PULLMAN—The Cougs went full contact in their fourth practice of the spring, and it included a damned near earth shattering stick from safety Deone Bucannon. An offensive starter from 2010 has switched to the other side of the ball in order to shore up the depth on the defensive line, and more.
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Coming into spring drills, the Cougars knew they would be thin at the defensive end position with Travis Long (shoulder) and Jordan Pu'u-Robinson (knee) missing action. On Tuesday, Paul Wulff announced former starting tight end Skylar Stormo was switching to d-end, and Stormo spent his day working with the second team.
"We know he played it in high school and right now we're a little thin on the defensive line," Wulff said. "We just felt that he could truly add something for us -- and he's going to get a lot of reps right now and that's the most important thing."
Wulff said the development of players at the TE position helped made the move a little easier, and that just because Stormo started last season didn't mean he'd be the go-to-guy in 2011.
"Just because you started on a 2-10 team doesn't make you the starter the next year," Wulff said. "Everyone's got to get better and we need other tight ends to continue to grow and develop.
"I think Andrei Lintz is going to progress -- and Aaron Dunn. We'll see how the other guys who are practicing do, and in addition we have a few other guys coming in the fall. We'll see how that progresses."
ON THE FIELD, the offense shined early before the d-line rose up. During the first set of 11-on-11's -- where the first team offense and first team defenses were lined up against one another -- the ground game was clicking.
RB Logwone Mitz burst for a 15 yard TD run, deftly getting the angle on S Deone Bucannon. The offensive line opened up several big holes for Coug RBs and no question, they had the advantage over the defensive line at the start.
Customary LT starter David Gonzales was out of practice Tuesday with what Wulff said was an infection. Wulff said he could be back on Thursday and will be suited up by Saturday the latest. JC transfer Rico Forbes stepped in with the 1s and held his own for the most part. However, there were a few instances where Forbes was beat by DE Ian Knight around the edge.
BUT AFTER struggling with the run game early on, the defensive line really stepped up their game later in practice.
The starting d-line for the majority of action on Tuesday -- DE's Ian Knight and Xavier Cooper, and DTs Kalafitoni Pole and Anthony Laurenzi. And after being run on early, the foursome made several plays tackling RBs behind the line of scrimmage.
Cooper has looked good thus far, he looked like a man possessed off the edge and made several plays for the Cougar D on Tuesday. CF.C asked Bucannon to pick the thing on defense this spring that’s improved most.
"Definitely, the defensive line," Bucannon said. "They're rushing in there and it's not just a medium improvement. Even when I see them doing their drills I can tell they're out their running harder and putting more pressure on the quarterback which makes it easier to make plays for everyone else."
FOR BUCANNON, his day did not start out as he might have wanted. Going against the first team offense, Bucannon bit on a play-action fake, opening the door for QB Jeff Tuel to connect with WR Jared Karstetter who showed some nifty footwork keeping in-bounds on a 20-yard TD pass.
Bucannon bounced back a few plays later. Wide receiver Isiah Barton hauled in a 10 yard pass from Tuel but as he was turning to go upfield, Bucannon hit him at full speed, a tremendous hit that had decleated Barton in mid-air. Barton was on the ground for around three minutes before he was able to walk off on his own power.
"It's just good getting back out there and playing football," a humble Bucannon said. "Defense is looking good. We're getting in the right positions and we're making plays."
TUEL HAD another productive day running the offense. He had good accuracy on short and deep balls, and his lob passes were picture perfect, including the hoist to Karstetter, where the receiver outdueled CB Nolan Washington, and a throw to WR Kristoff Williams. Both plays went for 30 yards.
Then, another pass to freshman Isiah Myers who hauled in the pigskin and took it to the house for a 50 yard TD to close out practice.
Tuel has an abundance of talent at receiver this spring, and said he appreciates it.
"It makes me look a lot better than I am at times," Tuel quipped. "It's a blast. If I don't throw such a great ball, I know one of those guys can go up and make a play on it so it's a relief and it will pay off a lot down the road."
TOWARDS THE END of practice, some fireworks kicked off during 11-on-11 drills. After Washington broke up a pass intended for Karstetter, Barton and MLB C.J. Mizell got locked up and broke out into a skirmish. The two went to the ground and were separated by teammates, and both were visibly upset with one another. If you ask Tuel, a little rumble in the jungle is a good thing.
"I love fights, shoot I wish I could get into them sometimes," Tuel said. "It shows a lot of intensity and guys are actually out here caring and getting pissed off. Once you get in a fight you start playing at a much higher level because you're adrenaline is flowing. I encourage it as long as it stops quick and no one gets hurt."
LB Louis Bland did not practice on Tuesday. Bland had returned to practice before WSU went on spring break, but Wulff said he's still rehabbing his knee and the staff does not want to rush his return.
"We've got him to practice but he still has some muscle deficiencies in the knee," Wulff said. "After doing some more testing we just want to make sure that we rehab it the correct way so he doesn't re-injure that knee. It's healing good, we just want to make sure its fully at strength."
LB Sekope Kaufusi returned to the practice field after taking time to concentrate on the books and saw action with the 1's at the SAM, next to WIL Alex Hoffman-Ellis and MLB C.J. Mizell. Kaufusi looked fresh on Tuesday and had several plays against the No. 1 offense, he was seen flying into the backfield tackling RBs.