WSU practice: Falk returns, how about others?

PULLMAN – Luke Falk was back in pads and throwing the pigskin around in Washington State’s first bowl practice on Tuesday. We're still a little less than three weeks away from the Sun Bowl, but what about some of the other high profile Cougars who have also missed time, such as wideouts Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, and o-lineman Joe Dahl? Meanwhile, a true freshman practiced for the first time.

I didn’t see Cracraft or Marks at all, not during the early going when the starters were on the field nor at any time throughout practice.  I did see Dahl and while he wasn't practicing, he didn’t appear to be wearing a walking boot. 

As mentioned earlier, the bowl game isn’t until Dec. 26. Whether any of the trio could be ready to go by then is of course anyone’s guess -- any of them could be absent all week and suddenly show up in pads next week, or all could miss the bowl game -- it's anyone's guess.

Bill Moos was asked Sunday about the likelihood of the four being ready for the Sun Bowl, saying that Falk had the green light and; “We’ve got a couple of weeks here. I’m not going to say we’ll have our full arsenal, but maybe we could."

As you've no doubt read several times on CF.C, the bulk of the bowl practices are focused on the youth, and that was evident Tuesday.  But before we get to that, one note:

For the first time all season by my count, T.J. Fehoko was in pads and participating in some individual drills. The 6-foot-1, 273-pound d-lineman had not strapped on the pads since joining the team midway through fall camp after reportedly suffering an Achilles injury. Back to the report:

About an hour into a practice where Leach and Grinch ran the show with WSU assistant coaches out on the road recruiting, most of the offensive starters and a large number of defensive starters headed into the football operations building for a weight lifting session.

Before the seniors and high-rep players left, the team did a lot of drills focused on just getting back to the fundamentals.

The younger players, who are usually on scout team assignments, participated in position group drills with the starters and backups.
 
While a handful from the scout team offense and defense have participated minimally this season with the starters in their position group in individual drills, but it was interesting watching some of them do drills with Grinch and Leach for either the first time in weeks,  or for some the first time at all.

Usually as a scout teamer, the young players are focused on playing off a card, giving the No. 1 offense or defense the best look at that week's opponent -- in that role, they don't play instinctual football (which is part of the reason why Leach's Thursday Night Football sessions are so valuable).  But on Tuesday, they got plenty of opportunities.
 
Several young receivers, including walk ons D.J. Thompson and Kaleb Fossum as well as Nick Begg, played well with Falk and Peyton Bender throwing to them instead of their normal QBs, Tyler Hilinski and Christian Jorgenson.

While some key reserves like Kyrin Priester and Tavares Martin Jr. got reps with Falk and Bender, they also caught passes from Hilinski and Jorgenson in the skeleton drill and the one-on-one drill pitting wide receivers against the defensive backs.

One Leach truism borne out by Tuesday seems to be no matter what, the Cougs would always seem to have a minimum of five wide receivers who can make plays.
 
The final half hour of practice was spent in 11-on-11 pitting the offense and defense against each other similar to a Thursday Night Football session. However, the structure more resembled fall camp in Lewiston.

Instead of each play starting where the last one ended (like a game simulation) the coaches would just move the line of scrimmage up five yards from the previous spot, until they got to the goal line area.

The Cougs were fired up and the defense in particular was flying around.  The offense got in some good plays of their own with receivers finding holes in the defense and the quarterbacks hitting their targets.

It's just one practice featuring the youth under the direction of Leach and Grinch but my take after watching practice all season long, including the Thursday youthful sessions, is that there is continued reason for optimism in 2016  (and that's before even considering the incoming recruiting class).
 
NOTABLE NOTES:
--Walk-on freshman QB Matt Jimison is no longer listed on the roster handed out at practices. Early on in fall camp, Jimison had a few shots on Thursday Night Football, but eventually the usual rotation of Peyton Bender, Tyler Hilinksi and Christian Jorgenson didn't leave room for Jimison on TNF. Jimison hasn't been at practices for a few weeks, so this was semi-expected.
 
--Defensive starters/backups who practiced all day included:
Cornerbacks: Freshman Darrien Molton, sophomore Marcellus Pippins, third-year sophomores Kirkland Parker and Charleston White, and junior Treshon Broughton.
 
Safeties: Freshman Hunter Dale, third-year sophomore Isaac Dotson and fourth-year junior walk on Willie Roach.
 
Linebackers: Freshman Logan Tago, second-year freshman Chandler Leniu and sophomores Dylan Hanser and Frankie Luvu.
 
D-Linemen: Second-year freshman Hercules Mata’afa, third-year sophomore Daniel Ekuale and fourth-year juniors Robert Barber and walk on Reggie Coates.
 
--Offensive starters/backups who practiced all day included:
O-linemen: Second-year freshman Andre Dillard, third-year sophomores Cody O’Connell and B.J. Salmonson and fourth-year junior Sam Flor.
 
Quarterback: Second-year freshman Peyton Bender.
 
Wide Receivers: Freshmen Kyle Sweet and Martin, sophomore Kyrin Priester  and junior walk on John Thompson.


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