WSU's defense shows its potential in postion drills during Day 9 of spring football

PULLMAN – Early in practice Tuesday, Day 9 of spring drills, the defense was at its best for the Cougars.

Among the veterans in the warmup drills, Robert Taylor (5-foot-10, 183 pounds), as usual, impressed defensive coordinator Alex Grinch in drills for the secondary with his combination of speed and smarts when reacting to Grinch’s eyes as the coach played quarterback.

Senior corner Marcellus Pippins (5-10, 176), on the other hand, remained inconsistent, alternately drawing praise and criticism. Sean Harper (6-2, 184) did well in deep pass coverage drills, and that would continue in the later team session when he returned an interception for a score.

For the young guys, Isaiah Love (6-0, 174) continued to show his immense potential, hauling in a ball Grinch threw after making a series of movements intended to throw the young corner off balance.

Fellow true freshman Zaire Webb (5-10, 169), the other rising star in the Cougars’ secondary, also drew praise from Grinch in the position-specific portion of practice.

Linebackers coach Ken Wilson seemed pleased with his crew, singling out senior Peyton Pelluer (6-0, 228), junior Anthony Castillo (5-9, 213), and freshman Jahad Woods (6-0, 216) for hitting with strength and precision in exercises.

Woods, in particular, has looked good all spring, and would continue to look good in the team session Tuesday, dropping into solid coverage against passes.

Dillon Sherman (6-1, 213) looked good against the blocking sled, while fellow second-year freshman linebacker Erick Glueck (6-1, 232) struggled to maximize his strength against the foam dummies.

Defensive line coach Jeff Phelps liked how quickly both true freshman Nicholas Smith (6-2, 230) and junior Taylor Comfort (6-0, 275) shed blockers in drills. Neither, however, was as fast as the star of the defensive line, junior Hercules Mata’afa (6-2, 255), who continues to look like he’ll be a menace to opposing Pac-12 blockers in the fall.

While second-year freshman walk on QB Casey Brink (6-2, 201) took snaps for the offensive line in one-on-ones against the defense, Phelps’ players continued to shine — though, as both Phelps and offensive line coach Clay McGuire admit, the one-on-one drills tend to give the defensive players quite an advantage.

For example, Washington State’s unanimous all-American left guard, senior Cody O’Connell (6-8, 370) admits he often gets beat in the exercise, despite not having allowed a single sack the entire 2016 season.

Sophomore defensive lineman Nnamdi Oguayo (6-3, 229) proved O’Connell’s point, beating the veteran star when he lined up at left tackle in the drill. Speedy sophomore RUSH Derek Moore (6-1, 246) also got the better of O’Connell when the senior lined up back at his natural position of left guard.

Continuing the trend, junior RUSH Logan Tago (6-3, 245) beat veteran right tackle Cole Madison (6-5, 315) on a few snaps, and Taylor Comfort (6-0, 275) nimbly got past center Noah Osur-Myers (6-4, 307) — though the sophomore’s snaps looked vastly improved from the previous week.

Phelps seemed happier than McGuire with the drill, though the two line coaches have such contrasting demeanors and it’s difficult to compare. Whenever the defense made an error, Phelps would react calmly, reciting a fundamental technique or imploring his linemen to finish the play or use their hands more effectively.

McGuire was quite the opposite. “The locker room’s right over there if you all don’t wanna be out here today,” the offensive line coach yelled to his players, and he got on starting left tackle Andre Dillard (6-5, 310) in particular,

“Your hands suck today, Dillard! You’re lucky you got feet,” McGuire screamed at the senior — who, to be sure, is in no danger of losing his starting his job.

On special teams, third-year sophomore Brett Schafer (5-9, 174) got some field-goal attempts off with coach Eric Mele’s unit. Senior Erik Powell (6-1, 201), however, looked like the projected starter (despite a poor 2-for-4 showing in the full scrimmage Saturday), with more power on his kicks regardless of distance.

Powell further showed off his powerful leg by booting some kickoffs deep in the end zone. Among the return men were sophomore receivers Kainoa Wilson (5-11, 170) and Brandon Arconado (5-11, 181), as well as second-year freshman defensive back D’Jimon Jones (5-11, 191).

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