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WSU practice wrap and story


COUGARS

Got some time? You may need it. We have a lot for you to digest on the link, what with football practice and some basketball notes. If you are so inclined, read on.

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• Here is our story for tomorrow’s S-R, in its unedited version …

PULLMAN – When Steve Morton was Jim Walden’s offensive line coach at Washington State some 30 years ago, he mentored such offensive linemen as Mike Utley, Dan Lynch, Chris Dyko and, yes, Paul Wulff.

The same Paul Wulff who is now his boss at WSU.

“When I coached him, I knew that he had some things about him, (so it) doesn’t surprise me that he’s in the position he’s in,” Morton said Tuesday after the Cougars’ seventh spring practice.

He might have been able to see Wulff’s future as a college football coach, but Morton would have been hard pressed to see the confluence of events that led to his return to Pullman this year.

When Wulff took over at his alma mater two years ago, Morton, a former Cougar offensive lineman, was ensconced as Dick Tomey’s line coach and offensive coordinator at San Jose State.

But when Wulff decided this off-season to make a change – the contract of incumbent line coach Harold Etheridge was not renewed – Morton was available, thanks to Tomey’s retirement.

It was a no-brainer, Wulff said. And the veteran of 36 years of college coaching is now handling the WSU offensive line. An offensive line featuring some players who are on their third coach in four years.

“They have to translate, to be multilingual,” in the language of football, Morton said of the changeover. “What I’m teaching really isn’t a lot different from anyone else that’s coached them (in the past). They have to translate what they’ve learned in the past.

“Some of these kids are bilingual, or trilingual, or some, guys that are just here for the first year, are just speaking a single language, Morton-ese.”

One of those trilingual guys is Micah Hannam, a fifth-year senior who has started three years at right tackle, the first under then-line coach George Yarno (now with the NFL’s Detroit Lions), the last two under Etheridge.

“I would say he’s kind of a mix of both,” Hannam said of his newest coach. “Etheridge was a little more easy-going, Yarno was very demanding and loud. He’s kind of both.

“He gets on you when you need that discipline but then he can kid around with you the rest of the time, which is kind of nice. He provides the best of both.”

The Cougar offensive line was beset by injuries last season and struggled, part of the reason the offense was last in the Pac-10 and 119th among the 120 FBS schools, averaging 248.6 yards per game. If WSU is to improve this fall, Wulff has said, the offensive line must be better.

As Morton sees it, being successful on the o-line isn’t all that complicated.

“Football is this simple up front,” he said. “If you can count to four, and know which way your center’s going, you can play. That’s it. They can bring four off of one side, four off the other side, that’s it.

“It’s that simple. Us coaches do a great job of making this a whole lot more complicated.”

And there are four things he wants the line to do: Be perfect prior to the snap, be physical, try to achieve perfect technique and learn how to finish.

“He’s very focused on taking what we have here and making it the best as we can get it,” Hannam said.

One of the biggest challenges facing Morton and the Cougars is replacing four-year starting center Kenny Alfred. So far this spring, Andrew Roxas, the front-runner, backup Chris Prummer and others have taken their shots at cementing the position. But none have yet.

“That’s an important position, in as much as he’s the quarterback of that line,” Morton said. “It concerns me. Every place I’ve always been that center position has been a concern.

“We have to have that one kind of figured out, an answer (by the end of spring).”

•••

• For the third consecutive practice there was a focus about the work, a focus that has appeared only sparingly the past couple years. “Our intensity level was good,” Wulff said afterward. “They’re coming ready to practice. … The guys are excited to play football.” … That excitement showed in the early practice hitting, which was intense enough to trigger a couple of mild arguments and continued on into the team scrimmages later in the session, the Cougars’ seventh of 15 this spring. … The defense is still having its way with the offense, which Wulff feels is understandable, but needs to start changing. “You hope (the defense is ahead), to be honest,” Wulff said. “I’ve been on teams where the offense just comes out smoking … and usually that season is a longer season. Your defense should be winning early. But at the same time the offense needs to continue to grow and try to catch up by the end of spring football. Somewhere within the middle of spring football, there needs to be some obvious growth in your offense.” Has he seen that this year? “There are signs of it,” Wulff said. “But we’ve got to take a big step. This scrimmage (Saturday) and next week is very vital for the whole football team.” … One problem the offense has faced, and it showed most noticeably during a team blitz drill near the end of practice, is the offensive line is yet to coalesce thanks to injuries and class schedules. Starting guard Zack Williams is still out with the shoulder sprain, B.J. Guerra, the other starting guard, had to leave before scrimmages to get to a class, Hannam came out late after class, Tyson Pencer was out the entire time with class and Steven Ayers is battling a sickness and did not practice. Mixing and matching, the offensive line was overpowered by the defense’s blitzes. “There’s no question we’re moving guys all over the place,” Wulff said. “It does hurt the continuity in the offensive line. There really is a brighter side to it. … They are getting lives reps in there, a lot of the players are, and it’s just going to help them become better individually.”

• Some players who missed Saturday’s scrimmage were back, including backup offensive lineman Timothy Hodgdon and middle linebacker Mike Ledgerwood, though the latter was in a yellow, non-contact jersey. So was safety LeAndre Daniels, who Wulff said was dinged up Saturday but would be back full-go Thursday. … At the end of practice, Wulff had the offense pick four defensive linemen and the defense pick four offensive linemen for a game of punt receiving. Each player had two attempts to catch punts from the Jugs machine. With their teammates gathered around and cheering – or groaning – the four defensive players – Justin Clayton, Zach Brevick, Anthony Laurenzi and Brandon Rankin – caught just three of eight. The four offensive linemen – Sebastian Valenzuela, Hodgdon, Michael Pfeiff and William Prescott – grabbed six of eight. Surprisingly, the losing team didn’t have to do up-downs or run.

•••

• A couple basketball notes. Reggie Moore was named to the CollegeInsider.com freshman All-America team, one of 20 players honored. Gonzaga’s Elias Harris and Arizona’s Derrick Williams – the only other Pac-10 honoree – were also named to the team. … The website also names an all-defensive team, named after former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, and the Cougars’ DeAngelo Casto was the only Pac-10 player honored.

•••••

• That’s all for tonight. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …


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