Fall Camp Day 15: Interception-happy Cougs

PULLMAN— Teondray Caldwell’s switch from running back to safety appears permanent as Monday marked the second day he wore a white jersey. His defensive teammates welcomed him to the group with one whale of an interceptive day.

The Cougar defense picked off multiple passes today, six by one reporter's count, albeit some came against the scout team offense.

Still, defensemen Cyrus Coen, Darius Lemora (pictured above) and Taylor Taliulu all gave the scout quarterbacks a rough time on Monday, each intercepting a pass.

And you know it’s going good when one of your d-linemen gets in on the act.

Xavier Cooper intercepted a pass during the team period, and that one was against Connor Halliday and the first-teamers.

If you’re wondering how that happened, Cooper was being blocked on the play when a short pass was lofted over him and deflected back towards him, which Cooper saw and was able to flip around fast enough to grab the ball before it hit the ground. (There were two other picks but my view was obscured but I did spy Cooper also recording a “sack” on Halliday.

The Cougs did one thing exceedingly well on defense last year -- they were second in the conference in interceptions. But a lot of those came via Deone Bucannon and Damante Horton, and both those guys are gone. Will the Cougs still be a ball hawking bunch in ‘14?

“I’d love to have more (turnovers than last year),” defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “I just think you can’t plan on them. You work on it, you work on our takeaway circuit, and when you get the opportunities, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”

Meanwhile, Gabe Marks wore a yellow jersey but participated in practice drills today. He was with the scout team offense while the other Z receivers, Kristoff Williams and Isiah Myers, ran with the 1’s and 2’s.

Two minor scuffles broke out toward the end of practice. During the team period, NT Toni Pole and RG Jacob Seydel started pushing each other after the defensive line was able to pressure Halliday into throwing the ball away. That was settled quickly between the two, as was the other minor fight between OL B.J. Salmonson and NT Robert Barber that occurred shortly afterward.

Chester Sua, Cody O’Connell, Brett Bartolone, David Bucannon, Ngalu Tapa and Drew Springfield were all limited in practice today.

The field goal blocking unit was able to deflect a kick for the second consecutive day.

Redshirt walk on junior Tyler Baker received significant time with the second team receivers on Monday, and made a couple of catches when he was targeted.

Connor Halliday connected with Rickey Galvin for about a 40-yard touchdown pass against the first-team defense.

Redshirt freshman cornerback Sebastian LaRue remained absent from practice, and has been gone for about two weeks. Coach Breske said he has no idea when LaRue will return.

AS FOR Teondray Caldwell, he’s getting a chance to show what he can do over on D with all that athleticism. He practiced with the second-team defense alongside Isaac Dotson.

And so then there were four in the WSU backfield. Running backs coach Jim Mastro said the team will try to use a redshirt on freshman running back Squally Canada, which leaves Theron West, Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks and Marcus Mason as the go-to all-purpose yardage makers this season.

“He was like a professional to me,” Mastro said of Caldwell. “He went to work every day, did his job, talented kid. It was a tough decision because he can play on both sides of the ball for us, but right now, I think his immediate need is back there.”

West, Morrow and Wicks are the three Mastro views as potential starters, with Wicks right on the heels of the first two.

Wicks, Mastro said, has improved his hands considerably over the offseason and on into camp, and that skill is obviously valuable in the Air Raid offense. Mastro is now confident that Wicks will catch anything the quarterbacks throw in his direction.

“We knew he had it in him -- it’s surprising how fast he got there,” Mastro said of Wicks. “We thought halfway through this season, maybe he would get it, but he got there pretty fast. He had a really good summer, and it’s important to him, and he paid the price this summer and did a lot of good work. It’s showing now.”

Despite the depth chart showing West, Morrow and Wicks at the top, Mason still figures to make an impact -- at least somewhere. Mastro said that he will factor on special teams but he’ll also be needed at some point in the backfield.

“He’s in the mix. You’ve got to have four guys ready to play in every game,” Mastro said. “He’s got a role to play, he’s got to play that role well, and whatever we ask him to do, he’s got to do and he’s got to do it well. He’s doing that so far.”

Mastro said that Mason doesn’t lack anything that the other three backs have, but the team has simply recruited well at this position. Mastro also cited Mason’s injury in the spring as a reason for the other guys catching up to him and surpassing him. The running backs coach said Mason is still a great team player and locker room presence, and is respected by his teammates.

Perhaps Mason is the ideal Cougar running back in that sense, because when asked to characterize a running back in the WSU system, Mastro said the back must be complete and able to run, block and tackle.

In the blocking category, Mastro said Caldwell was the best, but now Morrow has become the most solid blocker among the running backs. However, Mastro said the entire group is fearless, despite being much smaller than the defensive line they face.

Breske will not see Mason on the defensive side of the ball, as Mastro confirmed after practice, but Caldwell is expected to make a smooth transition.

“He’s an athlete,” Breske said. “Teondray’s a competitor and an athlete. We’ve had a lot of meetings with him, takes coaching, and wants to do it. He’s excited, he’s been embraced by his teammates. I think he’s going to be a big plus for us on the back end.”

The running game will go on without him, and Mastro is content with the quartet expected to play. On a scale of 1-10, he said he’s at a 7 in terms of how pleased he is with the running backs.

“I’m never going to say 10, that’s impossible, but they’re a very good, talented group,” Mastro said. “They’re doing a lot of good things in all aspects of the offense and the special teams. That’s what you ask that position to do. You’ve got to do a lot of things, and I’m very pleased, but we’ve still got a ways to go.”

NOTABLE NOTE:
Freshman cornerback Jeffery Farrar ran with the second-team defense on Monday. “I thought for his first day, in shoulder pads and moving around, he did a lot of quality things,” Breske said. “A little hesitant, which is understandable, but I think he’ll just keep getting better each day.” Breske said Farrar’s playing time in practice was to give him a chance to see the competition and to collect film on him. As for if he might have his redshirt taken off, Breske indicated it’s too early to say whether Farrar will make an appearance on game day in 2014.

Primarily taking reps with the 1’s
OFFENSE
QB: Connor Halliday
RB: Theron West, Jamal Morrow
X: Vince Mayle, Dom Williams
Y: River Cracraft
H: Rickey Galvin
Z: Kristoff Williams
LT: Joe Dahl
LG: Gunnar Eklund
C: Riley Sorenson
RG: Eduardo Middleton
RT: Cole Madison

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

Primarily taking reps with the 2’s
OFFENSE
QB: Luke Falk
RB: Gerard Wicks
X: Drew Loftus
Y: Robert Lewis, Tyler Baker
H: Calvin Green
Z: Isiah Myers
LT: Devonte McClain
LG: Sean Krepsz
C: Sam Flor
RG: B.J. Salmonson
RT: Jacob Seydel

DEFENSE
E: Darryl Paulo
NT: Robert Barber
T: Daniel Ekuale
BUCK: Ivan McLennan
WILL: Peyton Pelluer
SAM: Mitchell Peterson
MIKE: Jeremiah Allison
CB: Charleston White
CB: Jeffery Farrar
FS: Teondray Caldwell
SS: Isaac Dotson

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