TONI POLE: Will he play or continue to redshirt?
PULLMAN – Sekope Kaufusi is getting a close up look this week at more than one linebacker spot. Toni Pole, a promising freshman d-tackle has been sidelined all year with injury but this week has again been able to fully practice. Will he play this Saturday, or will he redshirt this season? Meanwhile, the Cougs continue to prepare for No. 3 Oregon’s quick strike offense and fast, physical defense.
Former DE Kaufusi moved from MIK over to the WIL spot on Tuesday and saw virtually all the action running with the 1's.
Usual WIL starter Alex Hoffman-Ellis was a spectator with what appeared to be a leg injury. The redshirt junior was fully dressed however, and the injury does not appear to be anything serious or enough to keep him from a Saturday start.
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With Kaufusi at the WIL, MLB Hallston Higgins backed up C.J. Mizell. A lot has been made about Kaufusi moving from defensive end to linebacker but Mizell, a true freshman, looks to be the starting middle linebacker headed into Saturday in place of Mike Ledgerwood, who has been playing with injury and not looking like his usual self.
Mizell has made some standout plays this season, but he’s also freelanced at times, which has in turn has aided significant breakdowns by the Cougar D. There were also incidents where his practice effort could, charitably, be described as lackluster, see link. But his attitude has since improved and his sheer athleticism, physicality and speed have Cougar fans excited about the future – both near and long term.
The Cougars also look to be getting a LB back from injury with true freshman Eric Oertel (hamstring) returning to practice Tuesday after missing Monday night. Oertel was the main backup to Kaufusi at the WIL spot on Tuesday, and showed speed of the ball and dished out several big hits during the live full contact drills.
UP ON THE LINE, DT Pole spent his day running with the 2's on the inside. Pole was banging around in the middle of things pretty good, and although he hasn't seen full contact in practice in some time (calf), the true frosh looked fresh, in decent shape and productive.
Will the redshirt come off? Defensive line coach Malik Roberson said Pole will continue to be evaluated on his progress throughout practices this week, and that he wants to get a feel for how much Pole can handle.
IN THEIR PREPARATIONS for Oregon against the scout team, the defense was matched up against two different scout team offensive groups trying to simulate the quick pace style of the Ducks. Plays were being run extremely quickly -- and even some first and second team players joined the scout team to help increase the speed.
Still, DE Kevin Kooyman said while practicing against the increased speed helps, it can’t compare exactly to what Oregon QB Darron Thomas, Heisman candidate LaMichael James and the rest of the Ducks are expected to bring to Pullman this Saturday.
"No, you really can't," Kooyman said on duplicating the speed. "They're the No. 3 team in the country and they have that incredible speed across the board, and you're not going to get that with (a scout team). We're just trying to replicate as best we can and prepare for it."
The focus this week for the defense?
"It's everything, all of it," senior Kooyman. "They run plays so fast and they get on the ball right after they're tackled…and LaMichael James is a great running back."
TURNING TO OFFENSE, their preparations for Oregon continue as well. During his teleconference Tuesday, Wulff noted how Oregon's defense has not been shy about taking gambles.
"They're fast and they tackle real well," RB James Montgomery said. "They're No. 3 in the country, what more can you say. They fly around, they're always in the right spots and they're sound -- so we just have to come out and do our best to execute.”
As for Cougar QB Jeff Tuel, the sophomore was throwing with a lot of accuracy Tuesday. The timing of the routes by the receiving corps also looked strong.
Safety Chima Nwachukwu (hamstring) and LB Arthur Burns (leg) were held out of practice for the second consecutive day.