WSU Fall Camp: Day 4 sees DL up, PK down

PULLMAN -- The Cougars began specialized work on their fourth day of fall training camp. That meant each unit of the team broke down into individual groups for the majority of the practice and practiced specific plays and audibles designed for that part of the team. The special teams unit began working in earnest on field goals, but there was nothing special about it, an assistant coach said.

The two most likely frontrunners for the placekicker job, redshirt freshman Erik Powell and redshirt junior Quentin Breshears, participated in field goal kicking drills today but didn't pass muster, special teams coordinator Eric Russell said.

“They shouldn’t have gone 5-of-10 today, when they’ve had three days of working and doing things,” Russell said. “They better improve every day. It’s not like I’m going to give them until Day 8 or the first game to improve. That’s not what we’re looking for. Tomorrow I expect a different scenario.”

During the previous first few days of camp, Breshears has shown more of a powerful leg, but Russell said accuracy is the most important thing to him, no matter who wins the competition to replace former kicker Andrew Furney. For the record, Furney was 16-of-20 last year in field goal tries.

“You get more points if they go through the uprights,” Russell said dryly.

Tomorrow on Day 6, at the beginning of practice, Russell said the kickers will get a true test of their accuracy as the field goal blocking unit will go up against the field goal protection unit. The whole ’14 field goal unit need a makeover as the team has lost a significant amount of players from last year in that department. Indeed, the Cougars also have a question mark at the punter position, and they need a new kickoff returner and a new punt returner.

“I don’t know if I gauge it on where I need to see the most improvement,” Russell said. “We’ve got to develop depth but first we’ve got to develop starters. We’ve got to pay attention to detail and improve on the mental side of things. A ‘want-to’ and a passion about being out there covering kicks or springing a guy free.”

Russell said that true freshman punter Jordan Dascalo has shown positive signs in the punting aspect of his game, but has also had some errant kicks along the way. Both he and the fall camp are still very young, said Russell, so it is hard to determine if he will earn the starting gig, but he certainly has it in himself once he hones his skills.

Potential kick returners include running back Jamal Morrow, cornerback Marcellus Pippins, and wide receivers River Cracraft, Robert Lewis and Keith Harrington.

Each of those players worked on running kicks back in a return drill today, but Russell said the list at some point will become much shorter than that, and eventually it will come down to investing the time required to in develop one or two guys for the job.

Meanwhile, though, one area where the Cougars continue to shine is on the defensive line.

Both the first and second team units looked solid on Tuesday (and through camp thus far.) Defensive line coach Joe Salave’a has been pleased with the starters, who have been showing off their veteran experience by putting some heat on both Connor Halliday and Luke Falk during the scrimmage sessions.

On the second team, redshirt freshman Daniel Ekuale has shown he can hang with the older guys, too. His partners on the front line have been redshirt sophomore Robert Barber and redshirt junior Darryl Paulo, and he has impressed his coach thus far in camp.

“Believe it or not, this is his first go-round playing defensive ball, truly,” Salave’a said. “That’s a positive. I can only imagine what this kid is going to become, but we need him to be one of our guys going into this season to be one of the contributors to what we’re trying to build.”

The d-line starters seem solidified, but Salave’a said the second-team unit is constantly pushing the first team to improve upon what they are doing in camp and upon last year, too. It’s also likely critical to the Cougs’ success to have legit rotational players who can come in without drop-off, something the Cougs have not had in Salave’a’s first two seasons at WSU. The starters, meanwhile, must continue to improve, he said.

“They’ve got no choice. We missed a lot of plays last year, plays that should’ve been made, but didn’t,” Salave’a said. “The pressure is on them to continue their threshold as far as improving, and the young guys have to follow suit and to catch up. In this game, the minute you flatten off and can’t handle success, it’ll never work. Toni Pole, Xavier Cooper, and Destiny Vaeao (pictured above) are willing to work and push themselves daily, and that’s all you ask for.”

There’s a long ways to go and a lot left to unfold in this fall camp but if things continue as they have, it’s the defensive line that perhaps could be the most consistent position on defense in 2014. (And at this point, from my chair, it looks as though the special teams unit is the one with the most holes.)

No matter what, though, the Cougars must keep their effort and passion high and as Russell said, it has to carry over into every facet of the game, special teams most assuredly included.

By the way, that passion is certainly not a problem for Salave’a, who can always be seen celebrating on the sidelines after a big play by his defensive line. It’s clear he firmly believes those demonstrative cheers are significantly beneficial to the team.

“It’s just the way you have to play the game,” Salave’a said. “You get to practice, and it’s hard to practice, but you have to enjoy it. You have to make sure these young men understand that you have to have a little passion for what we do. If we do that, I think it helps carry us over when times get a little tougher.”

Times could indeed get tougher as camp continues, especially because head man Mike Leach said that this is about the time he expects fatigue to set in on the players.

- The defense won the 11-on-11 scrimmage 28-24, despite the offense being in the lead at the halfway point, 15-12.

- Theron West ran for a 30-plus yard gain vs. the first-team defense in the 11-on-11 scrimmage drill.

- Cyrus Coen intercepted Connor Halliday in the end zone after Halliday scrambled and threw into double coverage.

- Patrick Porter also picked off a pass as Leach mentioned in the video but my view was obscured and couldn't see who threw that one.

- Halliday ended his part in the scrimmage drill by completing a pass in the red zone to River Cracraft vs. the first-team defense.

- Kristoff Williams caught a nice pass from Luke Falk. Soon after, Falk completed a pass to Teondray Caldwell that went for a long gain. Both plays were against the second-team defense.

- Falk also completed a pass to Drew Loftus in tight coverage during the first-team defense.

- Halliday and Falk both completed 40-yard touchdown passes in the 7-on-7 scrimmage. Vince Mayle caught the ball from Halliday, and Dom Williams caught the toss from Falk.

- Joe Dahl and Devonte McClain did not participate with the offensive line in today’s drills and scrimmages. Eduardo Middleton got the reps with the 1’s at left guard.

- Cody O’Connell, Beau Glover, Parker Henry, Colton Teglovic, and C.J. Lane were all participating in conditioning drills on the sideline.

Primarily taking reps with the 1’s
QB: Connor Halliday
RB: Theron West, Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks
X: Vince Mayle
Y: River Cracraft, Robert Lewis
H: Rickey Galvin
Z: Gabe Marks, Kristoff Williams
LT: Gunnar Eklund
LG: Eduardo Middleton
C: Riley Sorenson
RG: Jacob Seydel
RT: Cole Madison

E: Destiny Vaeao
NT: Kalafitoni Pole
T: Xavier Cooper
BUCK: Kache Palacio
WILL: Tana Pritchard
SAM: Cyrus Coen
MIKE: Darryl Monroe
CB: Daquawn Brown, Tracy Clark
FS: Taylor Taliulu
SS: Isaac Dotson

Primarily taking reps with the 2’s
QB: Luke Falk
RB: Teondray Caldwell, Gerard Wicks
X: Dom Williams
Y: Robert Lewis
H: Calvin Green
Z: Isiah Myers
LT: Gunnar Eklund, Eduardo Middleton
LG: Sean Krepsz
C: Sam Flor
RG: B.J. Salmonson
RT: Cole Madison

E: Darryl Paulo
NT: Robert Barber
T: Daniel Ekuale
BUCK: Ivan McLennan
WILL: Chester Sua
SAM: Mitchell Peterson, Paris Taylor
MIKE: Jeremiah Allison, Peyton Pelluer
CB: Charleston White, Patrick Porter, Kevin Griffin
FS: Darius Lemora
SS: Sulaiman Hameed

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