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WSU sees improvement at tight end


COUGARS

Four weeks of spring practice are in the books – remember, Washington State won’t be holding a scrimmage this weekend, having moved the one scheduled for this Saturday’s to earlier in the spring. Today’s practice was held in bright sunshine and featured the offense putting together a couple of strong drives late in practice. Read on for more on that, the play of the tight ends this spring and a Bill Moos sighting.

••••••••••

• Here’s the raw version of our story for tomorrow’s S-R …

PULLMAN – As a disappointing season wore on last fall, injuries and a lack of productivity combined to make the tight end position almost irrelevant in the Washington State University offense.

By the time the Apple Cup rolled around, WSU was relying almost exclusively on three wide-out sets, with a fullback or H-back thrown in when needed.

But that has changed this spring, by design. The tight end spot is back and should be a fixture in the fall.

“We expect them to produce,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said Thursday, after the Cougars had finished their fourth of five spring practice weeks.

With last year’s starter Tony Thompson lost to graduation, replacements had to be found. A couple of redshirt sophomores, Skylar Stormo and Andrei Lintz, along with senior Zach Tatman, stepped up.

“Both Skylar and Andrei have improved their game,” Wulff said. “They had to and they needed to and they have. It’s been good to see those guys play a lot of football.

“And Zach Tatman was doing fine until he hurt his knee.”

The 6-foot-5, 242-pound Tatman, who is still waiting to hear if the NCAA will grant him an expected sixth year of eligibility, strained his medial collateral ligament Tuesday and will not practice the rest of the spring.

But it is Stormo who has caught everyone’s eye.

The Everett native added about 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason – he’s 6-5 and 257 pounds – which has turned a weakness – a lack of confidence – into a strength.

“He’s made the biggest strides,” said tight ends coach Rich Rasmussen. “He’s got a better grasp of the offense and he’s finally playing with some confidence. That was his big hurdle he had to get over a year ago.”

“I take everything a little too serious at times,” Stormo admitted. “I’m hard on myself. That was tough last year. I got to play, made some mistakes and kind of got down on myself.

“But this year it seems it’s getting a little slower to me. It feels like I’m starting to see things better.”

It’s easy to see Stormo spent some time in the weight room.

“I feel like now, more than ever, I have the skills to play,” he said. “Another year under my belt with (strength) coach (Darin) Lovat really added a lot. I can really tell the change.”

“A lot of his confidence has come with the strength he’s added in the weight room,” Rasmussen said.

With Stormo playing better, Lintz, at 6-5 and 245 pounds, has added another position to his playbook, playing some at the fullback/H-back spot held down by 6-foot, 224-pound walk-on Jared Byers.

“Andrei has made some significant progress, so we’re mixing and matching him a bit, cross-training him at just so we have some depth,” Rasmussen said.

In the fall, four-star recruit Aaron Dunn from Mead High will also be in the mix, giving the Cougars even more depth. There is so much confidence in the group now, even with Tatman’s injury, 6-4, 242-pound redshirt freshman walk-on Elliot Bosch was moved inside Thursday and worked at center and guard.

“As a group, we’re pretty fresh,” Stormo said, pointing out the inexperience. “But we’re doing some good things.”

•••

• A couple of notes to start. New athletic director Moos began moving into his Bohler Gym office today, though he has yet to officially start his new job. But with just a couple of weeks to go until May 1, which he said would be the very latest he would start, he’s ready to get going. … Also, if you can’t make it down to Pullman on April 24 to see the final scrimmage of spring, you might be able to see it on TV. SWX, KHQ’s sports and weather channel, will broadcast the game live to viewers in the Spokane area. Whether you can get the channel where you live is something you’ll have to figure out. … As of now, WSU is planning to make it a game-like scrimmage, with the timing rules tweaked a little to save wear and tear on the players. If there are more injuries next week, however, you might see a change in how it is run. … In lieu of a scrimmage this weekend, the Cougars are going to go on a retreat, using the weekend on a team-building exercise. They will return to practice Monday, going early in the morning to avoid afternoon class conflicts.

• With the sun shining and the temperature up around 70 degrees, the Cougars practiced Thursday in shorts, wearing helmets and shoulder pads. But the intensity wasn’t quite to Wulff’s liking at the start. “It was better (than Tuesday),” Wulff said. “It was weird. It’s 70 degrees out here and they acted like it was kind of hot at the beginning. It was a solid practice. It was by no means a poor practice. It was just a little up and down.” … Nothing illustrated the up-and-down nature of the workout better than the play of the offense. At first, it couldn’t get out of its way, moving the ball about 9 yards in the first nine plays during an early 2-minute team drill. But in the practice ending team work, the first-team offense shined. Jeff Tuel found Daniel Blackledge for a long score and he teamed with Logwone Mitz for another long touchdown, the latter coming on a screen to the left that caught the defense in an all-out blitz. “Really, just at the end of practice in the team segment, they made some plays,” Wulff said. “We weren’t very consistent in skelly, we weren’t real consistent in blitz but as the practice finished we started catching balls. And when you catch the ball, we can move the ball.” … During the aforementioned skelly drill, Daniel Simmons gathered in a pass that was bobbled into the air by Chantz Staden and returned it for a score to highlight the defense’s day.

• Staden returned to practice after missing a week, his knee taped. Another injured player, guard Zack Williams, also returned but didn’t make it to the end, his sprained shoulder aggravated a bit late. Wulff said he was told it wasn’t serious and Williams should be back again next week. … As we mentioned in the story, Bosch moved inside today, helping to fill a hole in the middle made larger by Andrew Roxas’ high ankle sprain and the absences of Williams, Steven Ayers (concussion), Tyson Pencer (class) and Sebastian Valenzuela (concussion). Bosch played on the offensive line at Ferris High, so he seemed at home inside. “He’s going to have more of a chance to play there,” said Rasmussen, noting his experience. “It’s not that big a change for him.”

•••••

• That’s it for this evening. We will be back in the morning with our usual links. Until then …


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