WSU Spring: Things we’ve learned, Part II

THE YOUTHFUL COUGAR SECONDARY began the spring as one of the biggest storylines. So how have they looked through six practices?

Better.

Players such as cornerbacks Marcellus Pippins and Charleston White and safety Sulaiman Hameed gained some experience last season, and at times they took their lumps. But if you're going to take those early lumps you want it to at least pay dividends down the road, and this spring has seen more confidence (and good play) from the trio.

Sure, there's a ways to go, last year's secondary was downright awful in terms of takeaways. But this can be said: the defensive backs as a whole are making more of the right decisions this spring through the first six practices.

Fall camp will add more contenders to the battle for starting jobs in the defensive backfield. But the early spring returns on the secondary have thus far been positive. Pippins (pictured above) and Hameed have stood out in particular through six sessions.

  • New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is also in charge of the defensive backs. In his DC role, he's added some tweaks to the scheme, including adding some nickel packages (Darius Lemora) in place of the SAM 'backer. But his biggest contribution might be found elsewhere.

    Grinch this spring (along with new outside linebackers coach Roy Manning) has simply added more life to the Washington State defense.

    Grinch is a vocal and energetic coach on the practice field, and he's not shy about letting players know if their energy level and focus doesn't meet his standards. Indeed, after the Cougs' first day in pads, he was nonplussed when asked about the Cougs' intensity level. He's seemed a bit more pleased in the practices since.

    Grinch been aided in that respect by BUCK Kache Palacio and WIL Jeremiah Allison, two of the most vocal players on defense who are, not coincidentally, having good springs.

    That said, the d-line, and the defense as a whole, has seen a lot of substitution so it's hard to draw too many conclusions. While the offensive line is winning the majority of the battles in team sessions, Palacio is getting in there some and applying pressure.

    But if you were to ask: Bottom line, are things trending the right way on D as we approach the midway point of spring, the answer from our reporters on the ground is yes.

  • The running backs picture this spring is getting more and more interesting. Gerard Wicks was already a physical runner but he's bigger and stronger this spring - he's breaking more tackles and the increased muscle hasn't appeared to slow him down. Jamal Morrow meanwhile has been showing his trademark elusiveness.

    What's different is the addition of Keith Harrington.

    Harrington has been super explosive when in the open field. That should make the Cougar run game, and the short passing game where the backs are involved, more effective.

    Defenses would also have to prepare for three different styles, and that in turn should also open up additional things on offense. The final nine practices should show us more here.

  • On special teams, Erik Powell has a leg up at punter in our view early on, after serving his first season at WSU as a kicker. A former prep wide receiver, he's athletic and also has the raw talent to improve further at punter.

    At gunner, the four who are standing out most this spring in the early going are Colton Teglovic, Harrington, Willie Roach and Daniel Lilienthal.

    As for the return men, Pippins has arguably looked the best at punt returner while Harrington and Gabe Marks are two of the early candidates on kickoff return (Harrington and Marks are also both in the mix at punt returner).

    It's been a very long while since the WSU special teams have been special but assistant Eric Mele might just be the right guy at the right time. Mele will raise the decibel volume when needed but he's more apt to coach guys up in a calm, confident manner. And that might be just the tonic the Cougar special teams units need in 2015.

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