A daily fall practice update from The Spokesman-Review’s Washington State beat writer, Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR). We set the scene, list the day’s important notes, highlight one big play, pick the standouts and slip-ups, track the quarterback race and dissect one talking point from post-practice interviews.
Setting the scene
Where: Rogers Field/Martin Stadium in Pullman
Start/finish: 3:30 p.m./6:15 p.m.
Temperature: 84 degrees, mostly sunny
Equipment: Helmets and shoulder pads
- And then there were two. Wednesday offered another big, potentially decisive clue about the quarterback race. For the second straight day, Anthony Gordon and Gage Gubrud were the only passers taking snaps during 1-on-1, skeleton and team period. Mike Leach indicated before camp he wanted to narrow the competition down to two players sooner than last year, and said it would be ideal to have a starter named about two weeks before the opener. There’s been no confirmation from the team, but this seems like the first phase in that process. That is, unless Leach sticks Trey Tinsley back in there Thursday, which brings us back to square one. (More on the QBs below).
- With starting right guard Josh Watson out of commission Wednesday, the Cougars adjusted by sliding redshirt sophomore Brian Greene into the spot. Greene primarily serves as the team’s backup center, but the move Wednesday also indicates he could be their third choice at offensive guard. “His (progress) started shortly after he walked on here. He looked kind of promising as a pass protector and would sometimes get overpowered. Then he got better and better at that, so then we put him inside and he’s done a good job at center. Then he’s playing some guard now, too.”
- For the second time in a week’s span, one of the team’s top two “X” receivers was held out of practice (see below), allowing Rodrick Fisher to spell one of the starters and catch a few more passes than he would have otherwise. Fisher, a former all-state sprinter at Spokane’s East Valley, has had some of the best wheels on the team since he arrived on campus, but he’s hauling in passes with much more consistency now. “Looks really fast, looking very explosive,” Leach said. “Kind of powerful when he runs, too.”
- Coaches are still mixing and matching players in the defensive secondary. Spokane’s Armani Marsh got more reps with the first team, replacing Marcus Strong during skeleton and team drills. The rest of the unit looked similar: Skyler Thomas at nickel, Derrick Langford at the other corner, Bryce Beekman at free safety and Daniel Isom at strong safety.
- Three kickers, Blake Mazza, Jack Crane and Dean Janikowski, got opportunities during the daily field goal period. Mazza knocked in a 45-yarder, Crane made one from 45 and also missed from the same distance, while Janikowski missed from 45 yards out.
- Defensive tackle Will Rodgers III, after getting into a few scuffles Tuesday, was involved in a minor shoving match Wednesday, going back and forth with Robert Valencia after a play during team period.
- Valencia later got a mouthful from his position coach when he caused the offensive line to false-start during Gubrud’s series. He was yanked and replaced by Seth Yost before eventually returning to the No. 1 O-line.
- Matt Brock has still been giving out the Special Teams Player of the Day award after each practice. Tuesday, he handed it to a player with a familiar name, Tristan Brock, and Wednesday it went to linebacker Dominick Silvels, who stood out on kickoff return and kickoff coverage.
- Wednesday’s non-participant list was mostly consistent with the one we posted Tuesday. The following players did not participate: quarterback John Bledsoe, offensive lineman Jarrett Kingston, wide receiver Jamire Calvin, linebacker Dillon Sherman, cornerback Trey Davis, wide receiver Billy Pospisil, linebacker David Aldapa and defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo. Wide receiver Calvin Jackson Jr., right guard Josh Watson and defensive lineman Ahmir Crowder did not complete practice. And, for the 11th straight practice, offensive lineman Christian Haangana did not attend.
- The media spoke with coach Mike Leach, cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath, nose tackle Lamonte McDougle and wide receiver Renard Bell after practice.
One big play
Everyone saw what Easop Winston Jr. was capable of doing with two hands last season, when the junior caught 52 passes for 654 yards and eight touchdowns. Also of note, the City College of San Francisco transfer didn’t record a single drop until the Alamo Bowl.
Coaches prefer the two-handed approach, but Winston’s also shown a penchant for making the one-handed grab when necessary and there was one such instance during Wednesday’s team period. With his former CCSF teammate, Anthony Gordon, operating behind center, Winston ran a route toward the sideline and rose up to stick a ball that appeared to be too high and long for the 6-foot receiver.
Winston’s cover, Shahman Moore, seemed to think so, too, because the cornerback gave up on the ball well before it sailed over his head. Winston managed to pull it out of the air with a single hand, though, and stamped a toe in bounds before falling out.
(see the play in the video below, at the :55 mark)
Standout: Max Borghi reeled off a long touchdown run the unofficial statisticians in attendance estimated to be in the range of 65-70 yards. We could’ve easily featured that in the aforementioned section, too. The offensive line opened up a good-size hole for Borghi, who darted through, then stepped on the gas as he reached the next level, blazing past the linebackers and the safeties until there were no more white shirts in front of him.
(in the highlight video above, Borghi’s run can be seen at the 1:41 mark)
The sophomore running back also opened the team period with a long gainer, picking up 20 yards on a carry that took him through the middle of the defense before being held up in the secondary. Borghi got the ball again on the next play, chugging forward for another 10 yards.
Borghi has always been a player that’s sought out contact, so it can be easy to forget he also has top-notch speed. Leach said the second-year player is going north-south more than he was last year and Wednesday’s session was a prime example.
“I think he’s faster, I think he’s better at going straight upfield and not necessarily stretching things but just attacking and keeping straight upfield,” Leach said. “He had several long ones today, so I lose track as to which one.”
Slip-up: On Wednesday, cornerback Armani Marsh joined a long list of WSU defensive backs who’ve been torched with some regularity by a single Cougar wide receiver. And that may say more about the WSU wideouts than it says about the redshirt sophomore defensive back. Marsh has floated from side to side the past few days, but Wednesday he lined up against WSU’s “X” receivers most often than not.
Marsh, who’s substantially shorter than 6-foot-3 Tay Martin – 7 inches to be exact – was burned by the junior receiver on a handful of occasions during the 1-on-1 period and consistenly struggled with Fisher, too. It makes it hard when you’re smaller than the opponent –especially for corners who spend most of their time on an island – but both Martin and Fisher have a speed advantage on Marsh, too. But, these duels should make the Gonzaga Prep product better in the long run.
Keeping up with the QBs
Leach won’t confess to trimming the competiton down to two players and it sounds like the coach didn’t make a teamwide announcement. No surprise there, either.
“We just go out there and catch balls, no matter who the quarterback is, to be honest,” Renard Bell said. “I don’t know if it’s a two-man race or not, I don’t really pay attention to it. But … is it?”
While there has been no official declaration, it would be a total surprise – and unprecedented – if Leach brought Trey Tinsley back out to the practice field after keeping him off it for two straight days. For now, we’ll go with the assumption that Anthony Gordon and Gage Gubrud are the only QBs in the running for the starting gig.
Neither player was as good as they were the day before and I’d advise readers to take Wednesday’s numbers with a grain of salt. Officially, Gordon had the better line, completing 9-of-13 passes for one touchdown. Gubrud was 7-of-13 with a touchdown, but two of his passes were dropped. Winston lost one that was thrown about hip-high, then hit himself on the helmet, acknowledging the missed opportunity. Running back Jouvensly Bazile let another one bounce off his chest and was ordered to do a set of push-ups on the sideline.
Gubrud produced a few explosive plays, hitting Brandon Arconado over the top of safety Daniel Isom for what would’ve been a 50-plus yard completion. And Gubrud’s only touchdown came on a similar play. The transfer heaved a long pass to Bell, covered by Matthew Dandridge, down the left sideline and watched the receiver gallop off for a 40-plus yard TD.
Gordon showed off his touch on the throw to touchdown we broke down earlier and fared better near the end of his series, completing three of his last six passes, whereas Gubrud saw his last four fall incomplete.
“Both were pretty sharp,” Leach said.
Who had the edge: Gordon. Gubrud’s offense couldn’t punch in a touchdown while in the red zone and even though Gordon was spotty toward the end of his period, his unit was able to cross the goal line on the touchdown to Winston.
“There’s a lot of times where we would beat defenses deep throughout the game last year, but sometimes the ball just doesn’t find us. So I think it is a real big misconception that inside receivers can’t be a deep threat, because we have speed, too. We can make those big catches and those big-time plays as well.”
– “H” wide receiver Renard Bell, on the misconception inside receivers can’t be deep threats.