PULLMAN -- The audible concern surrounding the WSU defense dropped another decibel level after a pair of safeties turned in solid performances Tuesday in Martin Stadium. There were shark tales, too. Meanwhile, the quarterback picture looked less muddled, as Jeff Tuel received a majority of the snaps behind center. What did Mike Leach have to say about the ongoing position battle after practice?
Not much, as usual.
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The head coach, for all his quirks, would rather keep fans, media and opposing teams guessing about player personnel.
“Nah, and you’ll be one of the last to know,” Leach quipped after being asked whether the quarterback landscape had changed since Saturday’s scrimmage. “We’re giving Tuel a few more reps but they’re both looking good I think.”
Tuel reinforced that notion during skeleton drills and the daily scrimmage, consistently hitting his check downs when the secondary blanketed his wide receivers.
The highlight of his practice came during a simulated overtime competition between the first-team offense and second-team defense.
WITH THE OFFENSE facing a third-and-long from just inside the red zone, Tuel turned to his proven playmaker for the second consecutive day.
The senior signal caller dropped back, looked off the lurking safeties and threaded a touchdown pass to Marquess Wilson across the middle.
Halliday also completed a high percentage of throws in skeleton drills and the team session -- hooking up with Gabe Marks, as well as the other stable of wide receivers. However, the redshirt sophomore spent a majority of the afternoon running with the 2’s.
During the OT competition, Halliday couldn’t develop a rhythm with the second unit. His day ended on third-and-long when he airmailed a ball over the middle and right into Deone Bucannon’s outstretched hands.
THE INTERCEPTION CAPPED an afternoon sprinkled with stellar defensive plays from nearly every position group.
Sophomore cornerback Tracy Clark, after struggling much of camp to contain Gabe Marks, made a number of nice pass break-ups during skeleton drills and the one-on-one competitions.
Additionally, freshman safety Taylor Taliulu continued his ascent up the depth chart.
The true freshman out of Hawaii received extensive time at free safety in place of veterans Tyree Toomer and Anthony Carpenter for the second consecutive practice. Recently, Carpenter had been getting time playing with the starting unit.
MEANWHILE, THE DEFENSIVE front seven showcased good penetration for the second consecutive day.
BUCK linebacker Travis Long, while playing down in a three-point stance, made the headiest play of the afternoon when he sniffed out a screen pass to Marcus Mason before bringing the sophomore running back to the ground.
The overall performance of the defense even impressed WSU’s offensive mastermind.
“I think our linebackers have been playing really well,” Leach said. “Our secondary ended up with more depth than we expected and some pretty good speed guys. And we continue to improve on the d-line. I think they’ve played well.”
Taliulu echoed the head coach’s sentiment after a practice in which he picked off a pass that deflected off Gino Simone and Eric Oertel and returned it for a “touchdown.”
“Yeah, I think so,” Taliulu said when asked if the Crimson D could emerge as a sleeper unit in the Pac-12 North. “We’re working hard with Coach Breske to get all our reads down. I think we’ll be one to look out for.”
But Marks abused the secondary consistently again on Tuesday. The catch of his afternoon came when he inexplicably managed to haul in a reception from Halliday despite being draped, held and blanketed by Ray Ford.
Undoubtedly a defensive pass interference penalty had the play occurred in a game, the excessively physical coverage didn’t keep WSU’s freshman sensation from hauling in the reception by dragging his toe in the back of the end zone.
Running back Carl Winston continued to split starting time with freshman Teondray Caldwell. Winston has performed steadily throughout fall camp, showcasing the burst and strength WSU fans saw flashes of in 2011. On Tuesday, he busted a long touchdown run up the middle with the type of aggressiveness that could earn him substantial playing time this fall.
Cougar fans needn’t worry about defending long kickoff returns in 2012 because punter Michael Bowlin can flat punish the football. He consistently blasted the pigskin through the end zone on kickoffs on Tuesday -- again.
In the spirit of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, I asked Leach if he ever encountered a great white while fishing in Key West. His full response can be found below. His answer should shock no one.
Leach’s Shark Story:
We had one ... this is kind of a bad deal. It was Shark Week. We were with the staff down there in Key West. As a matter of fact, if you want to read it it's in my paperback book that's out right now, which everyone should by. Just because you have the hardback doesn't mean you shouldn't buy the paperback.
There's a place called Snipes. And what it is, it's kind of a sandbar with shallow water and boats all congregate out there and kind of picnic and throw Nerf footballs and stand in chest deep water. So we're out there and it's towards the end of the day. And it's Shark Week. And leaving the hotel, a couple guys on staff had watched Shark Week on TV, so they were already pretty amped up on the whole shark thing.
Me and a buddy of mine -- I've known him for years; one of my best friends in Key West -- were still out in the water. And on the boat, they'd been eating chicken. Dion's Chicken. If you ever go to Key West you need to try it. So they're eating chicken, throwing the bones in the water, essentially chumming pretty much anything that's swimming around there.
So as Joe and I are coming towards the boat, a fella named Charlie gets in the boat and says 'I don't want to alarm you, but there's a big shark circling this boat.' We realized we're probably about 65 yards from the boat. But we are in chest-deep water. And son of a gun there's a shark circling that boat.
So what we do is we got together so we looked as big an object as possible. And the one thing was I will say we weren't swimming. Our feet were on the ground. If it came to any hand-to-hand stuff, we probably would've lost our arms and everything, but probably would've survived.
The shark would swim one way ... we'd scoot up to the boat and stop and stand there. The one thing I will say: The shark, he didn't look like he was all stirred up. He kind of looked like he was kind of swimming through his neighborhood and looking for some more chicken bones, to be perfectly honest. So we worked our way up to the boat and climbed into the boat."
Those who didn’t practice because of injuries included:
Xavier Cooper (NT) (Cooper was out of walking boot, however), Robert Barber (NT) (who was on crutches), Toni Pole (NT) Kristoff Williams (WR), Isiah Myers (WR)
Meanwhile, the two-deeps are starting to become clearer on defense. Leach, however, continued on Tuesday to shuffle a variety of guys in and out with the second-team offense.
Running with the 1’s
QB- Jeff Tuel
RB- Teondray Caldwell/Carl Winston
LT- John Fullington
LG- Matt Goetz
C- Elliott Bosch
RG- Wade Jacobson
RT- Jake Rodgers
X WR- Marquess Wilson
Y WR- Andrei Lintz
H WR- Gino Simone/Bennett Bontemps
Z WR- Gabe Marks
Running with the 1’s
LT- Matthew Bock
NT- Ioane Gauta
RT- Steven Hoffart
BUCK- Travis Long
SAM: Eric Oertel
WILL- Chester Sua
MIKE- Darryl Monroe
SS- Deone Bucannon
FS- Taylor Taliulu
CB- Damante Horton
CB- Nolan Washington
Running with the 2’s on D:
LT- David Davis
NT- Austin Brown
RT- Destiny Vaeao
BUCK- Logan Mayes
SAM- Cyrus Coen
WILL- Justin Sagote
MIKE- Jared Byers
SS- Casey Locker
FS- Tyree Toomer
CB- Daniel Simmons
CB- Tracy Clark