fullington, LG Gunnar Eklund, C Bosch, RG Dan Spitz and RT Rico Forbes.

  • DT Justin Clayton, who was injured during Saturday's scrimmage, was at practice but on crutches and had a brace on his left leg.

  • WR Rahmel Dockery hauled in the play of the day when he was running with the 2s. QB David Gilbertson threw a 40-yard bomb into the corner of the end-zone for Dockery to go up and grab. He and CB Damante Horton both flew high into the air for the pigskin, but Dockery was able to get his hands on it first and somehow was able to maintain possession as both crashed to the turf.

  • CB Nolan Washington enjoyed another day in the sand pit and was seen working like a mad man. Washington was working on agility drills, and was also doing plenty of sprinting. RG Jake Rodgers, who missed the last few practices with an apparent foot injury, returned to action on Tuesday and spent his day running with the 2s.

  • Alongside Washington, others on the sideline or limited included RB Rickey Galvin, CB Travion Smith, OL Wade Jacobson, CB Brandon Golden, CB Spencer Waseem, LB Max Gama, DE Adam Coerper, OL Joe Dahl and RB Kruger Story.

  • Practice ended with FG attempts between both Andrew Furney and Mike Bowlin. Furney was 4-of-4 connecting from 42 yards, and 39 yards three times. Meanwhile Bowlin was 2-of-3, hitting from 45 and 39. His lone miss came on his middle try from 39 yards out.

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