Examining Coug special teams with Russell

PULLMAN—Talk about flipping a switch. The Cougs started Tuesday's session looking a little sloppy on offense, but that was followed by a nearly-perfect team session. Over on D, the front seven looked in sync but the same couldn't always be said for the defensive backs. But first, a conversation with Eric Russell on punter Mike Bowlin's improvement plus his special teams standouts.

It's been a while since we've had a chance to catch up with Eric Russell – last time was in the midst of some major Mike Bowlin struggles (remember the yellow shoes?) But the senior has battled back since then and on Tuesday, was booming 50-yard punts in practice.

What's been the difference?

"We've just been trying to focus on the same stuff," Russell said. "Just fundamentals and staying through the ball… seeing what he kicks and calming him down a little bit. You're right. Our punt net has climbed drastically. We're no longer at the bottom."

After three games, Bowlin was averaging 37.2 yards per punt. He's raised that number to 40.1 through nine games. Last year, he averaged 41.9.

"He wants to see so quick what he hits (but) then when you want to see it, you don't' see your finish. "Russell said. "We've just been trying to clean up some technique stuff up on him.

"We've tried to keep it simple because you can't give a guy five things to work on. So, we just kept maintaining the message… just understand that everyone is counting on you and he's more talented than what he was showing earlier in the year."

OVERALL, RUSSELL SAID the main thing WSU needs to do on special teams is eliminate the "silly mistakes." CF.C asked Russell to grade his unit on a scale from 1-10.

"Man, it depends on which game," Russell said. "I think if you look at things statistically…if you go on the big four: punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return, we're fourth in the Pac-12. If you throw field goals in there, we are third.

Now, what's hidden in those numbers are when you check out of the fake against Oregon State that changed the momentum. That doesn't show up on any stats. That's a dagger. The two fakes against Arizona State, that doesn't show up. That's been the disappointing thing.

"The other stuff, I'm good with. I'm disappointed with our kickoff return against Arizona State. We got physically dominated like we hadn't been all year…if you could avoid that stuff, I would be confident on the year."

FOR FANS, ESPECIALLY those watching on TV, it can be difficult to near-impossible to pinpoint special teams standouts. Who are Russell's?

"Early, I would say Feddie Davey was playing well," Russell said. "He was harassing people on punt return and big blocks and being disruptive on kickoff. We've had some young guys step up or some walk-ons…Mitch Peterson (has) shown up."

After the interview, Russell yelled back across the field "Theron West!" adding that he's done some very good things in recent weeks.

Leach offered insight on his special teams MVPs as well.

"Kristoff Williams () is on the list, Marcus Mason is on the list, Feddie Davey is on the list…those guys," Leach said.

What special teams ultimately boils down to for Russell the rest of the way? Eliminating excuses and mental mistakes.

"You're going to get a fake once in a while or something bad is going to happen," Russell said. "But it can't be because you did something stupid."

USUALLY, SKELLY HAS been where junior quarterback Connor Halliday shines brightest – he rarely throws any incompletions. But that wasn't the case Tuesday.

Halliday completed his first pass, but followed with two straight incompletions after against the defensive scout team. On the next play in 7-on-7, Halliday couldn't find an open receiver and would have been sacked had it been live and with 11 defenders on the field.

Halliday bounced back to hit three of his intended targets in a row but was then picked off by redshirt junior cornerback Tracy Clark.

When it was all said and done, Halliday finished skelly going 10-for-18 with an interception – a wildly different stat line than he usually puts together. To be fair, some of those incompletions were attributed to wideouts dropping pretty easy balls. It didn't go unnoticed.

At the conclusion of practice, Leach gathered all the quarterbacks and receivers together and had them play catch while standing 10 yards away from one another. Leach was asked afterwards about how Tuesday's practice went.

"Great," Leach said.

Leach was also asked if the extra session of catch had anything to do with the receivers dropping balls during skelly.

"We're working on developing our skills, so we got extra work in," Leach replied.

REDSHIRT FRESHMAN QB Austin Apodaca got a few less reps than his usual 10 in skelly, throwing seven times. He had one incompletion and did not turn the ball over.

After a run through of special teams and some individual drills, Halliday and the Cougs had a near perfect 11-on-11 session and the Cougs looked in sync.

Halliday in the team session rifled off 10 straight completions to seven different receivers and looked good doing it. The only imperfection from the entire first team offense was the offensive line allowing a "sack" from the defensive scout team.

Despite that, Halliday ended up completing all 16 of his passes without a turnover. Apodaca didn't miss any of his intended targets and finished 8-of- 8.

ON THE DEFENSIVE side of the ball, the safeties and corners struggled against freshman quarterback Tyler Bruggman and the scout team offense in 11-on-11.

When the 2's were on the field, Casey Locker had a difficult time in coverage. Safety Taylor Taliulu had an up and down day while Damante Horton didn't have many gaffes but he didn't exactly stand out either.

For the most part, Bruggman was completing passes with ease against the first team secondary. However, the front seven performed exceptionally well. They remained disciplined against the run bullied the scout team offensive line in the trenches.

Sophomore BUCK Destiny Vaeao recorded the only "sack" of the evening for the defense, but senior SAM LB Cyrus Coen had one tackle-for-loss on freshman RB Jamal Morrow.

Running with the 1s:

OFFENSE:
QB- Connor Halliday
RB- Marcus Mason
X Receiver- Dom Williams
H Receiver- Rickey Galvin
Y Receiver- River Cracraft
Z Receiver- Gabe Marks
LT- Gunnar Eklund
LG- Joe Dahl
C- Elliott Bosch
RG- Matt Goetz
RT- John Fullington

DEFENSE:
DE- Toni Pole
NT- Ioane Gauta
DE- Xavier Cooper
BUCK- Destiny Vaeao
SAM- Cyrus Coen
MIKE- Darryl Monroe
WILL- Justin Sagote
CB- Daquawn Brown
CB – Damante Horton
S – Deone Bucannon
S – Taylor Taliulu

Limited Players:
OL Jacob Seydel
DL Moritz Christ
LB Chester Sua
S David Bucannon

Not in attendance:
S Bennett Bontemps
CB Alex Jackson
LS Ryan Saparto
S Isaac Dotson

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