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PRACTICE: WSU coaches have players run through gauntlet drills Wednesday

PULLMAN – Washington State went back to work on Wednesday in preparation for their appearance in the Holiday Bowl on December 27th. The defensive coaches decided to spice things up and have some fun by bringing back an old fall camp drill. The resurrection of a uniquely ferocious drill on Wednesday fueled one of the most competitive atmospheres I’ve seen at practice all year.

For those who don’t know what the gauntlet drill is, let me start by saying its one of the most intense and competitive drills there is in football. It's design is quite simple, yet it puts the team’s top players to the ultimate test. 

To give you an idea of how it works, coaches assign a tackler to line up at the goal line facing midfield. They will then select three defenders to line up straight in front of the tackler with five yards separated between them. Finally, five yards behind the last defender is a pop-up dummy. 

To paint a picture, the drill looks similar to this:

Dummy

(5 yards)

Defender

(5 yards)

Defender

(5 yards)

Defender

(5 yards)

Tackler

The objective of the drill is for the tackler to fight through all three defenders and find a way to reach the pop-up. All he needs to do i2 get one finger on the bag and the tackler is declared the winner.

As you can probably imagine, most tacklers never make it to the dummy – but those who do usually manage to get there in remarkable fashion. With coaches and players cheering on both sides, the energy and intensity is like no other on the football field. 

On one end, you want to see the three players totally dominate the single tackler. But on the other end, you’re rooting for the solo man to defy all odds and win the drill.

Here was one of the most exciting reps that I watched:

Lyric Bartley faced Daniel Ekuale (pictured above), Garrett McBroom, and Ngalu Tapa. Initially, Bartley took a big hit from Ekuale but continued to run past him. He then made contact with McBroom but quickly shed his block attempt, only to be stunned by Tapa shortly after. At that point, Ekuale had looped back around to help out, so Bartley was now facing a massive double team against Tapa and Ekuale. After getting driven back a few yards, Bartley put on a quick spin move and broke free from both blocks. His spin move left the only thing standing between Bartley and the dummy was a cocked and ready McBroom. The two went head-to-head and stalemated for a brief second but Bartley violently tossed McBroom to the ground and then proceeded to put a full tackle on the pop-up dummy. The players watching erupted and all three coaches running the drill (Joe Salave’a, Alex Grinch and Ken Wilson) threw their arms into the air with excitement. Like I said, most players don’t ever reach the bag. On most reps, the drill is stopped early because the single man gets absolutely dominated.

Here are more highlights and takeaways from Wednesday’s team period:

-       Frankie Luvu came screaming through the line of scrimmage on a blitz to sack Tyler Hilinski.

-       James Williams had a nice run after the catch and ended the play by truck sticking one Coug defender, knocking him straight on his back as he finished the play running out of bounds.

-       Gabe Marks hauled in a toe-tapping sideline catch on a long throw from backup quarterback Hilinski.

-       Keith Harrington made a few nice plays catching passes out of the backfield. He made some guys miss, showing flashes of play-making ability like Wazzu fans saw last season.

-       Peyton Pelluer made a great tackle-for-loss after coming off the edge and meeting Williams two yards deep in the backfield.

-       Robert Lewis pulled in an incredible one-handed grab between two Coug defenders in the end zone for a score.

-       Nnamdi Oguayo sniffed out  a screen pass from Luke Falk to Jamal Morrow, stopping the play short at the line of scrimmage.

-       Morrow took a handoff from Falk then broke through the line, outrunning multiple defenders for a 35-yard run before being forced out of bounds.

-       Pelluer had another nice tackle for loss, this time meeting Gerard Wicks in the backfield before he could find his hole.

-       CJ Dimry broke free for an easy touchdown after catching a screen pass and picking up key blocks from Liam Ryan and Kyle Sweet.

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