SPRING PRACTICE 5: Defense rules the day

PULLMAN – The Cougars' defensive front seven was much stronger than the offensive side last year, and if Saturday was any indication, that trend appears to have continued. Meanwhile, a freshman cornerback showed signs of emerging through a veteran secondary.

Second-year freshman cornerback Rahmel Dockery may have finally turned a corner. He came out Saturday with reckless abandon, showcasing improved cover skills.

"This was probably his best day," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "He did some good things. At times he's been kind of tentative, but he's kind of coming out of his shell."

Dockery finished the day with two interceptions and broke up another pass. Instinct was Dockery's most striking characteristic on the day, visibly reading the quarterbacks progressions, while jumping a pair of 10-yard curl routes. Both interceptions would have gone for a touchdown.

This practice was huge for Dockery, especially coming from a guy who wasn't even sure he'd remain on the team following a transition last season from wideout to cornerback.

"I think with the transition it wasn't perfect, and not all transitions are," Leach said. "I think he's starting to take off now and we're just going to have to try and accelerate that."

Dockery wasn't the only member of the defense flying around and making plays. Senior defensive end Matt Bock, and the entire defensive front seven, did a tremendous job of pressuring the quarterback and stuffing the run.

The first-team defense accounted for four sacks on the morning, one courtesy of Bock.

Third-year sophomore Xavier Cooper continues to find his way to the quarterback, including a forced fumble on Leon Brooks. Sophomore Jeremiah Allison recovered the strip.

While the offense struggled, there were certainly some positives for the unit as the day pushed forward. Junior quarterback Connor Halliday threw the ball well, connecting with fourth-year junior Kristoff Williams on a 25-yard touchdown strike.

Halliday got in a bit of a rumble Thursday with walk-on wideout freshman Willie Roach, who since has been removed from the roster.

Leach said the fight might have been a wake-up call for Halliday.

"I'd say he's probably got to get a little tougher or he's going to get his ass kicked," Leach joked. "I think if they waste a bunch of time in the drills we'll have some extracurriculars."

Halliday brushed the entire event off, noting the guys on the team have had a lot of time off from hitting, and they've all grown tired of each other in the weight room.

"You're always going to have quite a few fights in spring ball," he said. "You're going against the same guys for 15 practices, it's drawn out over five weeks, got to lift every gosh darn day. People are angry."

Here are the Cougs starting units for day five:

**Once again, extensive rotations took place throughout the entire afternoon and these 1s were fluid.

QB: Connor Halliday and Austin Apodaca
RB: Teondray Caldwell and Marcus Mason
X: Dominique Williams
Z: Gabe Marks and Kristoff Williams
Y: Brett Bartolone
H: Rickey Galvin
LT: Gunnar Eklund
LG: Joe Dahl
C: Elliott Bosch
RG: Matt Goetz
RT: Rico Forbes

LE: Matthew Bock
NT: Ioane Gauta
RE: Xavier Cooper
BUCK: Ivan McLennan AND Kache Palacio
SAM: Cyrus Coen AND Jeremiah Allison
MIKE: Darryl Monroe
WILL: Justin Sagote (Tana Pritchard got some run as well)
CB: Anthony Carpenter (Nolan Washington ran with the 2s)
FS: Casey Locker
SS: Taylor Taliulu and Deone Bucannon
CB: Damante Horton (Rahmel Dockery ran with the 2s)

KR: Leon Brooks, Robert Lewis, Brett Bartolone

  • Chester Sua missed practice and was not suited for undisclosed reasons.

  • Connor Johnson was limited on the day.

  • Deone Bucannon returned and participated on a limited basis.

  • The hit of the day belonged to strong safety Casey Locker, who blew up Bartolone on a slant route over the middle of the field.

  • Bellevue defensive lineman Marcus Griffin was in attendance on an unofficial visit.

  • Former Idaho head coach and Cougar defensive coordinator Robb Akey was once again on hand for the entire scrimmage. Leach said he's been friends with Akey throughout the years and that he's "always welcome."

  • The Cougars are off Sunday and Monday and then back in action at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

  • The Crimson & Gray Game will be held April 20 in Spokane (2 p.m. kickoff). It will culminate a week's worth of events WSU is holding in the Lilac City, including an April 15 gathering at Northern Quest Casino featuring Mike Price and several of his players from his 1997 Pac-10 champion team. They'll be showing highlights from that year's Apple Cup victory.

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