Washington State defense looking improved in camp

LEWISTON – Day Four of fall camp had the team suiting up in helmets and shoulder pads for the second day in a row. The defense absolutely dominated the offense today by consistently putting pressure on the quarterbacks and getting in the backfield.

Throughout the day, the defensive line collapsed the pocket more often than not. They constantly forced both quarterbacks into a panic which ultimately resulted in a win for the defense. The defensive line, linebacking corps and secondary were aggressive and effective.

Sacks were more prevalent today than in previous practices. It's likely there would have been even more if some throws weren’t forced into coverage leading to incompletions. 

The 7-on-7 period went back and forth with interceptions on defense and big plays from the receivers. It was a struggle for the offense to maintain any momentum. Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski threw interceptions in both skelly and team periods today (Treshon Broughton, Marcus Strong, Robert Taylor and Isaac Dotson). However, they managed to keep their poise and battle back after a their initial hiccups.

Freshman Marcus Strong is getting a lot of reps at corner with the 2’s behind sophomore Darrien Molton. In 7-on-7 drills, Strong looked a bit tired and unfocused after a few balls were caught in front of him. Coaches started getting on him about effort and he turned it around with an interception on the very next play. Strong is making his way into the mix at corner by not giving up big plays, but he needs to be more consistent as he progresses through fall camp in order to see the field this season.

There was a continuous rotation of guys in and out on the D-line. In team drills, sophomore Logan Tago (pictured above on left) took reps with the 1’s at Rush and sacked Falk on one of his first reps. 

The Cougar secondary is shaping up to be a very strong unit.

Taylor, the junior transfer from junior college (pictured above on right) came to play today as he moved back and forth from safety to corner. On the very first play of the team period, Taylor made an outstanding diving interception on a throw by Hilinski. It set the tone from the very beginning of the period and carried all the way to the end.

Broughton, a senior corner, was the player of the day in my book. Given how much of a disadvantage defensive backs have in 1-on-1 drills, Broughton had multiple pass break-ups. Later during skelly, he picked off Falk as he cut off a receiver’s route. Time after time Broughton was making plays. He’s moved back and forth from nickel to corner over the past year, but seems to have found his home on the outside.

Another position where there's plenty of action is inside linebacker which is developing into an interesting battle to watch right now.

Behind the projected starters, fourth-year junior Peyton Pelluer and junior Frankie Luvu, is a rotation between Isaac Dotson and Paris Taylor. Nate DeRider and Jahad Woods are getting some reps as well. DeRider has moved up from the scout team and is working his way into the mix. Woods is showing some raw talent and looks to be a future stud for the Cougs. He’s quick, aggressive, and very athletic for a true freshman linebacker.

The two Parkers at nickel (Parker Henry and Kirkland Parker) make a dynamic combo at outside backer. Henry has been more aggressive in the run game. He’s been laying hits and fighting for the football on contact since the shoulder pads went on.

When Parker comes in, he covers like a corner but can come down hill with tremendous speed. On a screen pass to James Williams in 11-on-11's, Kirkland flew through the blockers down field and wrapped up Williams without being touched. Both guys create an explosive duo that can be used in different game situations. It should be interesting to see how they rotate in and are used in games this year.

With the practice nearing completion Tuesday afternoon, the team worked on red zone offense. Falk tried to fit a pass through a tight window for a score. His roommate, Dotson, snagged the ball and took off down field. It was like a cherry on top of an outstanding day by the defense. Ending with an interception seemed a fitting culmination for this 11-on-11 session.

From my seat, the defensive coaches want to motivate guys by creating competition at almost every spot.

On the offensive side of the ball, well, not much was working today.

The offensive line is definitely starting to open up some holes now that pads are on, but there were more tackles for loss today than anything else in the run game. A big run was delivered by Williams when a hole was opened up by the second string offensive line.

Another huge run was produced from Gerard Wicks. Once he hit the second level, there was no stopping that freight train. He broke a tackle and then took off in a foot race with Shalom Luani chasing behind him. Wicks has been running hard all camp, but finally got to show his strength and power on the long run today.

There were a few good runs and some decent pass pick-ups but overall the offense was inconsistent throughout the day.

Wide receivers showed good skills in 1-on-1 drills, but those abilities only go so far when they’re put in a game-like situation.

Second-year sophomore Tavares Martin and true freshman Isaiah Johnson proved to be the top guys producing on the outside today. Sophomore Kaleb Fossum made some good catches as well. Martin is showing that he deserves to retain the starter role, but if C.J. Dimry can pick it up like he did in Day One of camp, this will turn out to be a competitive battle.

After four days of camp, I am starting to view the slot receivers as possibly being the most dynamic rotation that the Cougs have. There's no doubt the quartet of running backs are dangerous, but these inside receivers haven’t skipped a beat and continue to make play after play when the offense needs one.

Senior River Cracraft had a big play over the middle during team drills to give the offense their lone touchdown on the day. John Thompson, Kyle Sweet, and Robert Lewis continue to show they are reliable targets, but just couldn’t manage to get in the end zone today.

The offense will need to pick it up and come out hungry tomorrow in order to turn the momentum back to their side.

At the end of practice, Mike Leach had the entire offense perform 25 up-downs. As they reached 15, some players showed a lack in effort, so they were told to start over. Needless to say, Leach offered some spirited words of encouragement to get the drill right.

Practicing against the nation's leading passer of a year ago, the defense wasn't backing down from anyone on Tuesday. They figure to continue turn the heat up and put the pressure on if the offense doesn’t get it together tomorrow.


-    Cornerback Charleston White was at practice, but just like his teammates back on Saturday and Sunday, NCAA rules state he must participate in two helmets-only practices before he can put shoulder pads on.

RELATED: WSU looks solid in first practice wearing pads

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