FROM LEWISTON -- On Sunday the WSU football team held their second day of fall camp with a helmet and shorts practice at Sacajawea Middle School in Lewiston. The heat was cranked up in the upper-90s again without the benefit the cloud cover that cooled things down on Saturday. Shoulder pads will be put on Monday. Here are some of the highlights from Sunday.
WRs vs. DBs - In a recent CougCenter poll, 86% of our readers said that wide receiver was the position the Cougs are best at. Youth on the offensive line and defensive back were the most mentioned issues in a recent conversation about concerns. Part of those suspicions received a strong piece of confirmation Sunday in the 1-on-1 drill where senior receivers like Isiah Myers and Kristoff Williams showed off veteran skills and footwork on not-so-sure footed young defensive backs. The defensive backs came out stronger in the 11-on-11 with Tracy Clark even picking off a Connor Halliday pass in the end zone.
Cutting teeth - Young defensive backs really have it tough right now trying to adjust to playing at this level. Locking down the best receiver in your high school conference on pure athleticism doesn't quite equate to going up against upperclassmen receivers with several years of Pac-12 experience under their belt. Players like Marcellus Pippins and Pat Porter are learning on steep curve right now, and it's showing. The upside with this is that there is some room for these players to develop right now whereas in the past many of these players would have been forced into service as is out of necessity. In short, answers to defensive back don't appear to be coming from new faces at this point. Daquawn Brown and Tracy Clark look to still have an edge up at the corners right now.
Dotson on D - Isaac Dotson participated in the 11-on-11 the entire time Sunday after Beau Glover held down duties there on Saturday. It's to be seen whether or not that might change tomorrow once pads come on. The coaches seem to have Dotson in "ease in" mode right now and today was a huge step forward in that process.
Two punters, one job - In Saturday's post, I mentioned that I was completely uncertain about what was going on with the kicking game. The team ran several punting drills Sunday and Wes Concepcion and Jordan Descalo are clearly in competition for punter leaving Erik Powell and Quentin Breshears to compete for kicking duties. Concepcion has punting experience at WSU having taken over for Mike Bowlin in the final three games last season. However, Descalo seemed to come away the winner especially after a towering 50-plus yard punt. Leach commented on the punters after practice and took notice of Descalo, "He (Descalo) has a real powerful leg. I was kind of impressed with him. He goes out there confident, no much anxiety, and really pops it. He can kick it a long way"
Marks talks trash, and backs it up - Gabe Marks looked particularly strong at receiver after falling off towards the end of last year and missing the spring. He made several nice adjustments and catches in the 1-on-1 drills and also came up with a touchdown in 11-on-11. Marks is by far the most vocal of any receiver out on the playing field. And when he gets around Daquawn Brown it can get real chatty. When asked whether talking trash impacts his play, Marks responded, "It makes me play harder when I know the other person is more invested in it as well because I know they are going to give me their best shot." Leach doesn't seem to mind the trash talk seeing similar benefits as Marks does, "(I) don't care as long as he as able to focus on the next play, but you do want energy out there"
Quarterback play - In the 11-on-11, Halliday and the offense really sputtered out of the gate completing only a two of five passes with one being a short-yardage touch pass. Halliday then got into a rhythm and pushed the ball down field dropping an absolute dime to Rickey Galvin and finishing with a touchdown pass to Marks. Luke Falk took the team back up the field the other way nicely with several short range passes. He also got help on an explosive run by Theron West. The defense won the battle on Saturday, but the offense returned the favor Sunday leaving the defense with up-and-downs.
My take - Competition was the factor that impressed me most about Day 2 of camp. The level of competitiveness seemed to be much higher today than it was the day before. Sure, competitiveness has an underside as there were some not-so-nice exchanges and taunting. It can also drive people to dangerous extreme when they can't shut off their competitive drives like a faucet (e.g. pro athletes with gambling addictions). But competitiveness is necessary to be successful on the playing field and it can't just be put on for game days. You have to bring it to the preparation stages of the process when you are working with your teammates, and in many cases competing to see the field.
The high level of competition should not overshadow the huge amount of cooperation and camaraderie among players especially within the units and even among players competing with one another on the depth chart. When players are talking to one another on the side or between reps in drills, they are talking about football, often regurgitating what has been told by a coach or offering constructive critiques on one another's technique.
Coaches, for their part, are extremely meticulous about detail. For example, David Yost spent several minutes working with his inside receivers on the finer points of being violent with their arms in the hopes that detail will start to become habit. There's not a lot of yelling about plays being "good" or "bad." Instead, you hear constant advice on how something could have bit just a little bit better.
This is our new culture, folks. This is Mike Leach football.