Though the first day was a helmets only practice, both sides of the ball showed no lack in effort or technical skills. Offensively and defensively, you can see a different attitude with this team compared to last year.
“Now is the time to start a legacy here at Washington State,” fourth-year junior Luke Falk noted in his post-practice interview. “A bunch of guys came here… we always talk about how we want to build a legacy, we want to build a legacy. Now here’s our opportunity.”
From the moment players got off the bus, you could see the energy and excitement the team shared.
‘Together’ is a good way to describe the vibe emanating from the practice field. There's a special type of chemistry with this team that fuels an intense level of competition and brings the best out of each guy. You get the sense that guys are putting in that extra effort on each play, ultimately raising the bar for everyone on the field. Its exciting to watch, and you can tell the players are giving it their all.
In the opening drills, guys looked focused and seemed eager to get going. I can tell you as a former player that this is pretty uncommon when comparing my experience at fall camp the past two years.
For the most part, no one really wants to strap it up and clash helmets under the heat in Lewiston, but there’s a different feel this year. These guys can’t wait for that first home opener in Pullman.
In the first 7-on-7 period, Falk started off forcing some throws down field and even threw a couple of interceptions. But that soon changed as he started to connect and find guys open on the outside.
Falk to fifth-year senior Gabe Marks is the bread and butter for the WSU offense. Those two seem to simply play catch out there against an entire defense. It seemed effortless even despite the outstanding coverage by sophomore Darrien Molton on Marks all day.
During the one-on-one period, several players shined.
Fifth-year senior CJ Dimry seemed to play in the spot light all afternoon. Coming off of an injury that kept him sidelined last season, Dimry appeared to be playing with a chip on his shoulder. One acrobatic catch after another was a staple in his game today. From back shoulder fades, to long bombs down the field, he more often than not came up with the football. Even in the red-zone, Dimry simply out-competed any corner trying to cover him and caught one touchdown after another.
Dimry wasn’t the only receiver who had a great day. Sophomore Tavares Martin and freshman Dezmon Patmon showed they have the ability to be a starter at the X receiver. It’s early, but I don’t think the Cougs will have an issue with outside receivers this year. All three of these guys can flat out play ball. It will be interesting to see how that position battle pans out down the stretch.
As far as what’s happening with the running backs, fourth-year junior Gerard Wicks and fourth-junior Jamal Morrow took most of the reps, but the next man in line was second-year freshman James Williams. Williams, Wicks, and Morrow rotated periodically with the 1’s, while third-year sophomore Keith Harrington got in the mix with the 2’s.
Something of interest on Day One was how often the offense lined up in a formation they used at times last year, a three-back formation with Morrow, Williams and Wicks. It was only Day One but Mike Leach made mention in his media gaggle after practice the task at hand with the running backs is to find different ways to get 'em on the field.
Though Harrington seemed to be behind the other three he did catch a lot of balls out of the backfield along with his share of screen passes. When Harrington got the ball, he ran hard and looked like he is out there to prove something after missing the spring. I’m sure that this rotation will alter as camp progresses, but after the first day it is safe to say that the coaches like all four guys.
At inside receiver, there is a clear sense of depth.
It was a quiet day for senior River Cracraft, though he showed his playmaking ability on his first rep in one-on-ones. He ran by senior Shalom Luani on a seam route to make an incredible diving catch for a touchdown. Sophomore Kyle Sweet and freshman Isaiah Johnson also had a very strong first day. Johnson is a bigger bodied guy. Both players were consistently making routine plays throughout the day. They showed that they have sure hands and that catching the ball is something they take pride in.
The other inside receiver getting reps was fourth-year junior Robert Lewis who has really developed over the past few years. His routes were crisp. His hands have improved immensely, and his speed is incredibly dangerous.
To sum up the receiving corps, it seems as if there are too many weapons to play with. Not a bad thing when you run the Air Raid offense.
The defensive unit as a whole seems to be on a completely different level than where they were a year ago. The communication on the field is at a new level. Each guy shows body language that he fully understands his assignment and is ready to attack at any moment. It’s interesting to see when the ball is snapped because guys are getting into the right position with ease. It looks like muscle memory at this point.
Senior Treshon Broughton ran with the ones at one corner ahead of junior Marcellus Pippins and had an outstanding one-on-one period. He made an incredible interception on a comeback route ran by Tavares Martin. Broughton was all over him, and as the ball was thrown he turned his head at the last second to snag the ball from Martin’s hands. On another play against Martin, Broughton had a leaping pass break-up in the corner of the end zone on a goal-line fade.
Darrien Molton faced Gabe Marks all day long. Even though Marks came away with most of the balls, Molton really looked like a lock-down corner. He was all over Marks, but somehow the ball managed to end up in the star receiver’s hands time after time. It was extremely competitive between the two of them all day, and I expect that competition to continue throughout fall ball.
Freshman Jalen Thompson and Shalom Luani took the reps with the ones at safety. Junior Robert Taylor looks like he might compete for one of the safety spots as well. Taylor had a nice interception against second-year freshman quarterback Tyler Hilinski in the middle of the field that might have gone for six in a live game. Sophomore Hunter Dale lined up in the secondary opposite Taylor with the two’s.
There was little to no confusion with the defense. When there was a mishap, everyone knew what went wrong and how it needs to be fixed. No defense is perfect. That is a big part of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s philosophy.
It’s the little things that give you the best chance for success, and that’s what I see when I watch this defense.
Notable number changes:
Tavares Martin No. 8
Kyle Sweet No. 17
Darrien Molton No. 3
Deion Singleton no. 22
LT – Andre Dillard
LG – Cody O’Connell
C – Riley Sorenson
RG – Eduardo Middleton
RT – Cole Madison
QB – Luke Falk
RB – Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, James Williams, Keith Harrington
Z – Gabe Marks
Y – River Cracraft
H – Kyle Sweet
X – Tavares Martin/CJ Dimry
DE – Nnamdi Oguayo
DT – Daniel Ekuale
DT – Hercules Mata’afa
WIL - Frankie Luvu
MIKE - Peyton Pelluer
Rush – Dillon Hanser/Logan Tago
Nickel – Parker Henry
FS – Shalom Luani
SS – Jalen Thompson
CB – Darrien Molton
CB – Treshon Broughton
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