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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A slightly taxing WSU post


COUGARS • UPDATED: 11:45 A.M.

Some news and notes for tax day, which, by my reckoning, should be a national holiday, complete with parades, a special dinner and free major league baseball on the tube. Read on.
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• With only five spring practices to go, and two of those scrimmages, it seems like a good time to assess the progress of Paul Wulff's Cougars. And we will do that. But before you get the desert, you have to eat your vegetables, so here are this morning's links. ... We have our story from the paper on Tuesday's practice. ... Nick Daschel of Buster Sports was in town last week and has this story on running back James Montgomery. ... That's it for football. ... On the basketball front, both the Times, with this piece, and the News Tribune, with this one, cover the news we had here concerning Xavier Thames. The News Tribune also mentions Patrick Simon. For your information, or FYI if you prefer, coach Ken Bone and assistant Ben Johnson are headed to Australia this weekend where they will meet with forward Brock Motum and try to get him to reaffirm his letter of intent. After that meeting, we'll take another look at the recruits, where they stand and what it all means for WSU. ... By the way, the Cougars under Bennett were looking at signing another guard and, no, he wasn't from Australia. That's about all we know. ... UPDATE: This story might give you a hint about who may have been headed WSU's way. Though this player wouldn't have been signed today, as a student-athlete, by rule, can only sign one letter-of-intent, no matter what the story says. He or she can publicly commit, but the school has to wait until they enroll before they can speak publicly about the athlete. ... Our Steve Bergum took a look this morning at the baseball rivalry between WSU and Gonzaga. ... Now back to spring football ...

• When spring practice is over, we will sit down and go over each position with a look at the fall. We'll try to determine the potential for each to be improved over last season. But for now, let's just try to evaluate the overall tenor of spring. ... Let's see a show of hands. How many of you can remember a spring football in which optimism didn't reign? Anyone, anyone ... Bueller? Of course, no one raised a hand. Every spring is, at its core, about optimism. The team, every team, is going to be better in the fall. There are no games to either prove or disprove the theorem. So how do you detach that optimism from reality? You watch practice. You listen to the coaches teach during drills. You observe players going through said drills. You watch them scrimmage. You focus on certain positions. You observe. And here is what we've seen, and heard, in 10 workouts ...

• Practice is crisper. More is being done each day than ever was accomplished last spring, especially in certain areas like special teams. Instead of having to take time to explain what they want, the coaches are able to just tell the players the drill and get right into it. This not only saves time, it allows more reps. ... As you watch, and listen, to the position coaches this spring, the contrast to last fall is interesting. Key fundamental instructions that had to be yelled about every, say 3 seconds in the fall – "pad level" comes to mind – are still heard, but not nearly as often. The fundamentals the coaches want have sunk in and are becoming second nature. ... If there is a player out here who isn't bigger, we haven't found him. Though the Cougars won't be mistaken for the Seahawks – or Trojans for that matter – any time soon, they have, as a group, grown physically since the fall. A good example is sophomore linebacker Mike Ledgerwood, who just happened to catch our eye Tuesday. All freshmen get bigger during the year – isn't there something called the freshman 15? – but Ledgerwood has sculpted his upper body during the winter, putting on 10 much-needed pounds. At 6-foot and 224, he now looks a lot more like a Pac-10 linebacker. ... When the Cougars scrimmage, we try to do two things: We watch one position per play, say left guard Zack Williams blocking right tackle Dan Spitz, and we listen for the contact. Some battles go to the offensive player, some to the defensive one. Some guys are winning every time we watch, others are getting overpowered. But nearly every play, there is the distinctive pop of pad-on-pad, a noise we didn't hear all that much even early last fall, when bodies were fresh and all the young players were trying to impress.

What will this mean when the leaves turn and they start keeping score? Well, last season WSU was rarely competitive in a game. There were a heck of a lot of 24-0 – or worse – halftime scores. It may sound optimistic, and it could be the spring pollen talking, but the Cougars should be competitive, at least physically, in the fall. Wins, who knows? But battles? Yes, there should be more of those.

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• That's it for today. We'll be back if events warrant. Until then …




Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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