The first of 15 spring practices or scrimmages is done. As is the first of our 15 reports. If you want to find out what happened today, read on. We have the unedited version of our S-R story and some web-only notes.
• Here is the story …
PULLMAN – If spring is the season of new, the first day of Washington State University spring football fit right in.
New faces. New paces. New muscle. New hustle.
“We were in good enough shape to run around and practice throughout the whole practice at a good enough tempo,” said WSU coach Paul Wulff after the Cougars’ 2 hour, 30 minute workout under cloudy skies on Rogers Field. “Obviously, when you’re teaching a lot of these guys a second time, it’s a lot easier … and things are a lot more crisp and it clicks a lot quicker.”
The Cougars began their journey back from a 1-11 season with 33 players who started at least one game last season, but it was three new faces that garnered the most attention.
Offensive linemen Wade Jacobson and David Gonzalez, both of whom played in the California junior college ranks last season, and defensive lineman Brandon Rankin, one year removed from the same system, showed flashes of why the Cougar staff is so high on them.
But every bit of Thursday’s practice in helmets, shirts and shorts was new to them.
“It was faster than what I was thinking, but I’m getting back into the hang of, it’s been awhile,” said the 6-foot-5, 271-pound Rankin, who sat out last season getting his academics in order. “The practice tempo, everything is just a little quicker than junior college.
“(The players) are about the same size, a little bit stronger,” he added after running through scrimmage situations at end – his JC position – and tackle. “I’m going to need to gain some weight since I’m playing some tackle now.”
The tempo was also new to right tackle Gonzalez (6-6, 281) and left tackle Jacobson (6-6, 307), though Jacobson, who played at Gavilan CC, expressed his infatuation.
“I loved it,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow. “There’s no slacking off, there’s no nothing. Everything’s at full speed. They say we’re going helmets and that’s it. And yet everyone is still playing like there are shoulder pads on.”
“It’s game tempo all the time,” Gonzalez said. “It’s full speed every down. Everytime you put your hand on the ground, you’re going at it with somebody.”
Rankin showed an explosion off the ball that was missing up front the past two years, getting into gaps and disrupting the offensive flow. And Jacobson brought a cowboy mentality to the offensive line, mixing it up with redshirt freshman defensive end Jordan Pu’u Robinson on three different occasions.
“It’s just the way I was brought up, living on a ranch,” Jacobson said, smiling. “My old high school had a lot of military around and we had fights all the time.
“What’s football without going at it hard? Funny thing, when you get in fights with kids, it brings you closer. That’s what we need.”
“I saw Wade get into it a little bit,” sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel said. “That’s what we need, a little fire on the line. … They are both what they look like, they’ve got great feet, some size. I think they’re going to do some great things.”
Wulff, who spent the first day split between offense, defense and the many special team sessions, was not displeased with his first impressions.
“The little we got to watch, they definitely fit right in,” he said. “There’s no question with more practice time, between now and the season, they have a great opportunity to make a difference for this football team.”
The Cougars got started quickly, pitting the offense and defense in the initial segment, a time usually spent with each unit running against air. And competition was stiff throughout the day, with the defense showing flashes of speed missing in the past.
LeAndre Daniels, a sophomore free safety who broke his leg last year, jumped in front of two Tuel tosses and took away interceptions.
“We tried to force a few balls in there,” Wulff said, seeing the glass half empty, “but the great thing was we were in a position to make a play on defense,” he added from the half-full point of view.
The Cougars will return to the practice field today for one more day of helmets, shirts and shorts, then take the weekend off. They start full pad practice on Monday.
Now on to the notes. … Offensive tackle Tyson Pencer wasn’t at practice today and I asked Wulff about it afterward. “Some academic issues,” Wulff said. “We’ve got some guys who are going to miss some practices for extra study time and some extra meetings, you know, just catching up on work. In mid-term grades, we’ve got some guys who are struggling, so there will be a few guys, anywhere from six to seven who will be missing some practices here and there to make sure we give them every opportunity to catch up on their grades.” … Defensive backs Aire Justin, Anthony Martinez and Anthony Carpenter along with linebacker Andre Barrington arrived late after class while defensive end Kevin Kooyman left early to catch a class. … With Justin not on the field, redshirt freshman Nolan Washington lined up with starters at left corner. … Eric Block, the safety from Bellevue who gave up playing at the end of last season due to illness, was at practice in sweats and ran at quarterback – his high school position – when the defense needed it. … Brian Danaher, who is also not playing anymore after numerous concussions, was at practice, talking with the other offensive linemen. … There were no major injuries, but starting center Andrew Roxas suffered from leg cramps and sat out the last part of practice and defensive end Sekope Kaufusi dove for a loose ball late and dislocated a finger. … Spring weather: sprinkles at times, some sun, some hail. …
Offensive linemen Steven Ayers, Micah Hannam and others moved around quite a bit during practice, both playing tackle and guard. Ayers even was warming up to play some center near the end of practice with Roxas not available. Will we see that a lot? “A really good chance of that,” Wulff said. “They all need to get a little more diverse. There’s got to be a certain level of rotation. We have to have the ability that, if somebody’s not playing well, to be able to play somebody in their position and help the football team. We can’t just have a starter. They have to compete.” … Speaking of competition, the three junior college players got their first taste of Pac-10 competition. They liked it. “Everything I thought, and beyond,” said Gonzalez of the talent. “There’s a lot of guys out here I didn’t even think would exist. The Pac-10 is no joke.” Jacobson agreed. “You’ll find a way to fit in,” he said. “It’s going to take a while, but once you get there. I was a little nervous, Pac-10 football, just a kid who came from a ranch. Now coming here, it’s a lot of fun.” It’s a dream come true for Rankin. “The Pac-10 is the best place to be, I heard,” said Rankin, who grew up in North Carolina before heading to California for JC football. “Any D-I school is good, period. I like the Pac-10 though.”
Sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel, who missed the last part of last season with a knee injury, was full go Thursday, taking the reins of the offense. Asked what is different between the Jeff Tuel of last August and now, he had a pretty complete answer. “I definitely know the offense, I feel, a lot better,” he said. “And I’ve put on weight. I’m about 215 now so I feel good in that sense. I feel more mature, I guess, to some it up.” Washington State has a long history of outstanding quarterbacks and Tuel wants to assume that mantle. “It’s definitely something I want. It makes you play at a higher level, I feel, because you want to live up to those standards. Washington State is Quarterback U. You want to be the next Jason Gesser, the next Ryan Leaf, the next Bledsoe. You want to be one of those guys.”
• That’s all for now. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …