Grinch's energy rubbed off on D this spring

PULLMAN - “Do your job!” and “Get to the ball!” are two phrases you were guaranteed to hear from first year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch at every Washington State practice this spring. And it’s not the consistency of the phrases alone that inspired some much improved defensive play this spring, it’s the new energy and zest that the defense had.

Call it a resurrection or a construction, but regardless, what Grinch was doing with the defense this spring was working, though he is far from done. After the final practice of spring, Grinch was asked if he felt good about the defense after 15 outings.

“No, quite honestly. But on the same token you see improvement. And we’re excited to get that going with the work that they’ll do both on their own and with us this summer which will be crucial. The big thing though, the way I see it, is we have to come back the first day of fall camp and we’ve got to be better than we were today,” Grinch said.

The answer was predictable. This is a guy who said before the spring game began that nothing that was to come that Saturday in Spokane defensively would satisfy him.

But more importantly attitude of recognizing the steps forward while keeping the ultimate goal in mind has rubbed off onto the leaders of the defense.

“We are much faster paced, as you can see, we kind of blitz from all angles. We still have a lot to work on but we are coming along,” senior RUSH Kache Palacio said.

Schematically, the new defense that Grinch installed contains a lot of nickel packages and blitzing. The transition of the fourth linebacker from BUCK to what Grinch refers to as a RUSH linebacker is designed to allow that linebacker to be responsible for exactly what the name implies: rush the quarterback. The RUSH linebacker also lines up at times without a hand on the turf but has most of the same responsibilities as a BUCK linebacker.

That suits Palacio, the incumbent at the position, just fine. Now heading into his senior season, Palacio has set goals to raise his total sack statistics and help the young members of the defense continue to improve, which he said he is already in the midst of accomplishing.

“I’m staying on task and getting my stuff together as far as my pass rush. I’m trying to make more sacks this year and help the team as much as I can. I am also trying to be a leader and help out the young guys as much as I can,” Palacio said.

During the spring game last Saturday, the defense tallied nine sacks and three interceptions. Sophomore linebacker Dylan Hanser, senior defensive lineman Destiny Vaeao and redshirt senior Darryl Paulo all collected two sacks each on Saturday.

The defense clicked about a third of the way through spring ball and has been challenging the offense consistently ever since. Grinch’s emphasis on getting to the ball has created an offense's nightmare with a defense that bats down passes, snags interceptions and got to the quarterback frequently. The defense was particularly impressive against the run, and in the red zone despite the new presence of redshirt freshman running back Keith Harrington and his nimble feet.

“We are just getting that repetition that we need with a new defense, we got a lot of stuff in there in spring, schematic wise and there are a lot of guys in different positions so it’s good to just keep getting out here and practicing,” third-year sophomore linebacker Peyton Pelluer said.

That repetition in a new defense has been important for the young players and veterans alike. Grinch said he has been most impressed with the play of third-year sophomore cornerback Charleston White, Vaeao, and second-year freshman defensive end Hercules Mata’afa.

In order to grasp the new defense and put it into effect, the unit spent extra time in the film room and in walk-throughs before spring ball began. Now that practices have concluded and the assistant coaches are off recruiting, more responsibility will fall on the leaders of the defense like Palacio, Allison and Pelluer.

“They have to work on their technique. If it’s on the back end, doing footwork, if it’s on the front end doing a great job by pass rush moves. A lot of stuff that you do, especially on air. So much of football you need someone across from you but certain things whether there is footwork, whether it’s getting off for a defensive lineman using bags to work pass rush moves and then all those things they can get better on,” Grinch said.

Aside from individual work on technique and in the weight room, the Cougs will be conducting 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 drills on their own to hone their skills ahead of fall camp. The defense gained a new-found vigor and dynamism this spring, and that has been the necessary tipping point for all the other potential advances in the secondary and on the line. There's now the possibility of a high-caliber defense to match the offense that didn't exist before spring. There's no way of knowing if they'll get there. But it's at least possible now.

“Like we tell them, what you’re putting in is what you put out. It’s like shooting free throws in your front yard. If you just throw the ball against the backboard you don’t get any better. You have to practice focusing on the task. So those are the things they have to concentrate on. (Just) being here in the summer in and of itself isn’t going to make us a better team,” Grinch said.


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