WSU Spring Ball: Day One

PULLMAN -- In WSU’s first practice since December’s Holiday Bowl, the young Cougar receivers tried to show that the impact losing of veterans River Cracraft and Gabe Marks will be minimal.

“We’ll know more after we watch film, but I thought our young guys came out like they belonged there,” said Mike Leach, who approached the day with his typical, business-as-usual demeanor.

“Can’t say there were any real surprises,” said Leach of the helmets-only practice at Martin Stadium.

The young guys, of course, are going to be very important if the WSU receiving corps is going to remain as productive as it was last year, when Marks and Cracraft gave quarterback Luke Falk two savvy veteran targets on every down.

Second-year sophomore receiver Isaiah Johnson-Mack (pictured above) who backed up Marks at the Z last season, is eager for the opportunity. While Johnson-Mack had 33 catches totaling 244 yards and single touchdown in his freshman campaign, he did manage to make an appearance in all 13 regular season games.

“It’s the best situation for a young guy like me,” said Johnson-Mack, noting that running routes for a talented veteran like Falk makes the transition easier.

“It’s gonna be my first time in a big role, in a big conference, so that’s huge, having a great quarterback,” he added.

Bigger roles are in store this year’s crop of athletic receivers like Johnson-Mack, sophomore Dezmon Patmon, junior Tavares Martin, as well as junior Kyrin Priester, who is returning to the squad following a year away from the team.

Indeed, the most dazzling play when the Cougs "scrimmaged" (11-on-11) was when Patmon reached between the bodies of two defensive backs and turned what looked like a certain red zone interception into a touchdown pass from Falk.

On one play in the team session (11-on-11) ended with a “sack” on Falk.  Leach was not pleased.

The defensive line spent much of the day doing drills aplenty with new DL coach Jeff Phelps, including getting off the snap. Phelps seemed fairly pleased with their work on Day One.

Defensive backs, and the defense in general, worked on several pursuit drills on Day One. 

In the team session, Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski most got the better of the defense, while the defensive backs broke up a good number of Anthony Gordon passes.

The backfield, both on the ground and in the passing game, of course also figures to be a prominent part of the offense this season.

“Our offense is just predicated off of what the defense gives us,” added Falk, who is happy to see the return of productive backfield trio of Jamal Morrow, James Williams, and Gerard Wicks.

“We did have the most productive backfield in the conference, with regard to yard production,” said Leach, referring to WSU being one of four teams nationally whose running backs totaled 1,000 yards rushing and receiving.

Although Morrow wore a yellow “no-contact” shirt over his regular jersey, all three backs saw plenty of snaps with Falk during the 11-on-11 portion, as well as with backup quarterbacks Hilinski and Gordon.

Asked if he was confident with his new squad, Coach Leach demurred, “I’m never confident about anything.”


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