Day 1: Coug defense has Falk's attention

LEWISTON – The Washington State Cougars, like virtually all college football teams, were bursting with optimism after their first fall practice. In fact, Jeremiah Allison may have taken optimism to a whole new level when he was asked about the team’s goal for 2015.

“If I said anything short of a national championship, it would be (wasting) all the work we put in (during) the offseason,” the senior linebacker said Saturday afternoon after wrapping up practice at Sacajawea Junior High School.

Allison, eternally optimistic by nature, cares little about the fact that many media types predict the Cougars and Oregon State will be fighting one another to stay out of the cellar in the North Division of the Pac-12 Conference. Even quarterback Luke Falk played down Allison’s comment.

“We’re not really thinking that far ahead,” Falk said. “We’re focused on Portland State (WSU’s opening opponent Sept. 5 in Pullman). “I’m focused on practice No. 2.”

  • Falk and Allison were in total agreement that WSU’s much-maligned defense looked much improved Saturday. Mind you, players were in helmets and shorts and contact was extremely limited.

    “They (defensive players) came out with a lot of energy and intensity,” Falk said. “They’re a really improved unit.”

    Allison said new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Alex Grinch deserves credit for “everything” that has improved on defense.

    “Coach Grinch demands perfection out of everybody,” Allison said. “He’s really hands on. We don’t want to disappoint him.” Grinch and Mike Leach said they were pleased with the defense’s intensity and overall performance. Grinch has emphasized the need to greatly increase forced turnovers, and Paris Taylor, Darrien Molton and Willie Roach all picked off passes during skelly drills.

    “With Grinch, turnovers is a big thing,” cornerback Charleston White said.

    Leach said the defense outplayed WSU’s highly touted offense Saturday. Allison no doubt appreciates the compliment.

    “If we can compete with them,” Allison said, “we can compete with anybody.”

    Leach said he believes the WSU defense lacked direction at times last season. Senior safety Taylor Taliulu says Grinch has solved that problem.

    “Communication is cleaned up,” Taliulu said. “We know exactly what we are doing at all times.”

    “He (Grinch) says we have a lot of talent,” White said. “He believes in us.”

    WSU secondary’s still lacks experience. Molton is a true freshman.

    “Darrien Molton did a really good job,” Allison said. “He’s a guy you’ve got to keep your eye on.”

    White found out first-hand last year how difficult it can be for young defensive backs to play in the Pac-12, a league known for explosive passing attacks.

    “Being young and inexperienced takes a toll on you,” White said. “But as long as you compete … just stick to your technique. Run your plays right. You’ll be all right.”

  • Leach, famously elusive when asked about missing or injured players, maintained his usual stance when asked about three missing defensive players: freshman linemen Thomas Toki and T.J. Fehoko and junior college cornerback Treshon Broughton. All three players remain on the roster.

    Asked if Toki will join the Cougars this season, Grinch said, “Sure hope so.” Grinch acknowledged that Fehoko is dealing with an injury (reportedly a leg injury), and Grinch said he’s “not sure” if Fehoko will redshirt.

  • Falk and Allison said the team is closer than a year ago.

    “We just did a lot more things outside football,” Falk said. “That brought everyone together. “I think that’s the biggest thing that was missing last year – not a real ‘tight’ locker room. We’ve got it this year.”

    Allison added, “We’re more mature. We’ve been around each other for four years.”

  • White made seven starts at cornerback as a redshirt freshman last year. He could play a bigger role this season after fellow corner Daquawn Brown, WSU’s leading tackler and best defensive back last season, was kicked off the team over the winter due to an undisclosed team rules violation.

    “I know I had to step up,” White said.

  • In keeping with the “old school” theme of starting fall camp in Lewiston, the Cougars arrived at the field in three yellow school buses. Players dressed at nearby Lewis-Clark State College, where they’re staying in dorms.

    Players were rather quiet while warming up in the mid-90’s heat, but they soon warmed to the task. Some offensive linemen inadvertently added humor to the day by struggling with their warm-up runs, which they conducted while jumping rope.

    The main practice lasted 2 hours, 45 minutes, but mostly young players went through more drills for an additional 30 minutes.

  • Did not practice: SS Suli Hameed (street clothes; no explanation provided).

  • New injuries: DT Destiny Vaeao slowly walked off field on his own power after 90 minutes of practice. He was later seen doing some running after stretching his legs with elastic bands.

  • Top plays: Projected backups Taylor, Molton and Willie Roach intercepted passes during skelly drills. Projected starters Darius Lemora, Isaac Dotson, Taliulu and White broke up passes with fine plays.

  • Thumbs up: The defense, particularly the young secondary, played with great energy.

  • Thumbs down: Tyler Baker found a seam and turned a short Falk pass over the middle into a long touchdown reception.

    Former WSU quarterback standout Jason Gesser was among a few dozen spectators on hand. Gesser continues to work in the WSU athletic department and will again serve as the color man on football radio broadcasts. … Reserves were liberally substituted when the defense consisted largely or entirely of reserves.


    Practice 2:30 p.m. (open to public), Sacajawea Junior High School, Lewiston.


    End – Darryl Paulo, sr.

    Nose tackle – Daniel Ekuale, so.

    Tackle – Destiny Vaeao, sr.

    Rush linebacker – Kache Palacio, sr./Ivan McLennan, sr.

    WIL linebacker – Jeremiah Allison, sr.

    MIKE linebacker – Peyton Pelluer, so.

    Nickel defensive back – Darius Lemora, so.

    Cornerback – Marcellus Pippins, so.

    Free safety – Isaac Dotson, so.

    Strong safety – Taylor Taliulu, sr.

    Cornerback – Charleston White, so.

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