WSU FALL CAMP DAY 11: Defense steps up

PULLMAN -- Torched for seven touchdowns in Saturday's scrimmage, Washington State's defense rebounded with its most complete practice of fall camp Monday. A unit that days earlier looked disoriented made a litany of big plays despite a front four depleted by injuries. The performance had one assistant coach raving after his unit slowed Mike Leach's Air Raid Offense during the daily team session.

"Everybody did a nice job today bouncing back," linebackers coach Jeff Choate said. "I think a lot of times what will happen is you kind of mix and match groups in the scrimmages and there may be a corner playing with a safety that he's not as comfortable playing with. There were some communication breakdowns at our back end. I feel like our front seven played fairly well."

The defensive line took another stride Monday with the help of Ioane Gauta. The massive 305-pound transfer from California's Fullerton Junior College made his best play of fall camp halfway through practice when he blasted through the line of scrimmage and tossed running back Marcus Mason to the ground for no gain.

Choate said the depth at linebacker could help a group of cornerbacks who've struggled recently as well. The former special teams guru at Boise State praised his corps of playmakers when asked to break down the battles for playing time Monday.

"We've got great battles going on at all three positions," he said. "That's one of the things that is really helping our unit. Competition, generally speaking is going to bring out the best in everybody."

Several players have made a push to see the field more the past few days. They include a walk on, a former fullback and a promising junior-college transfer. According to Choate, all three spots are still up for grabs.

"At the SAM position, Eric Oertel and Cyrus Coen have had a really close race," he said. "They've swapped (starting roles) from practice to practice and have been getting a chance to stay on the field at the same time. At middle linebacker, Jared Byers has really stepped up. He had a great scrimmage the other day. He's Mr. Reliable, tough as heck, smart as heck and is always in the right place at the right time."

Byers also added pass coverage to his repertoire during the team session, breaking up a ball Connor Halliday gunned over the middle. The play came just moments after Jeff Tuel tried to force a short pass to wide receiver Brett Bartolone. The freshman wide receiver got his hands on it, but juggled it as the ball popped back up into the air.

Linebacker Justin Sagote, again in the right place at the right time, snatched up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown. The interception was a microcosm of an afternoon owned by the Crimson D.

That is, until Marquess Wilson became involved.

Faced with a daunting third-and-long during the daily three-down competition between the first-team offense and defense, Wilson showcased why experts have tabbed him for a huge 2012 season.

His highlight reel grab came when Tuel rocketed a pass 25-yards downfield. Wilson jumped and extended his arms simultaneously to haul in the reception before running untouched into the end zone to close practice.

  • In addition to abusing the secondary, Wilson spent time returning kickoffs during Eric Russell's special teams drill. Russell has cycled through a plethora of potential returners during the spring and has taken the same approach into fall camp.

  • Freshman nose tackle Robert Barber appeared to get seriously injured during Monday's team session after a nasty pileup of offensive and defensive linemen. Barber spent the remainder of the day getting his leg examined on the far side of the field.

  • Others who didn't participate on Monday include NT Kalafitoni Pole, DT Xavier Cooper, LB Darren Markle, DB Parker Henry and WR Kristoff Williams.

  • Receiver Andrei Lintz returned to practice Monday after missing Saturday's scrimmage.

  • Freshman cornerbacks Ray Ford and Alex Jackson each looked good during one-on-one drills against WSU's corps of wide receivers. Meanwhile, Isiah Myers continued his impressive camp with a toe-dragging reception along the sidelines to cap the session.

  • Halliday connected with Gabe Marks for another deep touchdown pass midway through practice, this one with Jackson draping him with coverage. Marks then held out the ball to the group of sideline reporters lining the end zone and proclaimed, "I knew this is what you wanted."

  • Safety Taylor Taliulu saw extensive time working at safety alongside Deone Bucannon with the first-team defense.

  • Scouts from the Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns all attended practice.

    Running with the 1s on Day 11:
    QB- Jeff Tuel/Connor Halliday
    RB- Carl Winston/ Marcus Mason
    "X" WR- Marquess Wilson
    "Y" WR- Andrei Lintz
    "H" WR- Gabe Marks
    "Z" WR- Bobby Ratliff
    LT- John Fullington
    LG- Matt Goetz
    C- Elliott Bosch
    RG- Wade Jacobson
    RT- Jake Rodgers
    LT- Matthew Bock
    NT- Ioane Gauta
    RT- Steven Hoffart
    BUCK- Travis Long
    SAM- Eric Oertel/Cyrus Coen
    WILL- Chester Su'a
    MIKE- Darryl Monroe
    SS- Deone Bucannon
    FS- Taylor Taliulu
    CB- Daniel Simmons
    CB- Damante Horton

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