Since we're a few weeks into fall camp now, it's probably a good time for a few reminders. There's a pretty significant problem that always pops up during spring and fall camp: Friendly fire -- playing against your own team -- leads to a skewed view of what your favorite squad is working with. This, in turn, leads to reactions that sway heavily from extreme to extreme.
If the offense is dominant, the defense must be oh so terrible, and vice-versa. If a wide receiver is lighting up the secondary, the defensive backs are doomed to failure. And if a quarterback is throwing interception after interception, well ... we're just screwed.
But, as always, there's context. For instance, Mike Leach has his offense run the same plays over and over against the defense -- be it in skelly or team drills -- to up the degree of difficulty. Therefor, you'll see corners jumping routes and picking off passes, which was a phenomenon we say early in camp; Nolan Washington had a couple picks in one day, but it was against the same play, which was being drilled over and over for a reason.
For the most part, the Washington State offense has got the better of the defense throughout camp, though. This is to be expected: Leach has run the same offense his entire career, with the same concepts, routes and reads. His scheme is no secret in college football, yet few are able to effectively slow it down. The same holds true for Leach's own defense.
But it's important to remember each unit is working on very specific concepts and techniques. There's a competition element to it all, sure, but practice isn't solely about who is better than who and which side wins. Typically, the competition has come right at the end, be it in overtime drills, goalline stands or a final drive in team drills.
We can, however, learn things by taking away some of the noise. Looking whether the defensive line is able to create pressure, for instance. For the most part, sacks aren't going to be whistled dead during drills, typically allowing the quarterback to flee the pocket and finish the play. If the defensive line was able to break through, though, it's a step in the right direction.
The same goes for the secondary. Every single practice, defensive backs battle with wide receivers in one-on-one drills. There's no help, no safety, and everyone is on an island. The defense is at a distinct disadvantage, and the offense will almost always dominate the drill. But if the defensive backs are getting out of their breaks, executing certain techniques the right way, and occasionally disrupting passes, there's a positive to take away. Either way, it's simply a teaching exercise.
Keep in mind that practice is three hours of hands-on teaching time each day. While the offense and defense do compete, the coaches use it more as a time to refine technique, polish schemes and evaluate what they have. It's not a full-on scrimmage with a winner and loser for three hours. There are no real winners and losers when the goal is to push players to be better each day.
Leach has talked a little bit about intersquad practices -- bring in an Idaho to hold a duel practice, for instance. Because after months and months of hitting each other, teams could use a break. It serves two purposes: The team can take out its aggression on an actual opponent and the coaches can actually evaluate how their team does against an outside opponent. It won't happen because it makes too much sense, of course.
So when evaluating practices, try to stay away from broad generalizations. Instead, focus in on the smaller things. Are the wide receivers getting good releases off the line and coming in and out of their breaks cleanly? Are the linebackers shedding blocks like they should? Is the quarterback making accurate throws and scanning the field as part of his progression? Can the offensive line hold its blocks, get out in front to block, or open holes? Are the defensive backs putting themselves in the right positions to make plays? These micro-focused elements are more important than the bigger picture.
And most of all, practice is a time for the coaches to shine. That's why Leach has said he wants to be able to see his assistants on film later. He wants to see how they're coaching, what they're doing and whether they're getting after it all practice long. Because, really, practice is a means to an end, not necessarily the be all, end all.