OK, I get it. Sometimes tempers flare. It’s a contact sport with big human beings and sometimes, during the course of a hot, dry practice, someone perceives someone else crossing an invisible line. OK, it happens. But five times in one practice? And not just five little flare-ups, five big ones. It’s obvious the Washington State players are taking this talk about toughness seriously. For more on that, and the rest of the day, read on.
• The first scuffle broke out during a d-line vs. o-line drill, with Zack Williams and, as far as I could tell from 70 yards away, Josh Luapo, going at it. The final one came during the end of practice “thud” scrimmage. Thud means that defensive players are supposed to wrap up to the whistle, but not take the player to the ground. Linebacker Jason Stripling, the fifth-year senior who is filling in for Louis Bland at the outside linebacker spot, took Dwight Tardy down. And Tardy wasn’t about to take it. Others got involved and it took a while to pull the players apart. I asked assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball if all the scuffles are a natural outgrowth of the emphasis on toughness and he said yes. “Usually that’s normal (on the) 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. … The worst thing that happens is somebody punches somebody in the helmet, somebody dives at somebody’s legs and it’s twisted at the bottom of the pile. You don’t want that. We’ve just got to be smarter. It’s a waste of time. I used to work for some guys who would just take them off to the side and let them fight while practice is going on. The wear themselves out. They get so tired they can’t hurt each other anyways.”
• Stripling would have been part of my story for tomorrow but he didn’t want to talk. Pretty tough to write about how a guy has emerged from the academic wilds two years ago and overcome a shoulder injury from last year to starting at weakside linebacker as practice begins without his thoughts on the matter. Though he’s being pushed by the quicker Myron Beck, Stripling has been holding him off because he’s improved his own quickness and is another big (5-foot-11, 242-pounds) body. “He’s a good football player,” Ball said. “If he ever gets his ducks in a row, he could help us a lot.” … One of Stripling’s former Texas running mates, middle linebacker Greg Trent, was at the field today. Trent is back in Pullman, getting ready for school to start. He’s a got a full load of classes to get through so he can graduate after fall semester. He then hopes to work out and try to find a place to play in Canada, the new UFL or, if at all possible, the NFL. He went through a three-day tryout with the Redskins, got a lot of positive feedback, then never received a follow-up call.
• One way the coaches can get more individual time with players is to split the squad in two. They’ll do that Wednesday and Thursday. The newcomers and selected veterans will be on the field for two hours in the morning while the top vets will hit it in the early afternoon. … And, yes, Paul Wulff will be at practice. The three-day NCAA punishment for violations that occurred while he was Eastern Washington University’s head coach is over. My thought is, if the NCAA really wanted to punish him, they would have let him attend practice, but have to undergo three of Darin Lovat’s post-practice workouts. He never would have broken a rule again. … Lovat was wearing a T-shirt today with TFIA on the front. It stands for: Trust, Family, Intensity and Attitude. … The first true pop of the season came on a special teams drill and it was delivered by freshman Casey Locker. It was loud enough to turn heads. … The best catch of the day was turned in by tight end Zach Tatman who tipped a quick J.T. Levenseller pass to himself while twisting back to the middle of the field. … The catch came during an end-of-practice thud scrimmage. Mike Ledgerwood and Jared Karstetter skipped much of it, nursing some dings. Others who were missing today: Eric Block, who also skipped Monday after a death in the family, and Andrew Roxas, who had a doctor’s appointment. … Ball would not go into further detail about the dismissal of Chris Ivory from the team. Ivory missed practice Monday without a legitimate excuse but sources said that wasn’t solely the reason for the decision. It was a culmination of things. Unless we hear from Ivory, that might be as much as we ever know. … The end of practice huddle was disrupted somewhat when a soccer goal on the west side of the practice field fell over, making contact with a coach’s child on the way down. Trainers rushed over and took care of the situation, which didn’t seem to be anything major.
• We’ll end with a little more on Daniel Simmons. I asked him how he earned the spot he’s defending: No. 1 right cornerback. “Hard work in spring ball, and over the summer,” he said, “very consistent in the workouts, hard work there and maybe word got back to the coaches.” Ball had this to say: “We were really thin (at corner) in the spring, so he pretty much established himself there. It’s a battle right now, there are people trying to steal that job from him. He’s as serious and into as he’s ever been since he’s been here. He hasn’t been here very long but he’s doing a great job of keeping it.”
• Finally, one of the major problems last year on defense, and there were many, no one argues that, was an inability to line up correctly at times. The first big run by Jahvid Best in the Cal game? A missed assignment. According to Ball, that’s an area that has already been improved. “The base defense, they have a really good understanding of it,” he said. “The first group really, really understands where they need to be and fits. Today, we saw for the first time it was full go and saw some different formations, things we just got to get on tape and show them. There will be adjustments made. But overall they’ve done a great job with their defensive understanding.”
• That’s it for this afternoon. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …