COUGARS • UPDATED: 7:05 P.M.
Two days into fall practice and there are some obvious differences between this year's team and last year's. Some of them have been documented in the previous post. But there are others. Read on and you'll see what we are talking about.
• Before we get to the other changes, I want to expand a little bit on the changes in strength training and head strength coach Darin Lovat. As you might know, Lovat came to WSU from Boston College just prior to the start of last season. But prior to that he had worked for years at Eastern Washington with Paul Wulff and other members of the football staff. That history is important because, when Wulff brought Lovat in, everyone was on the same page concerning what it took in the weight room, at the training table, in workouts to help the players build themselves up to a Pac-10 level safely and consistently. It's part of the culture change – or as some will tell you, getting back to what was the WSU culture – that Wulff talks about. Lovat goes out of his way to reiterate all the tools were in place under his predecessor Rob Oviatt, but others say the emphasis throughout the department had slipped a bit. A new face with a new mandate goes a long way into re-instilling that emphasis. … Why did Lovat come to Pullman? Working with a familiar staff was one reason but there were family reasons as well. His wife Ann is from Cheney and her family is still in the area. … Lovat said it's the changes he can help the players create, physically and mentally, is what got him into the field in the first place. "Like a lot of these kids, I wasn't looked at very much coming out of high school, I was going to have to go the walk-on route if I wanted to play at the top level," said Lovat, who played at UNLV. "Ever since high school I was sold on (weight) training at what that stuff could do for you. It helped me out tremendously." … Lovat went out of his way to mention his assistant, Marco Candido, and the training and nutrition staffs.
• The offensive line has always utilized training aids, but there's something new this season. The group was down on the far end of the field working from their stances today with a ball about the size of one of those red rubber kick balls used on playgrounds all over America. The lineman would reach down, pick up the ball and hoist it to his chest, knees bent in the typical o-lineman fire position. With the ball, the hands were the perfect distance apart to deliver the blow an offensive lineman gives the defender when contact is made. ... Speaking of offensive and defensive linemen, student assistant Josh Tschrigi, a former offensive lineman at Oregon, and former WSU and NFL defensive lineman Chad Eaton slipped away from everyone before practice and began trading tips on what their respective positions like to do in certain situations. In just about 5 minutes, I learned more about line play than I've learned the last 5 years. ... There's a new student assistant this season: Jason Belford, who played for Wulff at EWU.
• Back to Eaton. When he left WSU in 1994, he was about a year short of earning his degree. Now, after winning a Super Bowl with the Pats and playing in the NFL for years, Eaton is back in school. He moved his family to Pullman and he starts classes in a couple weeks. The goal: get his degree. ... There are no players with academic problems this season and very few with injuries. But for some of those coming off surgery or offseason dings, there is some down time. Defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm sat a lot of practice today, doing some drills and skipping others while resting his surgically repaired back. Louis Bland also is taking it slow with his injured knee, especially after feeling some discomfort at practice. And Chantz Staden said he is redshirting this year to build strength in his knee. With Dwight Tardy and Chris Ivory, who was not at practice today and I'm trying to find out why (see update below), in their final year, Staden may also be needed more next year.
• UPDATE: Ivory, who I mentioned above, wasn't at practice today and is no longer with the team. Ivory was dismissed for a violation of team rules, according to sports information director Bill Stevens. I will have more in tomorrow's S-R.
• Which brings up a position that is as well stocked as any the Cougars have had for a while. Tardy is the incumbent starter at running back, but he knows there are others that want his playing time. "I think James (Montgomery) is an excellent running back," Tardy said. "I like to always think that 'Oh, I've got someone knocking at my back door, trying to take my position.' I welcome all challengers trying to take my position because it's only going to make me a better player. It's going to keep me on point. It's going to keep me doing the right things consistently throughout the year." Yes, Montgomery, the Cal transfer, is pushing Tardy for time. But so is Logwone Mitz, the Apple Cup hero who looks faster and stronger than he did at this time last year. Marcus Richmond showed last year he can be a lead blocker – for proof, look at Mitz's long run against UW – and Ivory is trying to bounce back again from a hamstring problem. Add in freshmen Arthur Burns and Carl Winston, who both will probably redshirt, and there are more than a handful of players to choose from, all with different strengths.
• This and that: Former Cougar defensive end Mike Graise walked by practice, pushing a stroller. ... The one pick in seven-on-seven skelly was turned in by Jay Matthews, who was wearing a yellow non-contact jersey. He gathered in a ball deflected by middle linebacker Mike Ledgerwood. ... Wulff has to sit out one more practice due to his NCAA-mandated suspension relating to violations that occurred while he was at EWU. The Cougars will add shoulder pads Tuesday and, when Wulff returns Wednesday, will hold two practice sessions, one for newcomers and another for returning players. It's a way to get more instruction done within the NCAA time limits. … A couple of links to extend your day. ESPN's Andy Katz has this post about basketball player Klay Thompson. And Ted Miller posted his preseason Pac-10 football power rankings.
• That's it for now. We'll be back in the morning. Until then …