“Most great centers I know snap a couple hundred every day,” said WSU coach Mike Leach, the implication being that sophomores Frederick Mauigoa (6-foot-3, 305 pounds) and Noah Osur-Myers (6-4, 307) are not yet great centers.
Both have been good blockers all spring, but consistent crisp, safe snaps have been a problem.
Mauigoa, the projected starter, has been more reliable, while Osur-Myers had two poor snaps Tuesday in practice. But both have had issues with getting the ball to the quarterback.
“You gotta do it every day and do it consistently,” Leach said of how to fix the problem with snap execution. “You gotta do it when nobody else is around, too, so we’ve gotta raise our focus and intensity.”
For Leach, the key is repetition.
“It’s easy to do and everybody should be able to do it,” he said. “I don’t care how many they have to snap … I expect them, when they finish their homework, to be snapping a whole bunch.”
Beyond the continuing issues at center, Leach called the Tuesday practice “average to above average.”
“It wasn’t a great practice, but I thought it was a decent practice.”
The team session began decently enough, indeed, with the defense doing a good job of stuffing senior running back Jamal Morrow (5-9, 200) on the first play from scrimmage. Senior linebacker Nate DeRider (6-1, 226) followed on the next play with a great hit on junior slot receiver Kyle Sweet (6-0, 192), breaking up a pass from senior quarterback Luke Falk (6-4, 225).
The first big play for the offense came when Falk connected with senior wideout C.J. Dimry (6-5, 213) on a screen pass near the left sideline. Dimry then dashed toward the end zone, slicing up the Cougars’ secondary for a big gain.
Dimry has had some trouble using his size as an asset in the past, but not Tuesday. He was catching screens and getting past the secondary with ease, though he did have trouble holding on to a pass during a hit from sophomore defensive back Marcus Strong (5-9, 175).
Whether Dimry shies away from hard contact or attempts to grab the ball no matter who’s coming for him will be something to watch Saturday in the Crimson and Grey game, and could have an affect on the depth chart in the fall.
Later Tuesday, with Strong again shadowing Dimry, the senior made a powerful catch in the end zone, looking fearless against the defense.
It wasn't the best practice of the spring for receiver Tavares Martin (6-1, 183). On his first target from Falk, Martin fell down despite being open, and the ball fell incomplete. The next time Falk looked for the junior, Martin caught the ball but was immediately wrapped up by senior cornerback Marcellus Pippins (5-10, 176). He did have a nice catch just short of the goal line when DeRider and junior linebacker Anthony Castillo (5-9, 213) got nice pressure on Falk, forcing a quick throw to the middle of the field.
Martin’s best play came after a low snap from Osur-Myers. The defense tried to take advantage of the broken play, but in the ensuring chaos Martin found himself open for a touchdown pass from a scrambling Falk.
Senior slot receiver Robert Lewis (5-9, 170), a pillar of consistency all spring, dropped the first pass from sophomore quarterback Tyler Hilinski (6-3, 217). He recovered on the next play, however, when Martin caught a pass from Hilinski and used a great spin move to get around Strong and had only senior safety Robert Taylor (5-10, 183) to beat. That’s when Lewis knocked Taylor with a hard block ¬– possible payback for some hard Taylor hits the slot receiver has taken this April – and Martin was left with a wide-open path to the end zone.
Strong would get the better of Martin later on, though, staying all over the receiver in the end zone and forcing an incomplete pass from Hilinski.
Sophomore Isaiah Johnson-Mack (6-3, 218) had a good day catching the ball as well, at one point hauling in a precisely thrown touchdown pass from Hilinski despite being covered by both Taylor and Pippins. Johnson-Mack got the better of Pippins a second time, using his size to pluck a touchdown pass out of the air over the smaller cornerback.
Meanwhile, Easop Winston (5-11, 183) continued to show the WSU staff why Falk calls the junior receiver’s hands the best he’s ever seen, making a few sideline catches over some smaller defenders. On one play, he stopped and changed directions quickly enough to slip underneath coverage from Pippins to catch a pass from Hilinski.
Overall, the secondary looked improved. It didn’t have many big plays, but it didn’t allow too many easy gains, either. The group was particularly good in the red zone, keeping receivers from scoring after a catch. And Taylor, as always, made it very hard for receivers to catch passes at any time.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s squad was less impressive, however, in preventing big rushing gains. Sophomore running back James Williams (5-11, 192) exploded past the linebackers for big gains on a few occasions. Williams also caught a ball when he found himself wide open in the end zone after what looked like blown coverage from senior RUSH Dylan Hanser (6-4, 231).
The problems at center continued when sophomore Trey Tinsley (6-3, 201) came in at quarterback. On his first play, Osur-Myers snapped the ball over Tinsley’s head for a fumble. As has been common this spring, Leach and the quarterbacks stuck around after practice to get in some extra snaps with the centers.
In drills before the team session, junior lineman Hercules Mata’afa (6-2, 255) once again was the star of the defense, sliding off blockers to cause Morrow to fumble the ball in nine-on-nine drills.
Redshirt freshman RUSH Mason Vinyard (6-5, 223) showed potential in one-on-one drills, beating the blocks from fellow redshirt freshman Josh Watson (6-4, 285). Another second-year freshman offensive lineman, Liam Ryan (6-5, 287), showed flashes of talent as he ably contained sophomore linebacker Tristan Brock (6-0, 255). Despite his continued trouble with snapping, Osur-Myers blocked well in the drill, especially against sophomore defensive lineman Hunter Mattox (6-3, 286), while Mauigoa was one of the few blockers who managed to contain Mata’afa in the drill.
In one of the defense’s more impressive showings during the one-on-ones, sophomore RUSH Derek Moore (6-1, 246) blew by sophomore Cedric Bigge-Durren (6-6, 321) for a sack. Moore showed some poor technique on a later hitting drill and got singled out by defensive line coach Jeff Phelps for his careless approach.
Among the special teams, Williams and freshman receiver Renard Bell (5-8, 155) returned punts from redshirt freshman Tommy Park (5-10, 182) and senior Erik Powell (6-1, 201). Both the punters and returners looked decent in the drill, with the lone exception of one dropped ball by Williams.
CouGreat Drew Bledsoe, along with his son John Bledsoe who will walk on later this summer at QB for the Cougs, were at practice on Tuesday. Drew spoke with the team after practice.