WSU special teams coach Eric Mele evaluates his unit's performance thus far.

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Washington State got a couple of days off earlier this week, but returned to the practice field on Wednesday. Per Jacob Thorpe, the team scrimmaged ones-vs-ones and the defense didn’t put up a great showing.

I caught up with special teams coach Eric Mele to get his evaluation of how his squad has performed through the first three games. The Cougars’ special teams squads have blocked two kicks so far thanks to Destiny Vaeao and Robert Barber. But they’ve also given up chunk yardage and a touchdown on kickoff and punt returns. Here’s Mele’s take on the situation.

Qn: Against Rutgers, Janarion Grant returned a kickoff to the house and had a 55-yard punt return Against Wyoming, D.J. Mays had kickoff returns of 38 and 20 yards. What’s been the problem on kickoff coverage?

Eric Mele: I think it’s more individual plays than anything schematically. Against Rutgers, the first five or six kicks we did a pretty good job. Then we gave one up and it went for a big play. Against Wyoming, we had a bad kick on the first one, and the other two, one guy didn’t do his job, otherwise it would have been everything contained within the 20s. I tell the guys that any one rep on special teams can change things drastically. It’s all about maintaining that focus on individual plays. We talk about going 1-0 on every play and doing it for 60 minutes. I was disappointed for the players, they played well for three quarters at Rutgers, but you can’t let up, you can’t relax when you play special teams because a critical play can affect the outcome of the game.

Qn: So have you switched up anything on the kickoff squad?

Mele: There’s been some movement since the first game, but we have our core guys and once they do it over and over with repetition, it’s only going to get better and better.

Qn: Kyrin Priester was your punt return guy for the first couple of games, then you switched to Gabe Marks against Wyoming. Why is that?

Mele: Gabe has been competing for that job in camp as well and he’s kinda risen in his play. Priester has a lot on his plate right now, and we figured that as he comes along and develops, it’s better to let him focus on offense.

Qn: What makes Marks a good option as a punt returner?

Mele: Gabe is a confident football player. He wants the ball in his hands, and that’s what you want from the punt returner. He’s a smart kid.

Qn: How would you assess punter Zach Charme’s play through the first three games?

Mele: There’s only one punt we’d like to have back. Other than that, for a freshman, he’s executed the way we want him to. We’re pleased with the way he’s going and he’s off to a good start.

Qn: What about Charme caught your eye when you were recruiting him?

Mele: He had a good average in high school, and his net was very close to his average. He had good hang time and a good leg. And when he came for his visit, he was very coachable and always looking for more. For hang time, the biggest thing you look for is that you want it to be over the yardage. He averaged like 40 yards in high school and probably had four- second hang time. For us now, his hang time is better than his distance, and that’s what you want. He’s in the 4.3 to 4.4 second range, and his average is 43.4 (yards). We also do some directional stuff and he’s doing a good job of putting it where we want him to.

Qn: On Twitter, you use the hashtag “#WSUSpecialForces” a lot when referring to your special teams guys. Where did that come from?

Mele: Well, soldiers put their lives on the line every day. We’re not quite doing that, but there are a lot of common things to draw off (in regard to) the values you can take from them and things like that. We gave special teams a unit to emulate themselves after.


Mele had lots of complimentary things to say about kicker Erik Powell (5-of-6 FG, long of 47) as well, but I’m saving that for a story I’m working on about Powell. So, you guys will get to read it eventually. Just not right now!

Now, some links:

— WSU coach Mike Leach is staying out of the spat between Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema that stemmed from philosophical differences on offensive football strategy. Kingsbury is an Air Raid disciple, Bielema likes three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football. They don’t seem to like each other. The LA Times’ Chris Dufresne, however, says the spread is here to stay. Sorry Bret.

My take: This is a stupid argument. Bielema insinuated that the spread is “dangerous” for the players because of how many more plays spread teams run. Really? Come on. Leach thinks it’s dumb too. As he said on the Pac-12 conference call: “The notion of dangerousness is absurd. It was absurd from the beginning. It’s clearly not dangerous.”

— CougCenter has this piece about former WSU quarterback Connor Halliday being featured on Esquire Network’s “The Agent.”

— WazzuWatch’s Scott Hood says the Cougs are statistically in the exact same place they were in this time last year. Is that good or bad? You be the judge.

— This weekend’s Kansas vs. Rutgers game is being touted as “The Futility Bowl.” Or the “Power Five Dumpster Fire of the Year.” That’s pretty funny, right?