Oftentimes, when someone leaves a program, no matter the circumstances, there is a tendency to dwell on the gap left behind. But every opening is an opportunity for those football players still on the field and all it takes is one player to reach for it. In the case of the cornerback spot at WSU, seemingly hamstrung by offseason defections, the guy who has made the strongest grab is redshirt freshman Daniel Simmons. Read on for the unedited version of the story that will appear in tomorrow's S-R.
• Here's the story ...
PULLMAN – No matter how many hours a college football coaching staff plans and prepares, there are always surprises when practice starts.
Some are pleasant, some disappointing.
Put the play of Washington State University redshirt freshman cornerback Daniel Simmons in the former category.
After three practices – WSU added shoulder pads and contact Tuesday – Simmons has moved up with the first unit at right corner, one of only two differences from the preseason defensive depth chart. And the 19-year-old from Ontario, Calif., is doing his best to put a stranglehold on the spot.
"As long as I'm working hard, that's all that matters to me," Simmons said. "My thought process is I've got to continue to work hard to maintain my spot. Don't let up on any play, because there is a lot of competition."
The main competition right now comes from the guy he's jumped over on the depth chart, Aire Justin, who started six games last year as a redshirt freshman. But there are eight cornerbacks getting reps despite the offseason losses of former starters Romeo Pellum and Devin Giles, including a couple of highly prized true freshmen, Nolan Washington and Anthony Carpenter.
But none of them sport the build Simmons has developed over the past year.
"He's stronger, he's put a lot of weight on, he's almost 190 pounds now (officially 188)," said assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball, explaining how Simmons was able to explode on the scene. "He's really improved his strength. Right now I really think the advantage he's got over everybody else is strength."
Though 183-pound Cal transfer Brandon Jones, the starting left corner, is considered, pound-for-pound, the strongest Cougar by his peers, Simmons is not too far behind. And even he feels that's been his biggest improvement.
"I got a lot stronger, so arguably me and Brandon Jones are the strongest corners," Simmons said.
He is, however, just barely 5-foot-10, and the Cougars' lack of size on the edge was exploited at times last season. There are ways to make up for that, and Simmons exhibits the needed attributes.
"I have great footwork, I've been told," Simmons said, listing his strengths. "Good speed, I'd say. Even great at times. And just good savvy for the game."
Like many young corners, Simmons admits he has a tendency to be over-aggressive, a trait he's trying to control.
"I've been working on that," he said. "Being patient and knowing when to break on the ball."
While Simmons worked on being patient Tuesday, many of his teammates weren't. The first day with shoulder pads, and the ensuing contact drills, led to a series of scuffles, including five that blew up into larger groups. Most occurred when the defense, under orders to just wrap up offensive players, went a little too far.
"Usually that's normal first day of contact," said Ball, whose fill-in head coaching duties came to an end after practice. Paul Wulff will be able to return today after fulfilling his NCAA-mandated three-day suspension for violations that occurred at Eastern Washington.
"They've been going against each other all summer, no contact," Ball explained. "It's not a big surprise. We've just got to be smarter. We've got to know how to practice on our feet, be able to do 'thud' tempo without creating riots."
• That's it for now. We'll be back soon with the usual practice summary. Until then …