The Cougars scrimmage on Saturday for the first time this spring and got a chance to evaluate some of their younger players and early enrollees.
PULLMAN – The young players and early enrollees got ample opportunity to showcase their talents when Washington State held its first live scrimmage of the spring Saturday morning at Martin Stadium.
While the returning starters all got enough reps to knock off any residual rust, the Cougars used Saturday’s scrimmage – the halfway point of the spring practice season – as a chance to evaluate some new faces.
Junior college transfer Sean Harper and middle linebacker Justus Rogers led the defense with five tackles each, while Harper also broke up two passes from the strong safety position.
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Rogers, formerly a quarterback at Bellevue High, looked comfortable at his new position of middle linebacker. He picked off backup quarterback Anthony Gordon for the day’s lone interception, and also had a big sack.
“I think he looks like a linebacker, I think he has the mindset of a linebacker in that he’s willing to be physical,” WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said of Rogers, who’s gained 10 pounds this offseason.
WSU’s defense finished with nine sacks, with Isaac Dotson and Nick Begg each contributing two.
Freshman Zaire Webb, who enrolled at WSU in January, took the backup free safety spot across from Harper and had two pass breakups on the day.
Jalen Thompson and Robert Taylor remain the presumptive starters at strong safety and free safety, respectively, but the emergence of Harper and Webb could add much-needed depth in the backfield.
Grinch seemed reasonably pleased with Harper and Webb, but also noted that it’s too early to truly evaluate what they’ve done this spring because neither player is comfortable with the defense yet.
“Sean Harper, it’s his eighth practice, and we’ve installed like he’s been here three years. Same thing with Zaire Webb,” Grinch said. “Their heads are spinning, they’re making a million mistakes. Hopefully the mistakes they make this coming Tuesday are a little different from the ones they made today, and they’re communicating better and inching this thing along.”
Offensively, Tyler Hilinski had the best outing of all the quarterbacks, finishing 16 of 24 for 203 yards, with four touchdowns. Luke Falk went 9 of 21 for 97 yards but did not manage a touchdown.
Two of Hilinski’s four touchdowns went to his roommate C.J. Dimry, who led all receivers with five receptions for 84 yards and two scores.
Dimry, a senior who in January received a medical waiver from the NCAA to play a sixth year, caught touchdown passes of five and 31 yards. He played sparingly last season, but is in the mix for a starting spot at outside receiver.
“He’s improved a lot even since last year,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “I thought he did some good things today.”
The Cougars also got solid production out of their inside receivers. Robert Lewis caught four balls for 56 yards while Kyle Sweet caught four balls for 52 yards.
On the offensive line, Fred Mauigoa took most of the first team reps at center, with B.J. Salmonson at right guard. Mauigoa did, however, have two bad snaps to Gordon. The sophomore center attributed these to the new snap counts that were introduced to the offense the day before.
After the scrimmage, Leach held his centers and quarterbacks back to work on their exchanges.
“It’s not like we had so many bad snaps. But we’re spraying it all over the place, so we just have to be more consistent,” Leach said.
Aside from the fumbled snaps, the offense also turned the ball over twice – once when Rogers intercepted Gordon, and then again when running back James Williams fumbled and lost a ball.
Williams finished with three carries for 41 yards and a touchdown, but also had two drops.
“I thought James ran well, I didn’t think James played as good as he can overall,” Leach said. “He has been consistent, but he turned the ball over and dropped balls.”
Jamal Morrow led the running backs with four rushes for 43 yards and a touchdown, and he also caught three passes for 15 yards. Leach says Morrow has the best hands of WSU’s running backs, and this spring, the Cougars have tried to use him more in the passing game.
The kicking game left much to be desired. Senior Erik Powell missed his first two field goal attempts – from 27 yards and 32 yards – but made a 38-yarder and 42-yarder. Sammamish native Jack Crane also missed from 27 and 32 yards but eventually converted from 37 yards out.
Leach was unimpressed.
“If Powell thinks he’s a Pac-12 kicker, he’s gotta hit every one of them,” Leach said. “I don’t know exactly why he missed, but he’s gotta start hitting every one. And I don’t mean just some of them.”