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WSU coach Mike Leach after six spring practices likes the hard work, progress of his receivers

PULLMAN — Any time coach Mike Leach offers words of praise, then that’s a good day. And the receiving group at Washington State enjoyed a good day Tuesday during spring drills at Martin Stadium.

“We've got guys that are playing hard. We need to be more consistent, but we’re making progress,” Leach said after practice.

“I thought the receivers in general played pretty good,” he added, singling out sophomore Isaiah Johnson-Mack (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) as having a particularly impressive camp.

Inside receivers coach Derek Sage said junior slot receivers Kyle Sweet (6-0, 192) and Kyrin Priester (6-1, 195) both are looking good at the inside Y position, while he singled out Robert Lewis (5-9, 170) for his consistency at the opposite H position.

“I’ve been pleased for the most part,” said outside receivers coach Dave Nichol, adding there haven’t been any surprises as far as he’s concerned.

“It’s spring ball, meaning the critical minuses don’t show up as much in spring (as they do in actual games),” said Nichol.

“(In games, if we have) one drop and one offsides and now we’re punting, but you don’t feel that in the spring,” he said.

In passing-catching and route-running exercises both with and without the secondary, Sweet looked fantastic grabbing balls over the middle from each of the WSU quarterbacks. Priester, Sweet’s main competition for snaps, also was quick to his spots, though not quite as precise as Sweet.

Redshirt freshman Renard Bell (5-8, 155), who has looked impressive, caught a little flak from the coaching staff for not recognizing coverage styles immediately. Bell made up for his mental lapse, however, by adjusting his balance and holding onto a catch while an assistant coach poked him with a stick to simulate a defensive player trying to harass the receiver.

As fast as anyone in a remarkably athletic group of pass-catchers, Bell at times seemed to rely on his speed a little too much, occasionally getting to his spot before the quarterback releases his throw.

The outside receivers looked very good in the practice exercises. Junior wideout Tavares Martin Jr. (6-1, 183) started the session with a dazzling catch when he had to change direction at the last minute to reach an underthrown ball (which he grabbed with his outstretched right hand) from sophomore quarterback Anthony Gordon (6-3,189).

Lewis, a senior, received praise from his coaches for hitting the angles on his routes precisely and changing direction without losing momentum or balance.
The impressive play by the receivers carried over into the 11-on-11 drills. Sweet had a great sideline catch against sophomore strong safety Jalen Thompson (6-0, 190) from sophomore quarterback Tyler Hilinski (6-3, 217) on a route from the right slot position, and followed it up by bringing in a ball over the middle on a simulated third-and-long.

Sophomore Dezmon Patmon (6-4, 211), who has been a pleasant surprise for Leach, caught a pass against tight coverage from Isaiah Love (6-0, 174). Patmon used his strength to haul in the ball and immediately turn the corner, preventing Love from having any chance of tackling him or stopping his 25-yard dash into the end zone. At times, Patmon’s combination of size, speed, and skill made him look a little like former NFL great Randy Moss — he can catch balls that the defensive backs simply have no chance of disrupting.

Not to be outdone, Martin caught a pass from Luke Falk (6-4, 225), perfectly thrown into tight coverage where only Martin could catch it, by leaping in the air on a well-timed jump and coming down with both hands safely on the ball. Later, Martin beat senior linebacker Nate DeRider (6-1, 226), as well as the entire secondary, after a 7-yard completion from Hilinski by simply turning on the jets and running 45 yards and into the end zone.

Priester showed his strength after a catch, running at full speed toward the goal line only to be met by defensive back Zaire Webb (5-10, 169). Without missing a beat — or slowing down — Priester lowered his shoulder and knocked Webb back, notching the touchdown for the Cougars’ offense.

Running with the third team, redshirt freshman receiver Grant Porter (6-0, 184) consistently beat his man (usually Love), only to be overthrown by sophomore quarterback Trey Tinsley (6-3, 201) on multiple pass attempts. Tinsley did look more accurate and quicker with his reads on screen passes and short passes into the middle.

Porter ended the day in style, as well, slipping through the secondary to catch a touchdown pass from Tinsley, which he celebrated by dunking the football over the goal post.

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