An interesting day at Washington State's football practice. Not much was what I expected. It was hotter than, well, hotter than it's been the past couple days. And there was some heat on the field. After a slow start, the intensity picked up and the practice featured some hard hits and fast-paced action. Read on for more and our preview of the running backs.
• The first play of team drills Tuesday looked like something out of a "The Longest Yard" rehearsal. Quarterback Jeff Tuel took the snap under center, bobbled it, and got stepped on by center Zack Williams, who had been driven back by Bernard Wolfgramm. While going down, Tuel tried to get the ball to Chantz Staden, but the handoff went awry and the ball caromed into the hands of Kevin Kooyman, who fell on it in the end zone. Did two days off and the start of classes take that much out of them? It turned out the Three Stooges-like play was an aberration, not the norm. The defense did get the better of it – Casey Locker's pick of Marshall Lobbestael on a well-designed cover scheme and Darren Markle's interception and scoring return of an ill-advised Lobbestael pass in a late Martin Stadium scrimmage were the defensive highlights – but the offense had its moments – long runs from Carl Winston, Chantz Staden and Ricky Galvin the best of it. ... Afterward, coach Paul Wulff was pleasantly surprised. "A little better," than he expected, Wulff said. "And that's encouraging. So many times this is a tough day. It started out a little sluggish for our guys but it didn't take long and they burned through it and we got some quality practice in. I'm very pleased with this practice considering the circumstances." ... One thing that might not have pleased Wulff was an injury suffered by starting cornerback Nolan Washington. The redshirt freshman went down with what looked like a hip flexor or groin problem, though Wulff wasn't sure. Washington sat out the rest of practice but was walking OK at the end. ... Wolfgramm returned to full-go Tuesday and seemed to be 100 percent. As did tight end Andrei Lintz, who has shaken off his sprained left ankle. Daniel Simmons, who practiced some Sunday, also was available after missing time with a hamstring pull. Toni Pole went through some drills with the defense. And Tyson Pencer was in full pads, working at offensive guard and tackle. ... Running back Logwone Mitz was not at practice after a death in the family. ... Gino Simone (hamstring), LeAndre Daniels (neck), Kristoff Williams (toe), Sebastian Valenzuela (concussion) and Aire Justin (hamstring) were still out, with a deadline looming for participation in the opener Sept. 4. "They need to all start playing this week," Wulff said, "and get some reps in before we head into prep for our game. They all need to go through some heavy practice time." ... There were a lot of new faces on the field Tuesday as the players designated as school starts were out. Familiar faces included kickers Alex Gauper and Blake Dunn and linebacker Omari Guidry, all of whom were on the team last season. One player who was not on the field was freshman Jacob Miller, the punter from Central Valley High. According to multiple sources, Miller decided not to return to WSU after leaving the team during camp to figure out his future.
• Here is the unedited version of our running backs preview that will appear in tomorrow's S-R ...
PULLMAN – If you wanted to put together a highlight DVD of last season's Washington State University running attack, you wouldn't have to burn many pixels.
A couple of 37-yard runs each from Dwight Tardy and Carl Winston, maybe James Montgomery's 118-yard effort against Hawaii, and possibly Kevin Lopina's 4-yard touchdown run in the same game – the longest scoring run of the season.
That's about it. The Cougars rushed for just 848 yards last season, averaged 2.4 yards a carry and didn't exceed 73 yards in any of their final four games.
Gone is Tardy, who left with 2,241 career yards and led WSU in rushing four consecutive seasons, including 417 last year.
Back is a handful of backs that bring different skills, a group headlined by Montgomery, already the comeback player of the year. The senior suffered a major lower leg injury against SMU, one that nearly cost him his leg but did take away the season's final nine games.
"He's the No. 1 guy," said first-year running backs coach Dave Ungerer. "We're just trying to knock the rust off a little bit, get him back into the flow.
"Physically, he's not in not in that playing-type of shape. Not that he's out of shape, but to play in the full intensity of a game, that takes a little while."
Luckily for Montgomery, he can ease into it. There is depth behind him.
"It's a really good problem to have right now," Ungerer said. "We've got quality depth. It's one thing to have depth, it’s another thing to have quality depth."
Behind Montgomery, who transferred from Cal two years ago and rushed for 167 yards last season prior to the injury, each of the others have found their niche.
Junior Logwone Mitz is the power back, senior Chantz Staden the third-down receiving threat, sophomore Carl Winston the stocky cut-back runner and freshman Ricky Galvin, he's the X-factor.
"They're all different, but they all will contribute this year," Ungerer said. "They all bring a little something to the table."
And they're all fighting for playing time.
"The competition back there, since January really, has been pushing us all to be our best," said Staden, who, like Montgomery, is coming off a leg injury, his costing him the entire 2009 season. "Right now, any one of us could play on Saturday. That's a good thing to have.
"Running back's a tough spot. Not one guy is going to take every single rep."
If that were the case, that one guy would be Montgomery. But Galvin has shown glimpses of why head coach Paul Wulff was so high on him when the Berkeley, Calif., native signed his letter of intent.
"He's really an explosive guy," Ungerer said. "We're really impressed with what he brings to the table. He's a little bit different from every body, he's a little smaller, little quicker, a little faster. And he's got natural running instincts."
No matter who plays, WSU will draw from a deep well.
"We all have our (individual) strengths, but in a way we're all similar, too," Staden said. "Who ever is having a good week of practice should probably be the guy that weekend."
"My hardest job is not getting them ready," Ungerer said. "Really, my hardest job is how they're all going to get some touches. They all deserve to play. I don't know if they all will play, but they all deserve to."
(Height, weight, year and 2009 starts in parentheses)
James Montgomery (6-1,218, RS Sr., 0)
Chantz Staden (5-10, 205, RS Sr., dnp)
Logwone Mitz (6-1, 230, RS Jr., 1)
Ricky Galvin (5-8, 162, Fr., dnp)
Carl Winston (5-8, 197, So., 0)
Jared Byers (6-foot, 224, So., 2)
Marcus Richmond (6-1, 218, RS Sr., 0)
• That's all for tonight. We'll be back tomorrow with our links, then we'll be at practice in the afternoon. Next up for our previews: special teams. Until then ...