An erratic opening day for Cougar offense

LEWISTON -- It was a roller coaster to be sure for Washington State's offense Saturday, the opening day of preseason drills at Sacajawea Junior High School. There were moments of crisp passing and athletic plays, others when the Cougar defense had its way, and a few moments that reminded people this was the first day of practice.

Saturday started off with some healthy 7-on-7 as the No. 1 offense took on the scout defense. Quarterback Luke Falk produced some nice plays to start practice, but had a few sloppy moments when the 11-on-11 began. Dom Williams and Gabe Marks did separate wide receiver drills before joining Falk and the first team offense for 11-on-11s. Falk’s first pass against a full defense, intended for River Cracraft, was intercepted. There were times where Marks looked like the player capable of wowing college football, but there were also moments where Marks, who has been rehabbing and not completely in football shape, looked tired.

“I thought the team looked great at the end, and the offense looked much better during the team time compared to the early 7-on-7 and first 11-on-11,” Falk said. “As an offense we need to match the intensity that the defense showed today. They were great, and that is obviously a good sign for the team, but the offense needs to perform. I need to perform.”

Falk had several passes tipped, and a few off-target throws even when defenders were not present. However, as practice progressed and the team practiced 11-on-11 in high tension Falk showed the same composure and poise he showed in the spring.

Junior WR John Thompson took a few first team reps and came down with some impressive catches. The Spanaway native had two Sportscenter-worthy catches. The first came on a deep ball where the pass was slightly overthrown but Thompson turned on the jets to make the grab; the second was a great sideline catch near the end of practice where he contorted his body in order to stay in bounds and still make the catch.

“I think the new wide receivers showed a lot of potential,” Falk said. “The camp will only help push them to further their skills and abilities.”

The offensive line didn’t see any shake-ups during Day 1. The returners of a year ago played with the first team offense all day. Each looked in-sync, and the experience and camaraderie between them was evident throughout the day. Running back Keith Harrington taking a few snaps here and there with the No. 1 offense. The explosive second-year freshman from St. Petersburg, Fla. showed plenty of burst and giddy-up to shoot through the holes created by the veteran offensive line.

“I think we had a good team off-season and that lead to a good showing for the defense. They had great energy from the get go and took advantage of the offense's mistakes,” Leach said.

The under-center game is also coming together. Both Falk and Peyton Bender reaped some rewards from play-action. Each ran a double play-fake that resulted in huge gains to two different receivers, leaving the defense in the dust and confused. After some mixed throws from Falk during the skeleton drill, Bender came in and threw a touchdown with his first pass of the drill. Unfortunately, Bender followed it up with an interception on his next throw. A little later, Bender was able to thread the needle between four defenders a short time later. The performance from Bender was decidedly mixed.

“I’m trying to have the mindset to not get to high and not get too low,” Bender said. “I want to come in with a clear mind and really just play my game. I’m getting more and more comfortable with the offense and the checks.”

Near the end of practice the offense was finally clicking. Bender threw consecutiive touchdown passes to end his 11-on-11 scrimmage to Williams and Clemson transfer Kyrin Priester.

“The intensity of the defense made it fun too as we always look to compete, and they showed a lot today,” Bender said.

Falk took over, and near midfield hit Tyler Baker across the middle. From there, Baker exploded, outrunning the defense to the end zone. Falk also hit Williams for a touchdown. Later, Cracraft hauled in a big touchdown to help pull the offense close to the defense in overall score. However, on the final play Baker caught a pass at the 5, but was stripped at the 2. The offense took their punishment up-and-downs as the defense did their own “battle cry/chant”.

An ambulance did appear at the end of practice. Someone was loaded in, but coach Leach did not make a comment and even said, “We don’t have any ambulances here, I don’t know what you saw.” C.J. Dimry did leave practice near the middle of the day, but there was no confirmation as to who left practice.

Robert Lewis also suffered a huge hit near the end of the day. Two defenders came flying in and Lewis looked like a human-propeller before hitting the ground. Lewis took a few seconds to get to his feet but he ultimately walked away. Leach gave no update on Lewis. It should be noted that the Cougars practiced with just their jerseys, shorts and helmet. Shoulder pads will be added on Monday. Full-padded practices won’t start until later this week.

On special teams, the kickers tried their luck and it appeared to be much of the same from a year ago: misses left and right. There were some solid, confident strokes here and there, but still some work to be done. Punting started work on their protection packages today.

“We wanted to start with basics on special teams,” coach Eric Mele said. “We are going to install punting in phases and today was protection work. The kickers also got some time in, and the punters had some attempts as well.”


QB: Luke Falk, RS-so.

RB: Gerard Wicks, RS-so/Jamal Morrow, RS-so.

LT: Joe Dahl, RS-sr.

LG: Gunnar Ecklund, RS-sr.

C: Riley Sorenson, jr.

RG: Eduardo Middleton, RS-jr.

RT: Cole Madison, RS-so.

X: Dom Williams, RS-sr.

Y: River Cracraft, jr.

Z: Gabe Marks, RS-so.

H: Robert Lewis, RS-so.

Wideout Brett Bartolone has retired from football but he'll still be involved with the Cougs. He has assumed a manager's role working with the wide receivers, Leach confirmed, according to the Spokesman-Review. Bartolone had a smashing debut as a true freshman in 2012 at Washington State, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors after leading the team in receptions with 53 and posting 435 yards and 4 TDs. But injuries limited him to just five games and two starts in 2013 and he redshirted in 2014 due to undisclosed injuries.

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