PULLMAN -- The Cougs are six days into spring ball and the position battles are heating up. Here's…
SPRING DAY 7: McGuire raves about line depth
A week removed from losing one of their vocal leaders, senior safety Deone Bucannon, the Cougars lost a few more bodies Thursday with various injuries as the rain soaked surface played menace to team. During practice, senior WILL linebacker Justin Sagote left practice early with a left shoulder injury. Team trainers worked with Sagote for about 15 minutes and determined he could not return. Sagote iced his shoulder and headed to the stationary bike for the remainder of the afternoon. The injury did not appear serious. Third-year sophomore Tana Pritchard claimed the position for the remainder of the day. About 20 minutes later, fourth-year junior Toni Pole went down with an apparent right knee injury. He also did not return and had his knee iced. That left the team without its top two nose tackles from last season as senior Ioane Guata was absent Thursday. While it is early to speculate, it should be noted that Gauta had his right knee checked out by trainers at the tail end of Tuesday's practice and missed three or four final plays that day. It didn't appear serious at the time, but it's something to keep an eye on. As for the healthy bodies, third-year offensive lineman Joe Dahl continues to stick out in the trenches, and took most of the first-team run at left guard. McGuire seems impressed by the progression Dahl and the rest of the line has made just a few short months. "Joe's been really consistent," McGuire said. "He's ready to play and the biggest thing about Joe is he's so relaxed out there." Leach echoed the sentiment. "His worst plays aren't just busts, he'll get a piece of the guy," Leach said. "His bad plays are below average and his good plays are good plays. They're not just flat out busts, they're stuff you can survive." Consistency is something the offensive line could use a good injection of this season after giving up 57 sacks in 2012. Dahl isn't the only one making strides though. "Dotson and Eduardo Middleton are playing really well," Leach said. "[Jacob] Seydel has done good. He's a lot like Joe Dahl. His bad plays are pretty good." Leach said all of the new guys have picked blocking schemes up quickly and said the team is noticeably bigger and stronger which, as a result, has led to better practices. Those new guys have taken quite a bit of pressure off of both Leach and McGuire, allowing them to have some leverage at practice, conversely allowing complacency to be thrown on the backburner. "We don't have a starting lineup or a second string right now," McGuire said. "We have 10 guys competing, and if they have three or four bad days in a row and not taking our coaching right, we'll just replace them." The odd man out may end up being fourth-year junior Jake Rodgers. The Spokane native started every game last season, but after missing this entire spring with a shoulder injury Rodgers will have to battle his way back this fall to crack the two deeps. "He had to play every single position last season but center," McGuire said. "I have high expectations for Jake." McGuire said this spring he's had the ability to grab hold of the coaching title and really have fun with the guys. He said added competition and position battles have made his job that much more entertaining this spring. "Well, it's always fun," McGuire joked. "We wouldn't coach if we didn't love it. It's awfully nice to have guys to compete and move around though. Last year was fun too, it was just unique in that guys were giving everything they had and earning their play." On the defensive side of the ball, Dockery again had a big day, intercepting two more passes and entrenching himself in the rotation with the first-team defense. Dockery's two interceptions give him five in the past three practices. "The light's kind of gone on," Leach said. "Dockery will focus for a while and then he can break out the blank look on you, so we're not getting too much of the blank look which I think is a good thing." Leach added the transition from receiver to corner added to the lack of focus at times, but said he's taken a step forward since the end of last season and is making strides. Here are the Cougs starting units from the seventh spring practice: **Once again, extensive rotations took place throughout the entire afternoon and these 1s were fluid. OFFENSE QB: Connor Halliday and Austin Apodaca RB: Teondray Caldwell and Marcus Mason X: Dominique Williams Z: Gabe Marks and Kristoff Williams Y: Brett Bartolone H: Rickey Galvin and Bobby Ratliff LT: Gunnar Eklund (Zack Brevick got some time) LG: Joe Dahl (John Fullington got some time) C: Elliott Bosch RG: Matt Goetz RT: Rico Forbes (Eduardo Middleton got some time) DEFENSE LE: Matthew Bock NT: Toni Pole and Darryl Paulo RE: Xavier Cooper BUCK: Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio SAM: Cyrus Coen and Jeremiah Allison MIKE: Darryl Monroe WILL: Tana Pritchard CB: Anthony Carpenter (Nolan Washington ran with the 2s) FS: Casey Locker SS: Taylor Taliulu CB: Damante Horton (Rahmel Dockery ran with the 1s) KR: Leon Brooks, Robert Lewis, Brett Bartolone INJURY NOTES: Linebacker Chester Sua missed practice and was not suited for undisclosed reasons. Bucannon did not participate in any contact drills. Gauta did not attend practice for undisclosed reasons. Cornerback Alex Jackson missed practice with a shoulder injury. Sagote exited practice early with a shoulder injury. Pole left practice with a right knee injury. NOTABLE NOTES: The Cougars are off Friday, but will be back at it Saturday. The Cougs will begin practice at 1:15 -- and will officially scrimmage for the first time this spring. The 110-play scrimmage is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. in Martin Stadium. The Crimson & Gray Game will be held April 20 in Spokane (2 p.m. kickoff). It will culminate a week's worth of events WSU is holding in the Lilac City, including an April 15 gathering at Northern Quest Casino featuring Mike Price and several of his players from his 1997 Pac-10 champion team. They'll be showing highlights from that year's Apple Cup victory.
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