SPRING BALL DAY 7: Intensity ratchets up

PULLMAN -- It was supposed to be a non-contact practice. Instead, Washington State's football team seemed satisfied with giving an encore performance of WWE's Wrestlemania. And after watching the Cougars play at the highest tempo they have all spring, coach Mike Leach said he was satisfied with his team's effort during Thursday's practice at Rogers Field.

Big hits. Bodies flying. Mike Leach and boy wizards.

There was enough grappling at times that the starting units could not run consecutive plays without a whistle blowing to separate players.

It began when LB Chester Sua and OL Gunnar Eklund got tangled up following a play and fought for several moments. That grew into multiple players on both sides of the ball battling for at least 15 seconds before being pulled off each other. On the next play, RB Carl Winston and LB Travis Long went after one another and had to be separated.

At this point, Leach said the fighting isn't necessarily bad because athletes are battling for playing time, but he added that it cannot continue into games.

"I think it's passionate right now," Leach said. "There will be a time that you get through camp when you settle that stuff down but I can look past that because we had really good tempo today." Here's more from Leach:

Sua added the hit of the day a few players after his scrum with Eklund, and RB Marcus Mason suffered the consequences. Mason ran the ball up the middle and Sua fired through the lane and planted Mason to the turf. It was the biggest hit of the spring.

"We had something to prove and we went out there and proved it," linebacker Eric Oertel said. "We made plays and I think it came from the first minute of practice. Whether there's pads on or not we're out here playing ball and that's all we could really ask for."

But it was not just the linebackers as the Cougars looked much better than Tuesday's practice. Oertel added his own big hit when he leveled RB Kruger Story midway through drills, a play that was celebrated in wild fashion by the defense.

"A coach came up to me today and told me, 'You know coach (Leach) challenged your guy's manhood yesterday in meetings,' " Oertel said. "That definitely was the case and I think we came out there today with something to prove on both sides of the ball."

Although there was plenty of jarring and fights to close out practice, there also were plenty of great plays. RB Leon Brooks highlighted the session when he caught a 5-yard pass from QB Jeff Tuel and put on several juke moves on WSU defenders before busting up field for a 45-yard touchdown run. The play also was set up by great blocking by the offensive line that consisted of LT John Fullington, LG Gunnar Eklund, C Elliott Bosch, RG Dan Spitz and RT Rico Forbes.

Here's Tuel after practice:

Usual starting center Matt Goetz went down in practice Tuesday and was spotted on the bike and doing light training on the sidelines. Goetz had a white wrap around his left knee.

During special teams drills, position coach Eric Russell introduced more new drills for the team to go through. For punt blocking, the players would line up in a 3-point stance and sprint to a field-goal post where an assistant would throw a tetherball down for the player to try and block. A quick first step was the focus of the drill along with getting both hands on the ball rather than just one.

The receivers also participated in several new drills, including a period where stripping the ball was the focus. A receiver would have to tackle either a RB or WR and try to get the ball out. Leach has emphasized his receivers being more physical throughout the spring (check CF.C tomorrow) and this drill had the players doing just that.

AT QUARTERBACK, Tuel saw the majority of the snaps again and made several nice throws. Tuel also did not have any interceptions and developed nice chemistry with WR Kristoff Williams and WR Bennett Bontemps.

As for Connor Halliday, the redshirt sophomore was a light participant in practice for the second straight day and also enjoyed some success. Halliday had one hiccup during 7-on-7s when he tried to hit WR Dominique Williams in traffic, but was intercepted by CB Tracy Clark. But Halliday bounced back a few plays later and hit WR Gino Simone for a 15-yard TD pass.

"I think he's doing pretty good," Leach said. "He threw the ball pretty good and we want to try and pack as many reps as we can because he hasn't thrown a lot of balls in the last year. He just needs to get his timing down, but when he lines up and throws it he's looked pretty good."

Halliday missed four straight practices after taking a shot to his side during day one, but hasn't shown any ill effects of the injury in the last two days. Following practice Leach was asked when he anticipates Halliday to be a full participant in practice again.

"Any stuff on that is so closely guarded, but I don't know if you saw Harry Potter but the basement of this building is guarded by serpents and wild dogs and things like that," Leach said. "You can try and go find the secret of that, but chances of survival are always a risk. Heck it took until movie five until he got it done himself and he had magical powers. But he's doing just fine and we're excited about it."

  • Following practice Leach gathered the defense together and named LB Chester Sua, LB Logan Mayes, CB Tracy Clark and S Deone Bucannon as the players of practice. Here's what Bucannon had to say:

  • Punting has been consistent for the Cougars throughout the spring, but that wasn't the case Thursday. Both Mike Bowlin and Tyler McNanny struggled getting quality kicks off and Russell was visibly upset with their performance.

  • Kickoff returns were practiced for the first time this spring with returners catching the pigskin from the ball machine. Returners included WR Kristoff Williams, WR Marquess Wilson, WR Blair Bomber, RB Teondray Caldwell, RB Leon Brooks and RB Marcus Mason.

  • While the team was working on special teams drills, Leach was on the opposite practice field with the QBs working on footwork drills. Leach has expressed how important he believes footwork and technique is with a signal-caller and it has been a focus several days of practice this spring.

  • Players who did not go through full drills and worked on the side included CB Nolan Washington, DT David Davis, CB Brandon Golden, LB Max Gama, C Matt Goetz, S Tyree Toomer, OL Joe Dahl, DE Adam Coerper, DT Justin Clayton and CB Spencer Waseem. With Toomer out, redshirt junior Anthony Carpenter jumped in with the 1s.

  • Wilson saw some snaps with the scout team early on in practice after he dropped a ball from Tuel during 7-on-7s. Outside wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons said it was just an instance of guys moving around and players getting more chances with the 1s.

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