Day 2: Coug defensive front brings the heat

LEWISTON -- A spotty pass rush did little to support Washington State’s inexperienced secondary last season, so the Cougars’ defense was delighted to close the main portion of Sunday afternoon’s practice with a quarterback sack.

Tackling is not allowed in early practices, of course, and quarterbacks wear blue jerseys that all but scream, “DO NOT TOUCH ME!” However, whistles blared when defenders swarmed quarterback Luke Falk, and senior end Darryl Paulo was happy to take part in pressuring Falk after the Cougars struggled to get in the face of the quarterbacks during Saturday’s opening fall practice.

“Today was a lot better (the pass rush),” Paulo said. “We were in the backfield almost every play.

“Yesterday, we were kind of rusty, but we came in today with better hands and were more efficient.”

Mike Leach said the offense and defense “both took a step forward today.” Falk and projected backup QB Peyton Bender looked much sharper during Sunday's 1-on-1 drills between receivers and defensive backs than on Saturday's opening day of preseason camp, and WSU’s young secondary paid the price.

Credit part of that to the considerable skill of WSU’s quarterbacks and receivers. It’s no easy task taking on explosive receivers like Gabe Marks, Kyrin Priester (the Clemson transfer who is redshirting), Dom Williams and Robert Lewis when no rush is applied to the quarterback. Regardless, the defense left its mark by coming up with huge plays to end the team-drill sessions of both Falk and Bender.

The Cougars again practiced in shorts and helmets. Shoulder pads will be added Monday, and it’s full pads and full contact Wednesday as fall camp continues at Sacajawea Junior High School.

Players are advised to keep downing massive amounts of fluids. After practicing in temperatures in the low-to-mid-90’s thus far, forecasts highs of 98 Monday, 105 Tuesday, 109 Wednesday and 102 Thursday.

Joe Salave'a learned the value of using his hands on defense while playing defensive tackle for eight years in the NFL. He’s passed on that knowledge during six years as a Pac-12 defensive line coach – two at Arizona, his alma mater, and the past four at Washington State.

“I love working with Coach Joe,” Paulo said. “He pushes us to be our best. We know what he’s teaching us works. He’s been in the league for a while, so we have that trust in him.”

It hasn’t taken long for new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to earn Paulo’s trust.

“He brings a lot of energy,” Paulo said. “We feed off of that.”

The Cougars forced a scant six turnovers last year. Grinch wants that number dramatically increased, and the defense has collected its share of turnovers during various drills the first two days in Lewiston.

“The biggest problem last year (on defense) was not enough turnovers,” Paulo said. “Grinch, he harps on turnovers.

“Obviously, you’ve seen the change the last two days. I know it’s early, but we’ll continue to get turnovers.”

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS COACH Roy Manning, the other new defensive coach at WSU, shares the intense coaching style and engaging personality of Grinch. Manning and Grinch were two of the coaches to loudly and sometimes profanely inform defensive players of the errors of their ways on more than one occasion Sunday.

“They get a little intense,” said cornerback Marcellus Pippins (pictured above), referring to the defensive coaches in general. “We need that intensity from our coaches. It can’t just come from the players.”

Manning said the Cougars “have been working their tails off all summer” and did an excellent job of retaining what they learned in the spring about changes in the defense.

“They look comfortable out there,” Manning said. “They look like they know what they’re doing. They’re communicating. They’re talking more.”

KEEPING GRASS GREEN in the Lewiston area, which is known as the Banana Belt, is never easy during the steamy summers. The grass on Sacajawea’s three football fields is a mix of green and brownish yellow, but Pippins says playing on any grass – compared to WSU’s artificial turf fields for games and practices -- has its advantages.

“Playing on grass really gets the DB’s ‘right,’ because you’ve got get all your cleats in the ground to make a cut to the ball,” Pippins explained. “Turf, it’s faster. If you’re moving fast on grass, you’ll move even faster on turf.”

ONE REASON LEACH likes to open camp in Lewiston is that it enables players to get to know one another better. Players room together in dorms, dine, watch video and hold meetings at Lewis-Clark State College.

“The Lewiston idea works perfect for the goal Leach is trying to achieve, and that’s trying to bring the team closer and trying to avoid cliques,” Paulo said.

Leach likes to have players room together who don’t know each all that well and/or play different positions, but Paulo rooms with fellow D-lineman and Sacramento native Ngalu Tapa. They’ve known each other since playing for different high schools.

“We talk trash a lot about each other,” Paulo said with a smile.

Pippins rooms with offensive lineman Carlos Freeman. The two are getting to know each other better this week.

“We get along really well,” Pippins said. “We both like to be cold (with air conditioning in their dorm room), so we like to keep the AC on ‘high’.”

  • Did not practice: S Suli Hameed, NT Thomas Toki, DE T.J. Fehoko, CB Treshon Broughton. Only Hameed has been seen in Lewiston.

  • New injuries: K Matt Abramo. He sat out most of the practice, instead riding a stationary bike (which also has an arms-pumping element) and stretching his legs with elastic bands. Abramo was seen rubbing and stretching his right leg after practice.

  • Top plays: S Shalom Luani dove in the end zone and knocked away a would-be touchdown pass to River Cracraft to end Bender’s time in the team session toward the end of practice. Luani is a junior college transfer along with CB Kirkland Parker, who intercepted Bender on the first play of the team session. Luani also intercepted Bender during a skelly session

  • Thumbs up: The defense again played fast and with heaping amounts of intensity.

  • Thumbs down: CB’s like Kirkland and Pippins got burned on pass plays one play after making great plays.

  • Odds and ends: Redshirt freshman Hercules Mata’afa started on the No. 1 defense in place of projected starting tackle Destiny Vaeao. The latter was limited in practice after suffering a leg injury Saturday. … Mata’afa has sisters who have competed in mixed martial arts fighting and wrestling. “I heard they beat up on Hercules,” Paulo joked. … The main practice lasted 2 1/2 hours, 15 minutes shorter than Saturday. A group of players, mostly younger ones, again did an extra 30 minutes of work. … Players seemed a lot looser when they arrived for practice on the second day. There was plenty of laughter, and music could be heard as players warmed up prior to the practice. … Like many teams, the Cougars don’t do a lot of running drills in fall camp, because summer training has become so advanced. The Cougars run plenty during practice drills. In one drill, linebackers and defensive backs sprint at top speed to the corner of the end zone after lining up at midfield, then hitting the ground in a roll before rising.

  • Monday's schedule: Practice 2:30 p.m. (open to public), Sacajawea Junior High School, Lewiston.


    End – Darryl Paulo, sr.

    Nose tackle – Daniel Ekuale, so.

    Tackle – Hercules Mata’afa, fr.

    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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