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: Sacajawea Middle School in Lewiston
Start/finish: 2 p.m./4 p.m.
Temperature: 101 degrees, cloudy
Equipment: Helmets and shoulder pads
NotableDuring the skeleton period, we briefly saw Dillon Sherman, rather than Justus Rogers, work with the No. 1 defense. Nickel Pat Nunn also spent brief time with the starters.“Rush” linebacker Willie Taylor III, one of the team’s top pass-rushers in 2018, talked to the media about the players he models his game after: “Number one would be Von Miller and this guy who kind of grew up close to where I’m from down in Georgia, he went to the University of Georgia and now plays with the Chicago Bears, Leonard Floyd. I definitely look up to him, then Khalil Mack.”In the field goal period, Blake Mazza, Dean Janikowski, Jack Crane and Andrew Boyle all took shots at the uprights. Mazza was good from 40 yards, Janikowski from 35 and Crane from 38. Boyle also made a field goal, but we weren’t able to determine the distance.The non-participants on Thursday were wide receiver Jamire Calvin and linebacker David Aldapa. Quarterback John Bledsoe and offensive lineman David Aldapa didn’t attend.One last reminder the Cougars will be back in Pullman for a scrimmage at Martin Stadium. The team will hold pre-practice drills and get some special teams work in before beginning the actuall scrimmage sometime before 8 p.m.Defensive line coach Jeff Phelps, “Rush” linebacker Willie Taylor III and wide receiver Travell Harris spoke to the media after practice Thursday.
One big play
Clay Markoff, the bulldozing redshirt junior fullback, who usually does his best work when he’s mowing defenders over, didn’t need to do that on a 15-yard scoring run Thursday. Markoff lost some substantial weight when the 2018 season ended, improving his ability to cut and maneuver.
Markoff received a handoff from Gage Gubrud on the fifth play of the drive and side-stepped one defender, before weaving through a few more, patiently working toward the sideline before eventually crossing the goal line.
The fullback could play a more prominent role in WSU’s backfield this season and seems to have emerged as the No. 2 option behind Max Borghi. Leach said earlier in the week the Cougars wouldn’t have to use him exclusively in short-yardage situations, and his skill set seems to be continually evolving.
Standouts & slip-ups
Standout: This one wasn’t hard. During the shortened team period, the WSU quarterbacks threw a combined 21 passes. Of those, six were caught by “X” receiver Rodrick Fisher, who was getting a few extra reps next to Calvin Jackson Jr. with Tay Martin out of the mix.
Fisher’s six grabs included four touchdown passes and he seemed to be clicking with each of the three quarterbacks, hauling in at least one score from each. He turned in one of the day’s top highlights, too, securing a touchdown pass from Gage Gubrud with just one hand.
The Spokane native and East Valley grad is clearly third on the depth chart at the “X” position right now, sitting behind two older players with more experience, but he made the most of an opportunity on Thursday and could earn a few more depending how things shake out.
Slip-up: The player Fisher was filling in for, Tay Martin, did not complete practice and was excused from a drill by Leach after about an hour. Martin trotted to the sideline, where he took off his pads and practice attire, then sat on the grass for a fair amount of time before being sent to “muscle beach” by his head coach.
Leach said afterward, “Tay was working on skill building with the strength coaches.”
Nonetheless, it’ll be interesting to see how Martin works into the scrimmage rotation tomorrow, and if he or Fisher will be the one splitting reps with Jackson Jr.
Keeping up with the QBs
Thursday’s practice was about an hour shorter than usual and the team period was also abbreviated. But for the first time this camp, all three quarterbacks took reps, each starting inside the 50-yard line as opposed to the 20-yard line and driving the length of the field. Because it was a shortened period and because full pads weren’t on, there wasn’t quite as much to glean.
But nonetheless, here’s how the three fared: Gage Gubrud went first, completing 5-of-6 passes, hitting Fisher for three of the five completions. Gubrud should’ve been “sacked” on one play, but he kept it alive, scrambling out of harm and firing to touchdown in the near corner of the left side of the end zone for his only score. In total, Gubrud’s unit got into the end zone three times, because both Clay Markoff and Jouvensly Bazil scored from the ground.
Next up was Trey Tinsley, who didn’t miss once, finishing an impressive 6-of-6 with two touchdowns – both of them to outside receivers (Easop Winston Jr. and Fisher). Albeit these drives were about half as long as the ones we’ve been seeing, this was the first time any of the QBs finished without an incompletion. Most of the time, they’ve hovered between 60 and 70 percent.
Anthony Gordon closed with two touchdowns, hitting on 5-of-9 of his passes. The redshirt senior’s numbers were slightly skewed, because running back Deon McIntosh dropped a pass in the end zone that should’ve been caught. Fisher and Kassidy Woods both hung onto touchdown passes from Gordon, and the QB nearly had a third, but cornerback George Hicks III made an impressive diving deflection on the final play of the series. Gordon showed good instincts earler in the series, though, flipping a shovel pass to Woods on the run before the defense could reach him.
Who had the edge: Tinsley. The quarterback didn’t miss a pass and had consecutive touchdowns and he was easily the most efficient and effective passer Thursday.
“It kind of affects it, but at the same time it kind of doesn’t. Because all you’ve got to do is, coach (Matt) Brock tries to tell us, get your hands on the shoulder pads, get our hands in front and then just drive. And have low pad level. At the same time, everybody wants to see a big hit, but as long as you push your guy the way for me to get in a hole, that’s cool.”
– Travell Harris, the Cougars’ kick returner, talks about the NCAA’s outlawing of blindside his and blocks, and how it will change the return game.