SPRING DAY 8: Cougs have day to remember

PULLMAN -- Head coach Mike Leach's midmorning decision to cancel WSU's scrimmage went better than he expected it to on Saturday. Instead of running 110 plays, the Cougars showcased drills for high school coaches from around the state who were in Pullman Saturday for a football coaching clinic. They proved a fitting precursor to what undoubtedly was the most entertaining team session of the spring.

First, there was humor.

Right tackle Rico Forbes – in a momentary mental lapse – tackled wide receiver Isiah Myers on a short pass as he cut back inside. Outside linebackers coach Paul Volero sarcastically sprinted onto the field to embrace his 12th defender while everyone else burst into laughter. Leach ran the next few passing plays to the opposite side of the field.

Then, there was drama.

WSU's typical red zone competition during the end of practice – a time that usually ends with the offense or defense jumping up and down while chanting the beat to crowd anthem, "Zombie Nation" – was especially competitive.

The play of the session came when running back Teondray Caldwell fumbled on the one-yard line, causing a chaotic scramble as the ball bounced back down the far side of the field. Logan Mayes – in a move recommended by no trainer on the planet – shed one of his crutches and dove for the loose ball. Fortunately he couldn't corral it and risk further injuring his knee.

Finally, there was competition – a whole lot of it.

Sophomore wide receiver Gabe Marks has spent the first seven spring practices finding creative ways to abuse WSU's secondary. Over-the-shoulder grabs and diving catches are his norm. Even more entertaining: he nearly always lets the defensive backs hear about it.

The guy is pushing Dikembe Mutombo's record for one-fingered waves.

"I feel like I have to high intensity out there because I'm not the biggest guy out there. I'm not the fastest guy," Marks said.

He continued the trend during Saturday's team session, hauling in a pair of touchdowns from Connor Halliday on tough catches.

"If we had more people who were as hungry to have the ball in their hands as Gabe we'd be better off," Leach said.

The cornerbacks finally responded to the fiery sophomore. Nolan Washington turned in his best practice of the spring, knocking down a pair of throws from Halliday and laying a huge hit on running back Marcus Mason.

Darryl Monroe, meanwhile, forced Halliday's only interception of the afternoon when he tipped a pass over the middle into safety Casey Locker's outstretched hands.

Halliday, though, capped practice in remarkable fashion during the red zone competition with the first team offense.

Perhaps sensing the defensive front had little respect for his running ability, the junior signal caller pulled back and kept a zone read to walk into the end zone untouched.

The spirited session -- tempered only by Austin Apodaca's absence due to the flu – left Leach feeling alright if not loquacious afterwards.

"I thought we were explosive. We weren't as consistent as I'd like but we're explosive. We dropped too many balls and then we overthrew some," he said.

And his thoughts on Halliday's performance? Next year's presumed starting quarterback threw four touchdowns during team session.

"I thought he did pretty good. I'd categorize him similar to the rest of the team."

Nose tackles Ioane Gauta and Toni Pole were both on the sidelines Saturday after injuries suffered Thursday. Enter Darryl Paulo on Saturday.

And Leach made it a point to praise Paulo's play when asked about his defensive front.

"I thought Paulo played really good. He's been a strong, physical guy lately. He'd be a real good player if he moved his feet. He'll hit something and stop his feet. If he moves his feet he's pretty explosive," said Leach.

Wide Receiver Bennett Bontemps popped Marks off his feet during an early drill that focused on laying downfield blocks on defenders.

Robert Lewis had a day he would probably like to soon forget. The incoming wide receiver fumbled and dropped a 25-yard strike from Halliday during team session.

Incoming offensive lineman Cody O'Connell took in practice from the sidelines.

Running with the 1's
QB: Connor Halliday
RB: Teondray Caldwell
LT: Gunnar Eklund
LG: Joe Dahl
C: Elliott Bosch
RG: Matt Goetz
RT: Rico Forbes
H-Receiver: Rickey Galvin and Bobby Ratliff
Y- Receiver: Brett Bartolone
Z – Receiver: Gabe Marks
X: Dominique Williams

LE: Matthew Bock
NT: Darryl Paulo
RE: Xavier Cooper
BUCK: Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio
SAM: Cyrus Coen
MIKE: Darryl Monroe (Jeremiah Allison ran with the 2's)
WILL: Tana Pritchard/Jared Byers
CB's: Damante Horton and Nolan Washington
FS: Casey Locker
SS: Taylor Taliulu

Injury notes:
In addition to Gauta and Pole, Chester Sua, Justin Sagote and Deone Bucannon didn't practice. Cornerback Alex Jackson wasn't there, either.

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