Washington State took its practice into Martin Stadium this afternoon for the first time this spring. The reason was simple. The last 45 minutes – it turned out to be a little more than 30 – were scheduled for scrimmaging. And most of that time was spent matching up the ones vs. ones. We have some notes about the day along with our unedited story for tomorrow's S-R on the receiving corps, so read on.
• We start with the story ...
PULLMAN – Mike Levenseller knows there's a basic math question in there somewhere.
Levenseller, Washington State University's long-time receivers coach, has four scholarship players available this spring. There are three starting spots. So how do you get four into three?
The simple answer is you don't.
"We're in a three-man set, there are still four starters," Levenseller said Tuesday, listing Daniel Blackledge, Jeffrey Solomon, Jared Karstetter and Gino Simone. "And that's kind of fun."
Ask any of the many receivers the straight-speaking Levenseller has sent on to the NFL over the years and it would be a surprise if any of them would label him a glass-half-full type of guy. But he is this spring.
Through defections, transfers and desires to play other sports, a once-deep receiving corps is left with the four listed above and, for the spring anyway, a handful of walk-on additions.
Which is fine by Levenseller.
"With the ones, I think we can get a lot done," he said. "For one thing, they are getting all the reps. I'm actually really pleased with this spring. I can give a lot of individual time in video and on the field. I don't have to move through it really fast, I can spend quite a bit of time."
There is help coming, of course, with Levenseller expecting junior college receiver Isiah Barton to be able to contribute immediately, and at least two of the five incoming scholarship freshmen helping as well.
But for now, there are nine players listed as wide receivers on the roster.
The Cougars practiced Tuesday for the fourth time this spring, but this one was different. The team headed out to Martin Stadium for the workout and scrimmage for more than 30 minutes to end practice.
Though the second groups matched up for a couple of possessions – former walk-on-cornerback-turned-receiver Shane Thomas and Esa Blackwell each caught a Marshall Lobbestael pass – for most of the time it was the ones vs. the ones.
And that meant the scholarship quartet rotated through 19 snaps. Which was fine by Levenseller and slot receiver Gino Simone.
"The name of our game this spring is going to be toughness, and that's what Levy's been preaching," said Simone, who had the longest reception of the day, an 18-yard hookup with Jeff Tuel. "We've just to come out ready to go every day and take every rep because we need to do that out of necessity. We only have two groups of guys who are able to (play)."
Levenseller's four starters all caught at least 23 passes last season but it's the trait Simone alluded to that has their coach's attention.
"Hey, this is a tough man's game," Levenseller said. "At least I feel like I have four guys who can hang in there. ... We have four guys who have hung in there through everything and they are the ones left standing.
"They're the toughest mentally and physically."
• Now on to notes about the practice. ... Before we get into the notes about the scrimmage, let's cover who wasn't available. As we told you yesterday, Zack Williams suffered a shoulder sprain in Monday's workout. Paul Wulff said today it won't require surgery, but he could be out two weeks and possibly more. That means there is a chance he won't be back this spring. ... Brandon Rankin took the day off because, as Wulff said, he hasn't played football for a year and a half and his body was sore. He suited up, went through drills but didn't hit in the scrimmage. ... Jordan Pu'u Robinson and Logwone Mitz didn't suit up because they were both dealing with concussions suffered during Monday's practice. ... A handful of players, including Tyson Pencer, Micah Hannam and Toby Turpin, missed practice or were late due to school conflicts. ... Now on to the scrimmaging. ...
The Cougars got in about 35 plays at the end of the workout, with the ones facing off against the ones and the twos vs. the twos – though with attrition (more on that below) there was a mixing of the groups. The one offense featured Tuel at quarterback with Carl Winston and Chantz Staden at running back, though Marcus Richmond and Leon Burns also carried the ball. Up front, the line was missing Williams, Pencer, Hannam and B.J. Guerra, who ran off to class, so there was some mixing and matching going on. On the defensive side, Rankin and Turpin took the day off but just about everyone else was available. ... The offense struggled all day to run the ball after moving the ball pretty well Monday. "The defense responded today," Wulff said, "and the offense wasn't as crisp, particularly running the football. We had a couple protection breakdowns and some good rush by the defensive line. That kind of stymied any kind of rhythm for the offense." ... The longest running play of the day was a 5-yard run from Tuel. ... Much of the passing yards were the result of shorter passes, though Simone did get open for one 18-yard gain. ... The defense seemed more energetic from the start, with Myron Beck setting the tone with a big hit on Winston on the second play.
A lot of time early on was spent on special teams, with the field goal kickers getting a lot of reps. To help, Wulff pulled out a skill he hasn't used in a long time, long-snapping. Asked about it afterward – actually he was asked about the new long snapper who seemed to struggle – Wulff defended himself. "I thought he was pretty good," he said. "Pretty rusty. Been a long time." ... Bernard Wolfgramm tried to practice wearing socks that looked as if they had been stolen from the Wicked Witch of the West. That lasted until stretching and he was told to put on team attire. ... Nico Grasu made the two field goals he tried during the scrimmage portion but backups Blake Dunn (blocked) and Alex Gauper (wide right) didn't fare as well.
• That's all for tonight. We'll be back in the morning. Until then ...