PULLMAN – There are immutable laws of physics, just like there are immutable facts in physiology.
And when those two collide on the football field, there is usually an adverse reaction.
Such was the case Wednesday afternoon during a routine tackling drill in the Washington State Cougars’ fourth spring practice.
Starting linebacker Andy Mattingly, a senior leader of a defense trying to bounce back from a tough 2008, was making a tackle. The ballcarrier remained in motion and Mattingly’s right arm didn’t.
The result was an injury to Mattingly’s pectoral muscle, bad enough to necessitate an MRI today and more than likely ending his spring.
But, as WSU coach Paul Wulff sees it, there is probably no one better on the team to overcome such a setback than the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Mattingly.
“Physically, Andy is close to where he needs to be,” Wulff said. “Even if he misses spring practice, he’ll work hard enough to be 100 percent by fall.”
Mattingly will join senior offensive-line leader Kenny Alfred, who underwent hip surgery over the winter, on the sidelines, where they’ll have to concentrate on the mental aspect of the game.
“Those guys have played a lot of football, they’re smart enough players, they’ll have a great summer, work hard and be ready to go,” Wulff said.
Mattingly wasn’t in pain, making a joke about his arm to another player, but left the snow-covered field and returned later out of pads.
“It doesn’t help,” Wulff admitted. “The nice thing is he’s smart enough and veteran enough he can overcome it.”
•If the initial reaction to such an occurrence is negative, Wulff’s experience has taught there is a reward down the road.
“Injuries at the present time don’t always help,” he said. “Sometimes a guy will step up and surprise you, but generally speaking, it’s not immediate. But in the long run, there is a positive to it.”
And that is?
“It will give some more guys a chance to play,” Wulff said. “The advantage when you have injuries, they’re not immediate. They come a year or two down the road, believe it or not.
“More players are getting the opportunity to participate and that allows them to become a little better.”
•Defensive backs Tyrone Justin, who started at cornerback six times last season, Kevin Frank, Daniel Simmons and Deon Ford, a linebacker, returned to practice. They had missed the first three days of spring after being suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
Wulff would not say what the four did to earn the suspension but did say they were currently completing punishment handed out by the team’s Unity Council, a group of players who oversee team discipline.
Cornerback Romeo Pellum is still suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
Slippery conditions became a problem late in practice. Snow started falling early and began sticking on the Rogers Field turf as the afternoon wore on. Wulff saw the benefit of practicing in adverse weather, but “at the same time, I’d like to hope to have this type of practice in November, not April. … Most of the time it is OK, but today wasn’t real productive as practice moved along.” The conditions, Wulff said, made ball security so paramount that other fundamentals suffered. … The one big play during team drills was turned in by senior defensive end Jess Feagin, who intercepted a Kevin Lopina screen pass and returned it for what would have been a touchdown. … Much of the early part of practice was spent on the fundamentals of special-teams work. The final segment was devoted to turnovers, with players sliding after fumbles in the spring snow.