Sixth spring practice features competitive battles

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Hilinski completed his first six passes and fired a 30-yard touchdown pass during Saturday’s team period scrimmages.

On a gray Saturday in Pullman, the screech of whistles, the crunching of pads and the barking of coaches intermittently punctured the quiet calm of the Palouse.

The stands of Martin Stadium were nearly empty, save for a few recruits attending practice with their families as a part of WSU’s Junior Day.

There were no howling fans nor did players take the field in an exciting entrance accompanied by pyrotechnics. Saturday’s spring practice was different from a “Cougar Football Saturday” in every aspect except for the performance on the field.

“I thought, for a sixth day, it was a really good day,” said redshirt senior quarterback Luke Falk. “We’re just improving, guys are doing what the coaches are asking and they’re not trying to do too much.”

On almost every play during “team period” scrimmages, individuals flashed their potential and showed how competitive the team is at each position the end of the second week of spring practice.

During one offensive sequence in team period, Falk moved the offense up the field to about the 15- or 20-yard line. Falk fired a check-down pass to redshirt junior running back Keith Harrington as the offense looked to punch its way into the end zone. Harrington caught the pass turned upfield but was soon met by multiple defenders and stopped about five yards short of the goal line.

Harrington’s reaction gave the impression that he was stopped short of a game-winning touchdown in the fall. The disgruntled St. Petersburg, Florida, native made his way back to the offensive huddle and prepared for the next snap.

Harrington’s hyper-competitive approach displayed on this play was a microcosm of the Cougars’ sixth spring practice. Almost every other play ended with the ball carrier and a defender tumbling to the ground out of bounds. Every score and every hard-nosed defensive stand was greeted by an excited cheer from the entire offense or defense, respectively.

After the defense scored more points during team period on Thursday, Saturday was the offense’s day to shine.

At the start of team period, redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Hilinski took the reins of last season’s passing attack that racked up the nation’s third-highest yards per game average. Hilinski promptly rattled off six straight completed passes before narrowly missing his target on the seventh attempt.

“I thought [Hlinski] was really hot in team period,” said Head Coach Mike Leach. “He had a good skill period too. He started out hot in team period, had a little bit of a [lull] in the middle and then got hot again toward the end. He had a really good scramble drill.”

The scramble drill Leach referenced came on the first drive of team period. Hilinski completed three passes in a row and was chased outside the pocket by a defender. Rolling to his left, Hilinski fired a rainbow down the center of the field for a 30-yard touchdown pass.

Redshirt senior wide receiver Robert Lewis also made a statement a couple drives later during team period. With the offense around the 10-yard line, Lewis made a leaping one-handed circus catch for a touchdown that sent the offense into a frenzy.

To end the day, the coaches ramped up the competition one more time with one-on-one tackling drills. Saturday’s final exercise mirrored the Oklahoma Drill and ended with senior defensive back Robert Taylor and Harrington facing off.

In the first go-around, Harrington faked out Taylor enough to maneuver around him. After being taunted a little by the rest of the offense, Taylor looked to make a statement in the rematch.

Taylor prepared to launch himself at Harrington on the next run-through, but the running back saw him coming and slid out of the way to avoid the tackle.

The practice ended with the same intensity it had during team period, with offensive and defensive players trying to gain an advantage over the other and establish their roles with the team heading into the spring game.

The annual Crimson and Gray spring game is slated for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Joe Albi Field in Spokane.