The first day of spring practice was spirited, to say the least. One play the defense would celebrate, the next play the offense would. We watched the entire day and filed our story for tomorrow's S-R. For the unedited version and a few extra comments, read on.
• Here's the story …
PULLMAN – It may have been spring, and only the first spring practice at that, with everyone wearing just shorts, jerseys and helmets. But the intensity? That was, at times, more like late October than late March.
Take what happened Thursday after Marshall Lobbestael, coming off an off-season lowlighted by knee surgery and an alcohol violation, lofted a perfect pass to tight end Tony Thompson during a 7-on-7 passing drill. The connection was good for what passes for a touchdown in the drill and ignited a celebration.
As in Lobbestael awkwardly sprinting/jogging the length of Washington State's Rogers practice field in an attempt to chest-bump an excited Thompson. The ensuing contact was more like a clumsy man-hug than demonstrative chest bump.
"We're just trying to get into it," Lobbestael said. "The defense gets really enthusiastic after they make a play so we're trying to get a little hyped up after we make a play too. Celebrate a little bit. It's fun when we do that sort of stuff."
Fun maybe, but it wasn't what WSU coach Paul Wulff wanted to see.
"Yes," Wulff answered when asked if it was a little early for such physical displays by his convalescing quarterback. "He's not allowed to do that."
"It's been the longest off-season," explained Lobbestael, injured in the Oregon State game last October.
"Obviously, he has a lot of stuff to kind of put behind him personally," Wulff said. "Getting through the injury, working hard on all the rehab he's had to do. Anytime anyone goes through an injury, there are a lot of hurdles you have to overcome physically (and) mentally. He's no different than anybody else."
Though he did have the well-publicized February encounter with the Pullman police, an incident that led to a team punishment.
"I just went through team policy, the same thing everyone else has to go through," Lobbestael said. "I met with the Unity Council and paid the consequences for what I did and the mistake I made."
But Lobbestael, who will be a sophomore in the fall, wouldn't get into specifics on the punishment meted out for being cited as a minor exhibiting signs of alcohol consumption, though he did say the punishment "sucked. Team policy is pretty rough."
• Wulff was pleased with the spirited effort during the first practice, saying the players were "excited to be out here playing. I think they all know they're working hard as a team," he said, "and they're starting to trust each other, that every guy on the team is starting to carry their own weight to get better. And I think they're having more fun being around each other."
And the improvement showed.
"It was a lot better than a year ago after the first practice," said Wulff, who missed Thursday's first hour due to a family commitment. "Things were just crisper and smoother."
But one area didn't go smoothly.
Defensive backs Tyrone Justin, who started six games at cornerback last season, Kevin Frank, Daniel Simmons and Deon Ford, a linebacker, all missed practice, having been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules according to Wulff. They join starting cornerback Romeo Pellum, whose suspension was announced Wednesday, on the sidelines.
Wulff wouldn't go into specifics, but a defensive backfield that was supposed to feature intense spring competition was suddenly less crowded. And it didn't help that Cal transfer Brandon Jones, who is battling for a starting corner spot, was limited after breaking a bone in his right hand last week. He'll be in a cast for a couple weeks.
"We'll have depth, it will work out," Wulff said.
SPRING NOTES: Former walk-on running back Joe Campbell is no longer with the team and has told coaches he intends to transfer to a lower-division school. Campbell was a high school star at Tri-Cities Prep and has been practicing with WSU for the past two years. ... Kicker Wade Penner has also transferred, first to Oregon State in his hometown in Corvallis. But Penner, whose father teaches at OSU, isn't staying. He intends to enroll at Portland State in the fall. ... Two non-quarterbacks wore yellow non-contact jerseys Thursday, wide receivers Jeffrey Solomon, who is coming off back surgery, and Easton Johnson. ... Bryce Buslach, another former walk on, is no longer with the team. Buslach, a defensive end from Issaquah, is still enrolled at WSU. ... The Cougars will practice again today in helmets, before padding up next Monday.
• Here's a new feature we'll try to keep up during spring …
Meet the new Cougars
Transfer from California
Montgomery redshirted last year after deciding to head north with cornerback Brandon Jones, so Thursday's drills weren't anything new. "It's good to get back out where it means something," he said. "I look at it the same way. I came out (last year) and tried to practice hard. I'll try to do the same thing now that I have a bigger role." What that role will be is still to be determined. "He's going to have every opportunity to prove himself as a major contributor," WSU coach Paul Wulff said, though the running back position is a crowded one. Whatever the outcome, Montgomery is looking forward to his first game as a Cougar, Sept. 5 in Martin Stadium against Stanford. "I miss it so much," he said. "It will be like a dream come true when I run through the tunnel." His first Pullman winter wasn't a dream. "It was little different, but you get used to it." Though the ice got to him worse than a linebacker. "I hate falling," he said, laughing. "I fell about four or five times. It hit me back-to-back, back-to-back, back-to-back. I laughed at other people when they fell. I thought it wasn't going to happen to me."
• And some more comments from after practice …
"They just told me to be careful and not do anything that hurts and not put any stress on it," Lobbestael said of his knee. "That probably wasn't the smartest thing. I've been careful with it. I haven't – knock on wood – slipped or tweaked it too bad walking around campus and stuff. Hopefully, I'll keep being careful like that."
"I wasn't really thinking about it when I was running and playing," said Lobbestael, who won't participate in full contact drills during spring.
"I just think they are excited to be out here and playing," Wulff said.
"We're just very excited where we are today," Wulff said. "We know we're a better football team moving forward."
"At the running back position, you'll always need two or three guys that are bon a fide," Wulff said. "They are all probably going to have a chance to play as long as they prove that and continue to work hard.
"It's going to be a process and a competition and, I think, a good, healthy one."
• That's about it for this evening. We'll be back in the morning. Until then …