Cougars’ practice heats up
Defense dominates in afternoon scrimmages
PULLMAN – Two practices. Two different emphases. One productive day.
That was the Washington State University Cougars’ goal Tuesday as they went through their third two-a-day of fall camp.
The full-pad morning session was quick, intense and dedicated to the run game, with all the banging that entails.
“We needed it,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “We took (Monday) off and we’ve got to learn to be more and more physical. There’s a fine line about doing it and not beating them up too much but at the same time, you’ve got to do it.
“We got some good work done in this morning’s practice.”
The afternoon workout, held in Martin Stadium, was in shoulder pads and helmets and seemed to drag in the 80-degree heat. But it ended with a bang.
“It was longer and tried to simulate as much game-like stuff as we possibly can,” Wulff said. “It was a little sluggish.”
Until the end. Then, in eight possessions of thud scrimmage, the defense stepped up.
The starting offense had three possessions against the second defense and marched into field-goal range once.
The third offense, matching up with the third defense, moved into field-goal range once on its two possessions.
The second offense struggled against the starting defense – until the last possession. In a 2-minute drill, Marshall Lobbestael, who rotated with Kevin Lopina running the top two groups, connected with reserve Easton Johnson twice and moved the ball inside the red zone.
Needing a touchdown with 6 seconds left, Lobbestael scrambled and threw it up to Johnson in the back of the end zone. But safety Chima Nwachukwu knocked the attempt down and practice ended.
“I think we lost two or three receivers, so it really thinned our receiving corps out,” Wulff said of the inability to move the ball consistently in the afternoon. “Nothing we feel was serious, but just enough to mess with the timing.”
Kevin Norrell, Jeffery Solomon, Johnny Forzani and tight end Skylar Stormo were all on the sidelines at least for some of the afternoon.
The defense had a somewhat different look as well. With strongside, or Sam, linebacker Andy Mattingly still sidelined by a sore groin, Louis Bland (usually a weakside, or Will, backer) and Mike Ledgerwood (middle) took turns covering the spot.
“This time of the year there’s always the tendency for a couple guys to get mixed up missing practices,” said linebackers coach Travis Niekamp. “I think our goal on defense is to find our best 11 guys and if that means our fourth-best linebacker is a Will or a Sam, and we can move him up to another spot, we’ll try to do that.”
Some of the versatility has been due to the emergence of fifth-year senior Jason Stripling, who has held the top weakside spot since camp opened.
Stripling came to Pullman in 2005 from Tyler, Texas, and played 10 games that year. After redshirting in 2006, he was ruled academically ineligible the next year. Last season he injured his shoulder against Baylor and missed the rest of the year.
“Going into my last year, it’s the last go-round for me playing football … ever,” Stripling said. “So I want to give it a shot. … It’s about trying to do better and put my team in a position to win.”
“Jason’s always wanted to be a good football player,” Niekamp said. “He’s had a lot of obstacles he’s had to overcome. Right now he’s fairly healthy and he knows he has an opportunity to play a lot this year.”