Defense prevails during Day 4 of WSU spring practice, but the offense doesn't go down easy during a hotly contested practice

PULLMAN -- After the offense had its way during Tuesday's practice, the defense came out swinging and seemed to be a step ahead of the offense for most of Thursday. This impressive defensive display was led by some new names that should have Cougar fans very excited about the 2016 season.

This was the second day in pads and the fourth practice day overall, and players looked to be sick of one another, going against the same guys. Several small skirmishes broke out during practice, but this led to a day full of extremely competitive hard-nosed football that was very exciting to watch.

Once the individual drills were over and the offense and defense came together for the wide receiver/defensive back 1v1 period, the heated competition began.

This was an extremely competitive session and the best period that the offense had all day. River Cracraft put on a route-running clinic during this drill. He was open the entire period, including one corner route where he had all-conference safety Shalom Luani turned and running in the wrong direction as he caught the pass with more than 10 yards of separation.

Gabe Marks also lived up to his own legend in this period. If it were not for Marks and Cracraft being virtually unguardable, the defense would have won this period by a landslide.

The special teams period consisted of more drill and fundamental work. Special teams coordinator Eric Mele likes to use the first part of spring to teach technique and work on little things as he discusses in his post practice interview.

Another interesting fact from special teams is that freshman running back James Williams was fielding punts Thursday. This kid has been magical with the ball thus far in spring practice, and if Williams learns to field punts he could be a very dangerous.

There was an extra period in practice today, which Coach Leach will implement from time-to-time. This is the team run period. It is an 11v11 period that primarily focuses on the run game,  with just enough passes to keep the defense honest. This was a very physical period where bruiser running back Gerard Wicks seemed to shine the brightest of all of the running backs.

There were many great collisions during this period, including Cracraft’s pancake block on the edge that sent Kaleb Fossum into the secondary on a receiver screen pass. New inside receiver coach JaMarcus Shephard was so excited about the block, he could not help himself from sprinting onto the field and chest bumping the equally-excited Cracraft.

The 7v7 period started well for the offense, as quarterback Luke Falk placed a 40-yard pass perfectly over the shoulder of Marks, who reeled the pass in for a score. Falk put together a productive day overall as is now the norm for the established signal caller.

Peyton Bender took the second team reps in this drill and put together a nice period. He seemed to have a connection with Fossum as he found the X receiver behind the defense for a score on two separate occasions.

This was also a big period for both Z receivers Marks and newcomer Isaiah Johnson. Both seemed to be getting open at will on the right side of the field for either quarterback.

The defense slowly but surely put together a good period. Their performance was highlighted by the efforts of freshman safety Jalen Thompson. Thompson broke on a 10- yard out route and made a diving deflection of a pass that looked to be a sure completion from Bender to H receiver Kyle Sweet.

The 11v11 period was by far the most exciting period of the spring thus far. The offense and defense were trading blows with big plays all day. The second team quarterback reps were taken by Tyler Hilinski, who continues to split time with Bender as they compete for the backup quarterback spot. Hilinski had a nice day, but the big play ability of the defense got the best of him on a few instances.

Hilinski started the drive with nice throw to Marks, who ran an excellent corner route and snagged the pass for a 12-yard gain. It was then time for young Thompson to make his mark. He made an impressive pass break up on a dig route ran by Preister, and on the very next play came flying downhill to stop running back Jamal Morrow in the backfield on the first running play of the period.

Hilinski showed great composure as he found Marks deep down the sideline for a gain of over 30 yards on the next play. It was encouraging to see this young quarterback come back firing after a few tough plays for his unit.

Another defender that has not seen a ton of snaps thus far in his career made two huge plays in a row for the Cougar defense. New first-stringer rush linebacker Dylan Hanser (pictured above) flew out to the flat to make a big tackle for loss on a running back screen pass, then followed up by using his blazing speed to move right past the right tackle for a sack on the next play.

Often times in practice it is difficult to tell if a play actually would have actually resulted in a sack because the defenders do not actually tackle the quarterbacks, but there was no doubt about this one. The clear sack sent the defense into an uproar and really seemed to give them momentum. Seeing Hanser make these kinds of plays is encouraging because he is the one filling the void left by graduated seniors Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan.

The two sides continued to trade blows Williams had an impressive run for a 25-yard touchdown and safety Thompson had an interception that most likely would have resulted in a score for the defense. Sophomore safety Hunter Dale then took advantage of a Hilinski mistake with an interception in the end zone and running back Morrow had a nice cut for a touchdown run.

An impressive thing about Morrow’s run was the big block laid by his fellow running back Williams. All last year the running backs blocked for each other just as hard as they ran the ball, and they seemed to have instilled this tough and unselfish attitude into their newcomer already.

Falk then started his drive with the first team offense. On one of his first few plays he dumped a screen pass to running back Wicks, who took it 80 yards for a score with a big and athletic Cougar offensive line leading the way. If there was ever a con to Wicks’ game it would be his receiving ability, but he quieted all of his doubters with this catch and run.

Safety Charleston White then responded for the defense with an interception of a pass where Falk slightly overthrew Priester over the middle.

Hanser showed his athleticism once again as he came from all the way from the line of scrimmage to the sideline to tackle Fossum and a quick screen pass. The offense gained over 10 yards on the play, but Hanser used his athleticism to minimize the damage.

Falk cooled the red hot defense down a bit with a string of steady completions, including one to an excited Marks on the sideline, who then tossed the ball to the defense in a not so friendly manner. However, Willie Roach got the defense excited again with a big play while playing cornerback for the first time this spring as he has been at safety for the first three days. On an attempted quick screen to Marks, Roach drove Cracraft back into Marks, knocking both to the ground and resulting in a tackle for loss.

The offense finished the day with a 7-yard touchdown run by Morrow, and Falk finding Priester on a crossing route in the middle of the end zone, but it was not enough to close the gap between them and the defense. The defense took the period and day 4 of spring ball.

The Defense won the exchange of big plays that was day 4 of spring ball, but there is still plenty to be excited about on both sides of the ball.


  • Defensive back Calvin Green is suspended indefinitely according to coach Mike Leach for a violation of team rules, the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported. Leach did not specify the reason for the suspension, but Green currently is not listed on WSU's roster.

  • Keith Harrington, Suli Hameed, Isaac Dotson and CJ Dimry were all inactive Thursday.


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