Memo to WRs: Block & play physical - or sit

PULLMAN—Play physical or watch from the sidelines. It's a message Mike Leach has delivered to the entire squad, but it's been hammered especially hard into the wide receivers this spring. New drills and techniques have been introduced, with outside WRs coach Dennis Simmons the point man charged with turning the Cougar receiving corps into violent-handed, blocking behemoths.

Block or don't play, it's as simple as that when it comes to Leach and his Air Raid offense. After last Saturday's scrimmage, Leach told CF.C how displeased he was with the receivers' lack of physical play. The wideouts must have gotten the message because in the two practice sessions since, they've been hard at it.

"It's a process and as I've explained to those guys (receivers), it's not going to come overnight," Simmons said. "We've talked about (how) you're winning games right now with your effort. Everybody in the country that plays college football is practicing. But the great teams are utilizing their time to get better and that's the thing I'm harping at these guys every day."

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TWO NEW DRILLS were introduced to the wideouts yesterday. The first was a ball stripping session where players would tackle a teammate and try and yank the ball out as they went to the ground.

The second drill was where a receiver would catch a screen pass from the QB, and then two WRs would block head-to-head against two defensive backs, trying to create good space for the WR with the ball to capitalize on.

"Every coach expects us to be physical as a unit," junior Marquess Wilson said. "They all expect that from us and that's a mindset that we need to have where we think we're big guys and (to) just go out there and be physical."

New drills, new techniques, more physicality and a breakneck pace has changed things up for the Cougar receiving corps, says Wilson.

"It's a lot different (practices) just because of the way they're being run," Wilson said. "It's a lot faster tempo and everybody's just working harder. Doing ‘releases' is helping us a lot, because we're spending a lot of time on that and being able to find the ball over our shoulders like he's teaching us is a lot easier."

SIMMONS TOLD CF.C that his focus to date has been to make his receivers "tougher" at the line. He was pleased with the way they've bounced back since the scrimmage and played tough. Kristoff Williams, (of whom CF.C has long talked about his advanced potential in beating the press,) in particular on Thursday got in some great blocks and has arguably been the most consistently physical receiver for the Cougs this spring.

Wideouts such as Bobby Ratliff, Dominique Williams, Blair Bomber and others have all done a better job getting after it the past two practices -- but more work clearly remains.

"We just have to finish plays… just because your name doesn't get called on a play doesn't mean that play is over," Simmons said. "We weren't doing a good enough job of finishing and in order to be a receiver here and play, you need to have that hunger and desire to finish plays."

Wilson, an All-America WR candidate, was another of those who struggled early in using his hands at the line and making plays for his teammates. He too has improved of late, but Leach said he still needs more reps working on that particular craft.

"He needs to be more aggressive with his hands," Leach said. "Part of being a complete player is blocking and using your hands. I think he's getting better and he's got a lot of range as a receiver. You can just draw a big circle on how high he can reach and jump. There's some stuff that would be misses with some people that aren't misses with him."

AS NOTED IN the Day 7 practice report, the physical play ramped way up during Thursday's 2-hour session. That, combined with Tuesday's session, was more along the lines of what Leach and Simmons have been seeking from the receiving corps. But two good, physical practice days in spring doesn't mean consistency has been reached, stressed Simmons.

"You never win a football game by talking your way to victory," Simmons said. "You win football games by your actions. We're starting to make strides in being a tough football team and being aggressive down after down -- but now we have to continuously do that."

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