Washington State Football: Alex Grinch demands communication on defense

PULLMAN – Mother nature may have poured rain down on practice Tuesday but Mike Leach and his staff focused on implementing a game plan for Boise State, cleaning up mistakes and getting players communicating on the field to earn their first Cougar football victory in 2016.

One thing looks very promising, the return of senior safety Shalom Luani. Luani is back in his second practice this week and taking charge in his role as of one the leaders on defense. He wasted no time Tuesday as he made his presence known on the field with several big hits against the scout team.

To me, it seems that Luani must have been watching film and staying on top of his plays during his absence because he doesn’t look confused, and actually seems to be helping others around him. I’m hoping he can put his recent troubles behind him and make an instant impact during Saturday’s game.

Rain or shine, the Cougs were on the field to work and hopefully improve from where they were just a week ago. Clearly, there are areas on both sides of the ball that need to be better in order to pull off a win over the Broncos this Saturday (7:15pm, ESPN2)..

I know from last year’s experience against Portland State – it’s not easy to give 100 percent on every rep after such a disappointing loss – especially in a season opener that was expected to show such a promising Cougar football team.

The competitiveness between the guys working in the trenches really caught my attention all session.

One-on-one periods between the offensive and defensive lines sparked some tension on the practice field. Guys were getting fired up and were taking some battles personally. Pushing, shoving, and trash talking got a lot players excited and eager to get in on the next rep. This might be what the team needs to elevate their level of play right now.

Tackling must have been at the top of the 'to-do' list for defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Alex Grinch (pictured above) because today’s tackle circuit drills seemed ramped up. Coaches were harping on technique and wrapping up just as they always do, but with even more emphasis today.

Another focus on defense in Tuesday’s practice was clearly with communication. I saw coaches and players putting extra effort into relaying calls across the defense. Players were a lot more vocal – signals and play calls were echoed loud and clear to make sure everyone was on the same page.

Just as BSU’s offense operates tempo, the Cougar D worked on matching up tempo play today with fast reps and constant movement – meaning that the communication needs to be that much quicker, louder, and more efficient than it was last game.

Observation about the D-line: I find it interesting that most of us thought the depth in the secondary was one of the teams greatest strengths – and conversely the D-line was lacking in depth. The EWU game seemed to have reversed my opinion because of how well the front seven played against the run game.

Granted, the guys playing with a hand down didn’t get the pass rush that you would have liked to see against the QB, who had success because he got the ball out extremely quick and hit tons of one step quick passes. And aside from the QB scrambles, gaps and leverage by the front seven didn’t seem to be much of an issue when EWU handed the ball off.

If the defensive line can apply solid pressure on BSU quarterback Brett Rypien this Saturday, it could allow the WSU defense to get back into a rhythm similar to what they experienced last season.

I don’t see a world right now where anyone is content with the team's overall performance after the disappointing season opener. Improvement every day is a must.

A loss this week would surely set the team back and have many second guessing or doubting the team's ability to win this year.

A win on Saturday could do just the opposite. Notching a 'W' over BSU would turn this season in the direction the Cougs expected to be headed from the beginning. Get to that point and it's just a matter of staying consistent and playing their best game week in and week out.

After week one of the college football season, we all saw what can happen – just about anything. The Cougs are no Crimson Tide just yet - but they do rep crimson and grey - and that needs to start meaning something besides losing football games.

This team needs to look for whatever excitement they can find in practice this week, and channel that energy to fuel the fire burning inside.

I think it’s time for some more déjà vu this week. The Cougs need to bounce back as they did after dropping the opener last year and get the ball rolling again with a victory.

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