PULLMAN — Fall camp isn’t over at Washington State, but the Cougars have made it through the most grueling and daunting part: six days in Lewiston, Idaho, where temperatures stayed anywhere between 96 and 106 degrees and practices ran around three hours long.
The team will hold 15 more practices and two important scrimmages before opening the season against New Mexico State. While the Cougars may still be a ways out from releasing any sort of depth chart, a handful of players helped their chances this past week.
We take a look at five Cougars who left Lewiston looking better than they did when they arrived.
Anthony Gordon, quarterback
The Cougars, in all likeliness, weren’t expecting to come out of Lewiston with a starting quarterback, and even though Gordon beat out Trey Tinsley and Gage Gubrud for a spot on this list, it doesn’t mean he’s a shoo-in to succeed Gardner Minshew. Friday’s live scrimmage will be another important step in that process, but this waiting game could continue through the rest of the month.
All three were sporadic with their accuracy and efficiency and none truly separated themselves during the team’s six-day stay at Sacajawea. But Gordon was the one who best helped his chances. Gordon got five offensive drives over the course of six practices, and simply because of the rotation, Gubrud and Tinsley each had four. In the scored reps, we tallied 36 completions for Gordon on 58 attempts, giving him a final percentage of 62. Tinsley matched him, while Gubrud finished below 60 percent.
Tinsley and Gubrud weren’t intercepted in Lewiston. Gordon had three picks, but he was the touchdown leader with nine, compared to seven for Tinsley and five for Gubrud. And Gordon strung together two of the most impressive drives during a two-day span. After throwing a pick on the first snap of Tuesday’s team period, he wasn’t intercepted again, and completed 16 of his final 26 passes, while throwing six touchdowns during that stretch.
Friday’s scrimmage could generate more than a few answers about the QB competition, but for now, Gordon looks like the most decisive, most accurate signal caller out there, and as we’ve noted before, he has the most capable arm of the three.
Dillon Sherman, “Mike” linebacker
When the redshirt junior walked up to a group interview Sunday, he looked much leaner and stronger than he did a year ago. And Sherman didn’t lack either thing as a redshirt sophomore, either. But his newfound instincts in pass coverage could finally give Sherman the edge he needs to win the “Mike” linebacker job, where the Cougars have to replace former program leader Peyton Pelluer.
Sherman has played in 26 games for the Cougars since his redshirt freshman season, but the linebacker who has 53 career tackles still doesn’t have a pass breakup or interception. It’s evident he’s improved in that area because he looked just as disruptive as any defensive back Monday, tallying two pass breakups. And when the offense and defense were at a stalemate near the end of the team period, coach Mike Leach was prepared to award a victory to the unit that won the final play.
Max Borghi caught a pass from Gordon in the flat, and in a situation where he could’ve easily over pursued, Sherman trusted his fundamentals and stood the running back up as help came.
Just like quarterback, it’s hard to declare a firm starter at the “Mike” spot after six days, but Sherman is still giving Justus Rogers a run for his money.
“(Justus) is a good linebacker; he’s really good, really smart out there,” Sherman said. “I learn from him, he learns from me. That linebacker room is really tight, and we really love each other.”
Justus Rogers, “Mike” linebacker
Rogers is still taking the majority of No. 1 reps at “Mike” linebacker, although defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has been adamant the competition at every spot is fluid and there’s still plenty of time to rearrange the depth chart before the season opener.
Rogers hasn’t had to worry about that, and so far hasn’t lost his place in the pecking order because he’s played as well as Sherman throughout the first week at camp — and better at times. The redshirt junior is a former quarterback who’s more adept in pass coverage than Sherman, and had an exceptional day five, snagging two interceptions and leaving another one on the table. He had four pass breakups.
The Cougars are still unproven at a number of positions on defense — spots such as nose tackle, cornerback and free safety are being contested by players without much experience — and are waiting for somebody to emerge as a starting-caliber player. At “Mike,” they essentially have two starters, and will rotate them throughout games.
“They’re both doing really, really well,” inside linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni said Wednesday. “I talked to Dillon about it last night and it’s not day to day, it’s even play to play. They’re both stepping up, the competition between those two guys is neck and neck. They’re both doing a really good job. I’m really happy with where they’re at.”
Daniel Isom, free safety
Isom, the junior-college transfer from Iowa Western, trained at cornerback during the spring, but a sudden need at free safety after the departure of Jalen Thompson prompted Claeys and his staff to change his position. Isom told reporters Wednesday he hadn’t played safety since his sophomore year of high school, but you wouldn’t know it judging by seven days of camp.
When camp opened, the Cougars were giving redshirt freshman Tyrese Ross the early repetitions at free safety. But that changed after the fourth day in camp, and the third day in Lewiston, when coaches replaced Ross with Isom. Ever since, Isom has been working with the No. 1 defense.
One member of a defensive secondary that could be primarily made up 60 percent of junior-college transfers, Isom had an interception on Gordon on day two and knocked away two Gubrud passes on day four.
Asked where he’s improved since spring camp, Isom said, “probably just buying in to saying, let’s do more. Just kind of focusing on doing my job and stuff, not talking about it. Just making sure I can come in every day and help out the team and do what I can.”
Kassidy Woods, “Y” receiver
Woods and Brandon Arconado are the team’s top options at “Y,” and even though Leach plays two guys at each receiver position, Woods and Arconado could be battling for one spot. If Jamire Calvin returns to the field in the next week or two we can presume the two-year starter will eventually take his job back.
In seven practices, we unofficially have Woods for 15 catches and three touchdown grabs. Even with the volume the Cougars use in their passing game, those numbers are impressive, considering how many different wideouts are getting reps right now.
“He’s doing a great job,” slot receiver Travell Harris said. “He wanted another big guy in the slot and we feel like that’s what we need.”