5 things I learned about Cougs in Lewiston

PULLMAN -- It was nine practices held over nine days but with so much being packed into that time frame, it now seems very long ago that the Cougars opened their fall camp in Lewiston back on August 8. Here are five things I learned about the Washington State in Lewiston when it came to offense, defense and special teams.

1. Despite Sunday, the offensive line has been as advertised.
First, there is some really good, developing depth behind the returning five starters. The Cougars backup o-line improved every day, and there could be a few battles still to come if some starters start to slip. (We'll talk more about the depth in an article to come). In my book, Sunday's scrimmage should not be an indication that the o-line is slipping, but maybe that the d-line is on the rise.

But in the end, the Cougar offense will only go as far as the line can block for them in 2015. Without a good o-line, the Cougar quarterback would have been be on his back more often (figuratively since QBs are off limits to contact) and the running backs would have been stopped for more losses than gains. The five starters -- LT Joe Dahl, LG Gunnar Eklund, C Riley Sorenson, RD Eduardo Middleton, RT Cole Madison -- are stronger, a year more experienced and they showed so these first nine fall camp practices.

2. The Cougs showed a strong front seven on defense, better than I thought they would be.
With Peyton Pelluer, Ivan McLennan, Kache Palacio and Jeremiah Allison the linebackers, and Darius Lemora at nickel -- and guys like Hercules Mata’afa, Daniel Ekuale, Robert Barber (pictured above), Darryl Paulo and Destiny Vaeao (when healthy) up on the line, Cougar fans may have a lot to be pleased with when it comes to the front seven. Oh, and Logan Tago, Frankie Luvu among others are waiting in the wings and seem likely to make an impact this season.

Watching all of these guys I saw a lot of production, disruption and passion. The defense looked and sounded ready to lay a hit on somebody every snap. I do not envy Portland State because this defense is going to lay some huge hits on their FCS opponent. As much as the defense wants to hit, they’re also doing a good job not hitting too hard with their teammates. Don’t get me wrong, some big licks have been made, but more opportunities for big hits have been there and players have pulled back. That's important for the obvious reasons but also because it shows they're in the right position and taking the proper angles.

3. There is no shortage of wide receiver talent.
I knew the receiving corps was deep, but after Lewiston I know how deep. You can look at every position (X, Y, Z, H) and see skill all the way through the third string.

When guys like Tavares Martin and Daniel Lilienthal are running with the 3s, like they were on Sunday, you can see how much talent is stacked at WR. With returners, River Cracraft, Dom Williams, Tyler Baker and Gabe Marks, who is returning from a redshirt season, the Cougars will have loads of options when it comes to either Luke Falk or Peyton Bender throwing to them.

Lilienthal has grown little by little every practice. He shows good chemistry with both QBs and an excellent eye for open space. Martin is still untapped potential at this point. He played extremely well in the scrimmage, and he also improved each day of camp.

4. All five quarterbacks at camp are capable.
Falk and Bender of course received the most reps while in Lewiston. But Tyler Hilinski received his first team reps (11-on-11) during the scrimmage. Walk ons Matt Jimison and Christian Jorgenson participated in camp through the passing drills but never saw time in the skeleton, 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills. But from what I saw all five QBs showed good zip on quick, close routes and good touch on the deep routes.

Falk, Bender and Hilinski performed well against a live defense, and all will only continue to grow as time and practices pass. I'll have more on the starting QB battle between Falk and Bender in a later article but for now, wanted to convey that the Cougs have shown depth here, more than most people thought they had headed into camp and all five look comfortable making the throws in Mike Leach's precision passing system.

5. The special teams unit is growing and improving.
Although some of my reports may not have sounded like it, the third phase of the Cougars' game came along quite nicely in Lewiston. I'd go so far as to say special teams coach Eric Mele in his first full year is doing some very special things with his guys and a good amount of improvement is coming in 2015.

The kickers are getting better every day (though there have been misses), the punters are getting more consistent both on hang time and distance, the returners are aggressive -- there has been a lot to like. The third phase thus far doesn’t resemble the same Achilles Heel it was last year, though there's a lot more work to come. But I’ve been impressed with a whole lot of what I've seen out of the special teams, and I am looking forward to seeing who wins the kicker job, likely between Matt Abramo and Brett Schafer, but keep an eye on Erik Powell too now after he drilled all three of his Sunday scrimmage kicks (47, 32, 42) .

Cougfan Top Stories