Another day, another spring football practice. The Cougars went through their second day and it mirrored the first day, with WSU in helmets, shirts and shorts and running pretty much the same drills. We have our report on the link, so read on.
• Here is the unedited version of our story that will appear in tomorrow’s S-R …
PULLMAN – Before spring football practice began, Washington State University football coach Paul Wulff made it clear to his team how many returning starters there were.
Everyone, Wulff told them earlier this week, was No. 2 at their position.
Competition was crucial, especially considering the Cougars were coming off a 1-11 season.
The first two days, it’s obvious no group has taken up Wulff’s challenge quicker than the secondary.
The defense’s back four returns no one who started all 12 games last year when WSU finished last in the Pac-10 in pass defense, yielding 275.6 yards per game. But there’s potential.
“We’re really talented in the secondary,” said the group’s veteran, safety Chima Nwachukwu after Friday’s more than two-hour workout, “and I’m really excited about it. We’ve got guys who can cover, guys that can run. I think we’ve got a complete group back there.”
Nwachukwu is the one guy who can give some perspective concerning the secondary, having stepped into the starting lineup at cornerback fresh out of Allen, Texas.
He’s a strong safety now, and the leader of a group that includes one other upperclassman (cornerback Aire Justin). Yet they don’t want to be considered young.
“The great thing about them being young is they’ve played,” said Chris Ball, co-defensive coordinator. “They’ve played a lot of snaps. The excuse of being young really isn’t there.”
Injuries went through the unit like a scythe last season, with Tyree Toomer missing the entire season with a muscle injury, LeAndre Daniels and Daniel Simmons breaking legs during the season and Jay Matthews limited by a shoulder dislocation. Even Nwachukwu missed three games with a high-ankle sprain. All are back and healthy.
Their injuries gave playing time to freshmen Terrance Hayward and Kyle McCartney and they’re joined by four touted freshmen who wore red shirts last season.
“If we can stay healthy, we have good depth,” Nwachukwu said. “If a No. 1 goes down, it won’t be that far away with the No. 2.”
“We have really good talent,” Ball added, “more than we’ve had in the past.”
And most of it has seen action.
“They’ve gotten enough snaps to be decent,” Ball said. “They’re athletic, they’re physical, confident and they have a very good understanding of the defense, which is big.”
And when they need guidance, they have Nwachukwu, who represents WSU on an NCAA student-athlete committee and leads on the field. It’s a role modeled to near perfection by current NFL safety Husain Abdullah when Nwachukwu was a freshman.
“He was a real big role model to me,” Nwachukwu said, “though I only played with him a year. He led through his actions and that’s what really stood out. You would watch the guy and he would be doing what he was preaching.
“When he would say anything to you, you would listen, because you knew he was doing things right.”
• As we said, there was little variance with the drills today, though there was even more emphasis on special teams, under the guidance of new coach Dave Ungerer. The main thrust was on getting the little things right, for example everyone on the kickoff coverage team passing the line of scrimmage at the same time. … There were no pads, but there was some pretty intense scrimmaging and hitting. I asked coach Paul Wulff if he worried about possible injuries when he put together the schedule. “No,” he said, “because we’ve been training harder, we can handle it. This team’s different, this team’s growing up and we believe we’ve done enough good training to allow us to get out here and get after it, even though we’re not in pads. We’ve been smart. We’ve been fortunate, we haven’t had any injuries these two days. We’ve been able to play physical football, as much as we could get away without pads.” … The Cougars will take the weekend off and return to practice Monday in pads.
• Junior college transfer Jessy Sanchez, who played increased minutes down the stretch last season on the defensive line, has decided to call it a career. Wulff said Sanchez’ right shoulder wouldn’t allow him to play anymore. … Center Andrew Roxas, who sat out the last part of practice Thursday with muscle cramps in both legs, was not at practice Friday. He had a family commitment this weekend, Wulff said, and had asked for and received permission weeks ago to go home for the weekend. … Toby Turpin was also not at practice due to academics. … Talking with Ball about the secondary, he also mentioned improved quickness throughout the defense. “Overall defensively, we’re a lot faster,” he said. “You know, we’ve got (former running back) Arthur Burns (at linebacker), we’ve got (former safety) Myron (Beck) at linebacker, Alex Hoffman, he’s one of our faster guys. If we can just healthy, and I think we’re due, if we can just stay healthy, we’re going to make vast improvements.”
• That’s it for tonight. Just like WSU, we’re going to take the weekend off. We’ll be back Monday morning with our usual post. Until then …