The second day of two-a-days is over and the Washington State Cougars are over across the road having dinner. The group seemed a little hungrier in the afternoon session then they did in the morning, especially the offensive group. We have more on that and a quick look at the cornerback position, a spot with a lot more depth this year. So, if you’re inclined, read on.
• Before we get to the story a quick update on reserve defensive lineman Jordan Pu’u Robinson. His anterior cruciate ligament is torn, so he’ll have surgery soon and be out for the season. It’s the first major injury the Cougars have suffered this fall. … For updates on the other nicks and bruises, check out the post we had after this morning’s practice. … Though the WSU players had on just shoulder pads, helmets and shorts for the afternoon workout, there was still some intense team sessions, including one in which the ball was put at the offense’s 1-foot line and they had to get it out from under the goalpost’ shadow. Kevin Kooyman came close to a safety on the first play but Logwone Mitz was able to get out, and Brandon Rankin busted through to almost steal Jeff Tuel’s handoff to Chantz Staden for two points, but other than that the offense moved the ball. Carl Winston had an 11-yard run and Ricky Galvin broke through a big hole for 14 as the offense picked up a couple first downs. … The 2-minute drill – or in this case, the less-than-1-minute drill – was won by the defense as neither the one or two offense could score. But, for the last play of practice, coach Paul Wulff had the ball put on the 5-yard line and declared it fourth down, one play to win or lose the game. The offense won as Daniel Blackledge got inside Nolan Washington and Tuel found him. … Rankin was unblockable at times today, but Wulff didn’t want to make too much of it, saying he’s hoping for the same production in a game. But he did admit the defensive line is playing well and he’s encouraged by it. … There was a small change on the offensive line for just a little while, with Andrew Roxas running with the ones at left guard, Wade Jacobson out at the left tackle and David Gonzales on the right side. But the next team period Micah Hannam was back at right tackle, Gonzales was on the other side and Jacobson was inside again. … The Cougars get Monday off – the first of the spring – and will be back at it on Tuesday with another two-a-day practice. The morning workout is at 8:30, the afternoon at 3:30. … And that’s it from a hot Rogers Field, though I will mention that music once again blared over the loudspeakers to start practice. I felt like yelling “turn that damn music down” and, for good measure, add a “get off my lawn,” but that’s just the curmudgeon in me coming through. I bit my tongue.
• Here is the unedited version of our story that will appear in tomorrow’s S-R …
PULLMAN – There were times last season when Washington State’s secondary had more cover-your-eyes injuries than an MMA undercard.
Three broken legs, a couple torn muscles, two busted up shoulders and assorted sprains and strains threw the group into disarray.
Meanwhile, over on the scout team, a quartet of freshmen were wearing redshirts – cornerbacks Anthony Carpenter and Nolan Washington and safeties Casey Locker and Jamal Atofau. And yes, there was temptation to burn those shirts.
“But we knew at the time they needed to mature, so that they could be ready physically,” said Jody Sears, WSU’s co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach.
So the temptation was resisted. And the reward should come this year, especially at the cornerback position.
“We’re starting to get some depth,” Sears said, “and guys are developing.”
With Carpenter and Washington joining returnees Daniel Simmons, who lost time last year with one of the broken legs, Aire Justin, who battled a quad strain, Terrance Hayward and Anthony Martinez, the Cougars are three deep at a two spots they struggled to cover in some games last season.
Even the loss of Brandon Jones, who started all 12 games last season but was dismissed from the team after an off-season incident, hasn’t seemed to hurt.
Mainly because Carpenter and Washington have grown into their roles.
“Last year I was a little bit undersized,” Carpenter admitted. “I had to put on some weight to come out and compete for a Pac-10 team. Once I got that done, I just let my athleticism take over.”
“Last year, as a freshman, I was just excited for practice,” Washington said. “Now I’m prepared and I’m preparing for my first collegiate game, so it’s much more intense. I’m thinking about it every day.”
After 10 practices, there is an obvious improvement in speed throughout the secondary. And, with the improved depth, the competition for playing time has been cranked up. To identify the best group, Sears has no problem moving players from side to side, which Washington likes.
“We can see people in different situations,” said Washington, who is running with the starters while Simmons rounds back into playing shape. “We can get a different feel. Sometimes I’ll be at left corner, and sometimes I’ll be at right corner. It will just help out my game.”
The feel around the entire defense is different. The decimated group was 115th (out of 120 teams) nationally in pass defense last season, giving up 278 yards a game. The corners don’t believe that will repeat.
“Our pursuit is a lot better than last year,” said Carpenter, recruited as a safety but moved to corner last season after showing he had the speed to cover receivers. “Everybody is hungry. We want to get after it. We want to be the best.”
“We can cover up our mistakes,” Washington added. “If someone makes a mistake and if we’re all pursuing to the ball, that will cover it up because of our speed.
“And that helps our swagger. When you have a defense where you have three people around the ball at once, everybody is getting pumped up, and it makes us a great tackling team.”
The improved speed allows the Cougar defense to do something it wasn’t able to do consistently last season.
“We’re able to make plays,” Sears said. “Our playmaking ability has just gotten so much better.
“We’re getting more hands on the ball, we’re getting more bodies on bodies and we’re getting people covered up.”
That playmaking ability was evident in Saturday’s first scrimmage when Washington and Carpenter each came up with interceptions.
“We have a lot of good guys out there who can definitely run,” said quarterback Jeff Tuel, who has to compete with the corners every day in practice. “I notice it at the corner position a lot.”
• That’s all for tonight. As usual, we’ll be back in the morning with more …