PRACTICE: Coug D was getting back to its roots Tuesday and what Alex Grinch has said from Day One

PULLMAN – Washington State is sticking to its defensive roots. During Tuesday’s practice, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch was preaching from the mountain top. But the sermon had not changed -- it was all about the same keys and fundamentals Grinch has extolled from the very first day he arrived in Pullman. Here are Skyler Cracraft’s three takeaways from the Cougs’ practice.

1. Coug D sticking tight to Grinch philosophy
One of Grinch’s key tenets on defense at Washington State: take away deep routes downfield and force the offense to complete short throws. By design, players then swarm downfield to the ball carrier -- it's something Grinch calls “check down, rally."  Simply put, it means force the the throw to go to the check down receiver, and then rally hard to the football. And that’s exactly what the Coug secondary did on Tuesday when the 1’s on offense faced the 1’s on defense.

During the handful of plays that starters worked against each other, Luke Falk was forced to hit his check down man on almost every rep. For an entire defensive unit to accomplish that on a consistent basis, it takes an extreme amount of focus and discipline.

When the defense faced the scout team shortly after, it was more of the same. Coug DBs including Shalom Luani (pictured above) and others were sound in coverage and continually forced the pass to go short. If WSU can do the same against Washington on Friday, it should give the Cougs a huge advantage on the defensive side of the ball -- one that could potentially take away some of UW’s most dangerous threats in the passing game including star WR John Ross.

2. O’Connell proving why he’s an Outland finalist
Because of the way WSU practices are laid out, I normally don’t get to watch much of the O-line/D-line one-on-one drills. But with Cody O'Connell being recognized as one of the nation’s top three interior linemen in all of college football, I’ve tried to position myself so I can pay much closer attention to those drills. And after watching O’Connell compete in one-on-ones on Monday, its very clear to me why he’s receiving all the plaudits.

First of all, The Continent didn't lose a single rep to his defensive opponent.  Hell, he hardly even got moved away from his base set up and stance. Indeed, O’Connell handled both d-linemen Garrett McBroom and Robert Barber with ease on Tuesday in my view -- to the point where both just stopped and got back in line because they realized they weren’t going to get by him.

Oh and by the way, let me be sure and mention that both McBroom and Barber are two of WSU’s most physical defensive linemen on the roster and they're not what you would call small either.  McBroom is 6-3, 282 pounds and Barber checks in at 6-3, 305.

3. Falk and Co. playing with speed and confidence
I previously mentioned Falk was forced to throw check down routes when the 1s went against the 1s -- but as Cougar fans have read often in my reports, when those throws are going to the trio of WSU running backs, or just about any Coug receiver for that matter, it usually means positive yards. 

On Tuesday, Falk tore up the scout team, up and down the field. But what I was most impressed with was his quickness in making his reads and getting rid of the football.  In some cases on Tuesday, Falk’s throws hit their target straight in the chest and right as they were making their breaks.

Even with River Cracraft out of the picture, the timing and chemistry Falk is showing with his receivers remains at a very high level. Even when the second group of receivers rotated in Tuesday, with guys like C.J. Dimry and Isaiah Johnson, the comfort level and timing with Falk is pronounced. 

That combination of talent and experience within this group needs to show up big on Friday. The receivers need to start fast, finish strong and they need to put up points.

Here are more highlights and takeaways from Tuesday’s practice:

• During OL/DL one-on-one’s, Andre Dillard and Hercules Mata’afa ripped against each other twice. Dillard owned the first rep and Mata’afa bull rushed the Cougs' starting left tackle for a sack on the second.

• During the offenses team period against the scouts, Jamal Morrow cut up the field after taking a handoff, then reversed course and took it in for the score.  Great vision.

Tavares Martin exploded on a few passes and once the ball was in his hands, went untouched all the way.

John Thompson pulled in an impressive sideline catch when blanketed in man-to-man coverage.

• Falk and Gabe Marks connected on multiple throws after Marks had burned a corner or safety (sometimes both on the same play).

• Reserve Kingston Fernandez had a great practice. I saw the d-lineman get into the backfield for multiple stops against the run, batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage and also won a one-on-one rep against the a second-team offensive lineman.

Treshon Broughton had an impressive pass breakup when covering a scout team receiver.

RELATED: Cougs get big DL piece back for Apple Cup they didn't have at CU

NOTABLE RECRUITING NOTE:'s Greg Biggins reported Tuesday night former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett will be in town this weekend for what will be his first official visit. Barnett is currently at Palomar JC and has 3--to-play-3 and he will be eligible immediately. Barnett has unofficially visited Cal and ASU and is also looking at a few other Pac-12 schools including Oregon and Washington. Early playing time is a HUGE factor for him, says Biggins -- he's looking for a place where he can come in and play immediately next fall.  WSU's courtship with Barnett came to light earlier this month on CF.C.

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