Washington State added the pads that cover the lower half of the body Thursday, putting on all the protection for the first time. For much of the practice the Cougars stayed with the “thud” tempo. Except for an interesting segment right at the beginning of the afternoon practice. For more, read on.
• Once again the squads were split, with the rookies or more inexperienced players going through a teaching practice in the morning – the highlight of which was watching freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel continually hook up with the subject of our story yesterday, Esa Johnwell – and the veterans, or the top two on the depth chart, going in the afternoon. To start that workout, WSU coach Paul Wulff reached back to Bud Wilkinson’s playbook and put his Cougars through the Oklahoma drill. To whit, there are pads about 2-yards apart, between which are an offensive lineman and one of the defensive front seven nose up to each other. The quarterback yells, turns and gives the ball to a running back. Up front, there’s a tremendous collision as the two big guys go at it, with the running back trying to explode between the pads and through the block. And Thursday there were some big collisions, some won by the o-line, some won by the defense. “We always get our first day of pads going and make sure kind of try to set the tone,” Wulff said. “A few drills that kind of force you to get off the ball real low and work on our pad level. It’s the first live thing we do and we just try to put it in a nice, clean, safe environment where we only have a couple people.” The tone was set all right. Whenever the teams came back together to scrimmage, though they kept it at a “thud” tempo for tackling, the contact up front was loud, with pads popping.
• The defense had its way a little Wednesday, but the offense bit back Thursday. The offensive line protected well, though there weren’t a lot of in-stride pass receptions – Tony Thompson made the catch of the day, reaching his right arm back seemingly a yard to snag a Kevin Lopina pass. But the offense still moved the ball with more consistency, thanks in large part to some excellent run blocking up front – and downfield. Logwone Mitz broke off a long scoring run behind Tyson Pencer that would have just been a decent gain if not for the blocks of Daniel Blackledge and Jeshua Anderson downfield. Blackledge had another lockdown block on cornerback Daniel Simmons that received multiple back slaps after a Dwight Tardy 10-yard run. And Mitz scored again on a stretch play left that was walled off inside perfectly. “The offensive line was better today,” Wulff said. “We still aren’t where we want to be and they know that. That’s not untypical after only five practices. But we took a step in a positive direction today.” … The defense had its moments, though not as many as the day before. Andy Mattingly had a sack and Dan Spitz teamed with Hallston Higgins to corral Marcus Richmond behind the line on two consecutive plays. … Kicker Nico Grasu has yet to hit his stride, pulling many of his attempts left. His last try, though, was good from well over 40 yards and would have been true from 10 yards further back.
• The Cougars will be back on the practice field twice again Friday, but this time everyone will be out for both. Yes, it’s the first of the two-a-day practices. Those words used to strike dread into football players – former coach Bill Doba swears they did three-a-days when he was young – because, in part at least, the extra work always seemed to come on the hottest days of the summer. That won’t be the case here, as Friday’s high is predicted to be around 69. … The injury list grew a little Thursday, though some if it was by design. “No reason other than to be smart,” Wulff said. “Some of these guys coming off injuries are going to have little setbacks until they work things out.” Bernard Wolfgramm and Myron Beck, both of whom had back surgery, were held out as was Jesse Feagin, who is still bothered by the effects of muscle cramps. Receiver Johnny Forzani felt pain in his surgically repaired right foot Wednesday, so he was put in a boot and will rest for a while. Linebacker Deon Ford, who practiced in the morning, had his right thumb and wrist wrapped during the afternoon session. Offensive lineman Andrew Roxas was in street clothes as doctors try to determine why he’s losing weight. And Eric Block was not able to put on pads after missing two days due to a death in the family.
• That’s it for this afternoon, though we will remind you the Cougars will scrimmage Saturday starting around 2:30 p.m. in Martin Stadium. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …