Speaking of which, let’s start this post off with a little game. See if you can guess which one is the Mom?
OK – That was an easy one just to get you warmed up. How about this one? The first correct response wins an autographed June Daugherty jockstrap.
Speaking of Daugherty, she was one of several hundred spectators on hand to watch the Cougs close out Spring practice at Martin stadium this afternoon, on an absolutely beautiful day. Here she is giving another spectator a big hug behind the west endzone.
The little arms wrapped around Big June’s waist belong to none other than Keith Gilbertson. Disturbing, I know.
It was an absolutely glorious day in Pullman – the first day of legitimate “shorts weather”, Cougar Football and twice the number of women in town as usual.
I arrived in town early for some fraternity business and made my way to the Coug at about 10:15 for my blind date with Longball. To my dismay, the Coug was closed(?!) so I decided to make my way to the Bookie. As I looked up the sidewalk I saw a young guy hobbling around with a cane and knew it must be Longball. (It was good to meet you buddy. Hopefully you’ll be back in fighting shape soon.) We walked up to the Bookie for some caffeine and then headed for Martin.
With the scrimmage having been canceled, I wasn’t expecting a big turnout but there was an easy 1000+ people in the stands and on the sidelines. There were a few die-hards there, including “The 20-Yardline Crew” (above), as well as one guy that I’m sure most of you would prefer to see nowhere near Martin Stadium. Hopefully, the fact that he was wearing shorts and top-siders, instead of a crimson #10 is good enough – but yes, even Alex Brink took in the action.
So Alex (in the baby blue polo), what did you think of Gary Rogers’ arm?
Observation #1 (of actual football stuff): Gary Rogers is big and strong. I’ve known that all along I guess, but I’ve never had the chance to see him throw this much. He looked great in drills, making all the throws – and I honestly didn’t see a single pass with a wobble on it. Toward the end of the practice, the first team O ran the 2-minute drill against the first team D and Rogers drove them down for a score with ease.
Somebody had to catch those passes and on this day, the guy who stood out was Michael Willis. Without hesitation, I would say that Willis was the star of the day. After all his injuries and the move from safety to wide receiver, I would not have been surprised if we never actually heard from this guy – but he was incredible today. Gibson didn’t play much (when he did, he was money), and Blackledge didn’t make much noise, so it was Willis’ day and he made the most of it. He caught a beautiful 40-yard seam between a corner and a safety for the biggest play of that 2-minute drill and then capped off the drive with a nice catch for a TD on a ball that was thrown a bit behind him. Proving that there was a reason he started out as a safety, he also laid some hat, with a crushing block on a nice run around the left side. If Willis can stay healthy, look for big things out of him this fall.
Contrary to what we were lead to believe, several running backs played today and all showed flashes. Mitz and Jace Perry looked good, as did Chris Ivory – who broke a long run down the sideline for a score – and pulled up with a hamstring as he crossed the goal line. He watched the rest of practice on crutches from the sideline. Marcus Richmond and Joe (unfortunately, no relation to Earl) Campbell also saw action.
Rogers clearly outshone the other QB’s in drills and frankly, I was disappointed by Lopina. That is, until he ran the offense. He really didn’t look sharp in drills, but once he started running plays, he looked great. His arm strength is not nearly that of Rogers but he threw several nice balls down the sideline with great trajectory and touch. There were a lot of roll-outs and even some options – but curiously, none of those with Rogers. With Lopina, Lobbestael and Morgan, there was a lot of ball-faking and then either moving the pocket or straight options. With Rogers, it was mostly throws from the pocket. Kind of makes you wonder if we’ll see some rotation at the QB spot this fall. Most of the offense was run from the shotgun but we did see QB’s under center inside the red zone. Lobbestael and Morgan clearly lack the strength needed to make all the throws and I thought Morgan was slow with his reads.
Overall, it was exciting to see us playing this hurry-up brand of football – although there’s still a long way to go. Aside from the one really nice two-minute drill drive, the offense looked confused at times and was derailed by several penalties that prevented them from getting into a good rhythm. Summer conditioning is going to be huge this year – especially for the linemen, I would think.
On D, we saw a lot of 3-4 with a nickel back up near the line. The front 3 was Kooyman on the left, Ahmu and Mattingly. We did go with a 4-3 at times as well, but as promised, there was usually another DB up in the box. I thought both ends played really well, each getting to the QB a couple times as I recall. Dunn and Evans made several nice plays from their ‘backer spots and the nickel back with the first team seemed to be Myron Beck most of the time. Evans may take this defense over as their emotional leader. He was really fired up and made a few nice plays. Beck is new and unproven but made at least one really nice hit; on Perryafter a (late) pitch from Lobbestael on an option left. We crowded the box on almost every play and were sending blitzes from all over the place. Sometimes, we’d drop back but it really seemed like someone was blitzing more often than not. Creating confusion seems to be a big part of this scheme. Generally speaking, we did a nice job of getting guys to the quarterback. Lots of pressure with guys flying all over the place. Pellum and Jackson manned the corner spots with Chima and Hicks at safety. I like that combo of thunder and lightning with those two. With his speed, Chima should be able to be an effective centerfielder this year.
Special teams was a bit of a mixed bag. Each of the three kickers on the roster made attempts between 40 and 53. Newly anointed 1st string kicker Patrick Rooney was horrid. I think he missed all of his attempts including a couple that barely cleared the heads of the linemen. At least one kick was blocked (can’t recall who’s). Penner actually made all three of his attempts from 53, though I believe he missed at least once from 40. Myers looks to have a strong leg – maybe strongest of the three – but was very inconsistent with his accuracy. Penner definitely won this competition for the day.
(Speaking of accuracy, I’m sorry about the lack of definitive information here. I don’t get paid to do this, so I don’t feel obligated to take notes…)
There was a kickoff returned for a touchdown, which is both good and bad, I suppose; the aforementioned blocked kick; and some pretty nice punting by Reid Forrest. All the punting was done east to west, with the wind at his back – but he looked very good. One real nice tail-wagger downed inside the 5 by Gibson.
I’d have to say that this team is definitely a work in progress but there was a real sense of excitement in the air. The energy on the field was good (not great) and it was great to see it from both players and coaches. I thought Todd Sturdy really stood out among all the coaches – he has tremendous enthusiasm. It was also in the stands. You can tell that there’s a lot of interest in what’s going on with the new system.
It’s going to take a lot more repetitions before this offense really takes off but once all our guys are healthy and clicking, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. Definitely a breath of fresh air from what had become a very predictable brand of football. As big of a changeup as we’ll be throwing at the Pac-10 this year, I can definitely see us taking a couple games that we “shouldn’t”.
That’s all I got, Cougs. If I didn’t cover anything that you’re curious about, please feel free to ask and I’ll be happy to let you know what I saw.