Washington State Football: Mike Leach turns Gabe Marks loose

PULLMAN – The Cougs finished their first practice of “mock game week” today featuring Gabe Marks hauling in numerous tosses from Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski and a trio of DB's creating 3 consecutive highlight plays for the WSU D.

Let me start off with the switch in Washington State's routine, mock game week. MGW essentially simulates exactly when, where, and what the players and coaches will be doing during every week throughout the season. Between practice times, meetings, workouts, classes, and down time, everything the team does this week will be exactly the way it will run for the entire season.

On offense, Gabe Marks (pictured above) was targeted more than any other receiver. He caught all types of short and deep routes, as well as screens and check-downs. After watching today's session, two things became clear to me.

One, Mike Leach wants to get Marks as many touches as possible – and two, the quarterbacks are looking for Marks on most of their first reads.

Marks might be getting a high volume of passes to make up for the practices that he missed. But any way you put it, we all know that he’s a playmaker and having him get lots of attention only opens up other lanes on the offense.

Keith Harrington looks to be a work in progress at this point. He’s getting his reps in, but hasn’t seen many passes come his way. The quarterbacks still have to go through their reads, so it could just be that they find someone before him – or that he simply hasn’t been open.

With the reliability that Robert Lewis and Kyle Sweet have shown this offseason, it might be difficult for Harrington to get the reps that he would like. Still, the coaches know he can make things happen with the ball in his hands so I’m sure that they will find ways to get that done.

Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski continue to do their thing by creating success through the air. Aside from one interception Falk threw over the middle that was picked off by fourth-year junior linebacker Nate DeRider, his passes are hitting every target right where he wants. He puts a great touch on each pass and seems to hit his receivers in perfect stride.

Today, Falk threw a perfect corner ball that floated right into John Thompson’s arms, but the ball slipped through his hands. Drops are unfortunate and I’m sure coach Leach will get that squared away and handled as soon as possible (most likely today after practice and tomorrow in the film room).

The defense seems to be getting some really good work in apart from the reps they’ve been taking against Leach’s Air Raid offense. Today I saw the scout team line up in all sorts of formations involving multiple running backs, tight ends, fullbacks, wing backs, etc. etc. Unlike WSU’s pass happy offense that will likely see most of the same thing on defense all year, the Cougar D will definitely see almost every formation in the book this season.

The only way to be ready for everything, is to prepare for anything.

The scout team will line up in every and all formations that can possibly confuse the defense and work on making the right calls. They will move some things around pre-snap, send offensive players in motion, change the strength on the field, shift into another formation and make ineligible receivers all of the sudden eligible. During a game, these things happen in just seconds. If you don’t make the proper adjustment or change to the right call, the offensive coordinator has you right where he wants you.

These multiple sets and schemes by the scout team are the type of things defensive coordinator Alex Grinch does constantly throughout the year to get his players mentally ready for anything to happen on the field.

When the defense is in the right call, players can play fast which gives them the best opportunity to make big plays happen.

Today, big plays clearly happened with the defensive backs. Darrien Molton, Marcellus Pippins, and Jalen Thompson picked off three consecutive passes by the scout team. Yeah, it’s the scouts, but they are still trying to make plays, too. Nothing gets them more excited then beating up the starting defense. I think it's safe to say the three picks were impressive.

As Leach has always done before home games, the Cougs will travel down and stay in Lewiston this weekend as if there were a game on Saturday. This also means the coaches will decide who makes the travel team. Not every player on the roster will make it on the bus come Friday morning.

I can sum up the Cougs practice for you in just four words - they looked sharp today. The typical routine on both sides played out without many corrections, but also highlighted some key players who are looking to have a big year.

‘One day at a time, one practice at a time, one week at a time’ is what coach Leach and this team continue to echo – but it’s hard not to anticipate what is to come next week. The Cougs put the offseason behind them and fully begin to prep for Eastern Washington University.

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