After five practices we felt it was time to check in with James Montgomery and see how the man was recovering from his injuries. From the sidelines, it seemed like he was doing pretty well, but you never know. We also were curious on how Chantz Staden’s reconstructed knee was holding up, so we asked about that as well. For the answers to those questions and more from Washington State’s first full-pad practice of the season, read on.
• If you want to know the answers Montgomery and Staden gave, you have to skip the notes and go directly to my story below. But don’t do that. You’ll get there eventually. And you’ll miss so much in between. … Thursday’s practice was eventful in one way: It was just two hours long. With the first two-a-day scheduled for tomorrow (the first practice is at 8:30 a.m., the second at 3:30 p.m.), coach Paul Wulff cut short the day. “We want to make sure we hit (the two-a-days) not too beat up,” Wulff said. The Cougars first practice tomorrow will be more physical, Wulff said, with an emphasis on the running game. Then the second will be lighter, with the passing game on point. … No matter what the emphasis Thursday, the defense seemed to have the upper hand. It started early when Mike Ledgerwood tipped a Jeff Tuel pass into the air and Myron Beck came up with an interception before outrunning the offensive players to the end zone. Casey Locker later picked off a David Gilbertson pass in a red zone drill and, when it came time to practice blitzes, the No. 1 defense went through its session without giving up a yard. Talking with offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy before practice, he knew that might be the case as it was a day the offense had put in a lot of new things, and the execution takes time to perfect. … The offense did have some bright spots, including a nice run by Carl Winston and a two Gino Simone catches. The first one also showed Simone’s resilience, as he caught a Tuel bullet over the middle and was hammered by Jamal Atofau. But Atofau didn’t wrap up and the blow, while impressive, didn’t knock Simone to the ground. It just propelled him in a different direction, and the sophomore receiver continued downfield another 10 yards.
• OK, someone had to ask. There have been some speculation about Wulff’s appearance on the Net, so I asked him if he’s been lifting. He rolled his eyes and chuckled before saying “just, I guess, genetically gifted,” he answered. “It’s been years, unfortunately. The thought is in my brain right now between practices I’ll be lifting now and trying to lose a little weight. I’ve put on about 30 pounds since I’ve taken this job over, so I’ve got some work to do.” … Weight gain is usually a good thing for freshman offensive linemen, and John Fullington is no exception. But the 6-foot-5, 268-pounder out of North Mason High is still in the mix to play some this season. He got some reps with the No. 1 offense at right tackle late in practice and held his own against Travis Long and Kevin Kooyman. Wulff would rather redshirt every freshman offensive lineman that comes into the program, but Fullington might be different. When asked a freshman can compete at this level, Wulff answered “that guy. He’s different. I said it when we were recruiting him. He’s one of the best offensive tackles on the West Coast. And I feel like we’re right on. He’s still got work to do and a lot of learning to do, but he’s got all the right ingredients in every way. … If all the cards lay out, he could play a lot of football for a long time.”
• On the injury front, Alex Hoffman-Ellis returned to more of practice today, trying to do a little more each day while he recovers from a back strained during offseason weight lifting. … Brandon Rankin (sore calf) and Bernard Wolfgramm (blisters and hamstring) did not participate but spent time on the stationary bikes under Darin Lovat’s supervision. “They may have had a harder practice than the players,” Wulff said. They may take tomorrow off as well. … Freshman receiver Bobby Ratliff showed no ill effects from his groin strain and practiced fully. … Tyson Pencer is still sick and not at practice. … Andrew Furney did the only kicking – he was 5 of 5 on field goals – as Nico Grasu rested his leg. … We usually save links for the morning, but we decided to pass this one from ESPN.com’s Ted Miller now. He’s talking about WSU. … And that’s it for notes.
• Here is the unedited version of our story that will appear in tomorrow’s S-R …
PULLMAN – A handful of practices are behind him and James Montgomery says he’s ready to go.
“If we had a game tomorrow, I’m playing,” the senior running back said Thursday following Washington State University’s first full pad practice of the season.
Such a statement isn’t usually a big deal. But in Montgomery’s case, considering how far he’s come, it is.
Eleven months ago he went down with acute compartment syndrome below his left knee, an injury that could have cost him part of his leg. Two months later he had knee surgery to repair a micro-fracture in his right knee, an injury that could have cost him his last football season.
“Sometimes you don’t realize what you have until something gets taken away from you,” said WSU strength coach Darin Lovat, who witnessed Montgomery’s efforts to get back on the field. “He’s been rehabbing like crazy and doing everything in his power to get in a position to help us.”
Montgomery, who rushed for 167 yards last season in three games, is putting the offseason’s hard work on display at practice, exploding through holes and cutting nearly as well as in the past.
“I’m pretty much on a full tank,” he said, before being pressed to put a number on his readiness. “I’m up there. We’ll say 80 percent.
“As long as I keep my base in there, bend my knees, drop my base, everything feels fine. If I do a wild cut, there are little problems, but most of the time, no pain.”
With the injuries still so recent, Montgomery isn’t going through full practices every day. He didn’t participate in Thursday’s scrimmage sessions and will only go full speed in one of today’s two workouts.
“So far he’s doing very well,” said coach Paul Wulff. “We’re being smart, we’re going to monitoring him, every once in a while take a practice off, probably not put him through any two-a-days. He’s still going to practice a tremendous amount.”
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Montgomery isn’t the only running back coming off a major injury. Senior Chantz Staden missed all of 2009 after suffering an ACL tear the year before.
With almost two years of rehabilitation behind him, the junior college transfer who led WSU with 1,218 all-purpose yards in 2008, is finally back at full strength.
“It’s early in camp, but for the most part it’s feeling good,” Staden said. “I’m doing what I have to do to take care of it, cold tub every day, icing it, coming out here earlier to warm up. Just the little stuff I have to do.”
Over the summer, Staden assumed a leadership role in the weight room.
“He’s probably one of the most vocal (guys) we have,” Lovat said, praising the 5-10, 205-pound Staden’s effort. “He’s stronger now than he was before (the injury) happened.”
Like Montgomery, Staden now sees his injury as a revelation.
“When I first came here I was a little timid,” he said. “I wasn’t that confident. A year off, watching from the sidelines, I could see I can play this game.
“The year was difficult, but at the same time I feel like it helped me.”
And he thought he could use that experience to help Montgomery in his time of need. But, when Staden went to visit his teammate in the hospital right after the compartment surgery, it was the other way round.
“I was down and out when I tore my knee. I knew I was going to be able to play again and I was still down,” Staden said. “They told him he may never be able to play again and he’s laying in the hospital bed with a smile on his face.
“I get chills even now talking about it. I could not believe how strong this kid was.”
• That’s all for tonight. As usual, we’ll be back in the morning with more …