It's time to get to the games it seems. Though the opener is still two weeks away – to jog your memory, Washington State will travel to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State on Sept. 4 – the Cougars are starting to get a little tired of hitting each other. A different jersey color would be nice. More than halfway through the designated 29 practices prior to the opener, Paul Wulff talks about where the Cougars are and where they need to be. We have that and more on the link, so read on.
• After the practice ended Friday, Wulff was asked if this team was meeting the goals he sat for it before the season started. He said yes. "We're making progress," Wulff added. "Their attitudes are really good, their minds are right, which is now allowing them to improve and get better. And we're growing." Part of that is the health is pretty good. "We don't have as many guys sitting out and missing practices," Wulff said, "because we're in better shape and we're a little stronger, so you can grow. That's the first time we've had this luxury, to be quite honest." ... Though the injury list isn't as long as it's been the past couple years, it is growing. We delve into freshman Aaron Dunn's season-ending broken wrist in our story below, and there are still a few key players sitting out. Those not participating Friday included receiver Gino Simone (hamstring), cornerback Aire Justin (hamstring), safety Jamal Atofau (knee sprain), guard Sebastian Valenzuela (concussion suffered late Wednesday), tackle Tyson Pencer (mono), who should be back soon, tight end Andrei Lintz (high ankle sprain), defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm (precautionary) and defensive tackle Toni Pole (bruised calf). As of now, all those players except possibly Pencer should be available against Oklahoma State. ... Safety LeAndre Daniels returned to practice in a yellow, non-contact jersey. ... Wulff always emphasizes one player's injury is another's opportunity and one who seems to be taking advantage of that is defensive tackle Justin Clayton. Clayton, who missed time himself earlier, was running with the ones in Wolfgramm's spot, and made himself hard to block, one time pancaking guard Wade Jacobson – the two got into a little altercation later, but this one was a lot less strenuous than one later that we describe in our story. "He's been working hard," Wulff said of the 6-foot-3, 272-pound Clayton. "He's a highly competitive guy who's got the right makeup mentally. He just works and works. He's got great toughness." ...
• The offensive line isn't all that deep in big bodies, so WSU reached all the way to Utica, N.Y., for a new recruit. The 6-8, 314-pound Joe Kaleta was in uniform Friday, going through non-contact drills. The freshman played at a prep school last year and Wulff thinks he has a chance to help down the road. "We heard about him at a prep school, and he made contact with us," Wulff said. "Coach (Chris) Ball talked to him. He's been a year out of high school at a prep, we recruited him, told him we really needed him and he came all the way out here and walked on. He's awfully big and he can move a little bit. If he sticks with it, there's enough there for him to play here some day." So how does WSU find someone that far away this late? "We've just got feelers out all the time," Wulff said. "We try to work our contacts. We have to cast a broad net. Get guys that fit the Cougar profile." In this case, that profile is large. ... Speaking of possible new players, WSU is still waiting to hear from the NCAA Clearinghouse about Al Lapuaho. Then the highly touted defensive tackle from Snow Junior College has to get into school. Because Lapuaho hasn't signed anything, no one from WSU can officially talk about him or the process other to say he's not been cleared yet. ... As the opener draws closer, WSU will start to get some positions solidified. That wasn't the case on the offensive line Friday, with some mixing and matching going on. Chris Prummer ran with the ones at center for a while, as did Andrew Roxas. Zack Williams, who has been at center since the first week, did play some left guard. Freshman John Fullington also had time with the ones at right tackle. "They are all getting better," Wulff said. "We've just got to keep practicing them, giving them opportunities, looking at combinations and trying to do our best to make guys play a couple spots. Just develop that kind of experience so we have the flexibility to move a guy around if issues occur. We will try to settle it down a little bit at the end of this week as we start practice this next week." ... The Cougars will have a late-scheduled scrimmage tomorrow at 8:30 a.m., then practice again at 3:30. Sunday's practice, originally scheduled for 2 p.m., was moved to 8:30 a.m. and should be short. That gives the players almost two full days off with classes starting Monday. Practice resumes Tuesday at 4 p.m.
• Here is the unedited version of our story that will appear in tomorrow's S-R ...
PULLMAN – Their opener is still a couple weeks away but the Washington State Cougars have one small request.
"We've been battling against each other for 16 practices now," said senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman. "We just want to go against somebody else."
Nothing may illustrate that better than a quick temper flare late at practice Friday.
Center Zack Williams and defensive tackle Brandon Rankin – roommates in an off-campus apartment – got into a brouhaha that escalated into more than your usual practice scuffle.
The two tangled in a scrimmage drill, the upshot of which was Williams' helmet came off, the guard threw it at Rankin, who grabbed it and hit Williams with it in the shoulder pad.
"Those things happen," said coach Paul Wulff, who helped separate the pair. "Guys are competing and scrapping and sometimes guys' hands get in places they shouldn't be and it makes somebody angry. That's just part of it."
The two, obviously agitated, sat out a few plays. After practice, Wulff brought up the incident in his talk with the team.
"It has to be done on this football field," Wulff reiterated later.
It will be, Kooyman pledged, saying such things don't carry over. Especially not down the road.
"We're not going to do that in a game, no worries about that," Kooyman said.
A game. That is something Kooyman feels can't get here quick enough.
"At the beginning of camp, we were very, very strong and I feel like these last couple days we've been letting off a little bit," said Kooyman, who still had the pedal down Friday, coming up with at least two sacks in team drills. "Still, that first week was solid for us and well beyond our expectations."
Kooyman, speaking for the defense, said there has been a trust built in the first 16 practices.
"Last year, we were trying to do too much, trying to do other people's responsibilities," he said. "This year, it's not like that. There isn't any of that assignment-fighting, I guess you could call it."
He admits, however, there are still improvements needed. Pressed to name one aspect that has to be cleaned up soon, Kooyman took a while.
"I feel like we need to start a little bit faster every day," he said.
And stay healthy,
Though Wulff is happy with the Cougars' injury situation, saying, "we don't have as many guys sitting out and missing practice because we're in better shape and a little stronger," WSU has been hit recently by two season-ending ones.
Last Saturday reserve defensive end Jordan Pu'u Robinson tore his ACL in a scrimmage. This week tight end Aaron Dunn broke his right wrist. They'll both have surgery and miss the season.
"It was kind of a freak thing," Wulff said of Dunn's injury. "He was blocking somebody, put his hand in there and some how (his wrist) popped."
The freshman from Mead High, who watched practice with his casted arm encased in a foam pad, is scheduled for surgery next week and will redshirt.
"It made itself," Wulff said of the redshirt decision. "It's not the way you want it to be, but if it's going to ever happen, obviously it's better now than in a year where he's right in the mix playing."
The Cougars have scheduled a scrimmage for this morning at 8:30, then follow that up with an appearance at the National Lentil Festival downtown before returning to campus for an afternoon practice.
• That's all for tonight. As usual, we'll be back in the morning with more ...