PULLMAN — No two ways about it, the Cougs will be young on special teams in 2011. And Saturday’s first scrimmage gave STs coach Dave Ungerer reason to reach for the Rolaids. The group has some big shoes to fill but there are also reasons for optimism, as revealed in this CF.C exclusive with Ungerer, who offers up insights on how things are shaping up this spring on special teams.
Note: The Cougs practiced early this morning -- the session started at 6:30 a.m. -- so that the players could watch the hoops team this afternoon in the NIT semis, and CF.C was there.
The o-line got a boost as OT David Gonzales (illness) and G Wade Jacobson (knee) both returned to practice, while WR Jared Karstetter sat out nursing a tweaked ankle from Saturday’s scrimmage. CF.C will have a full practice report later this afternoon.
With youth comes inconsistency. And that’s a big part of what makes this spring so critical for the Cougs’ on special teams.
"We're really young at all the special teams positions," Dave Ungerer said. "We have to replace the snapper (Zach Enyeart), the holder (Reid Forrest), punter, and a kicker (Nico Grasu). It's hard when you graduate so many guys who have been doing this for so long."
In 2010, the Cougs went from awful to capable on special teams. Forrest averaged 45.4 yards per punt, (and an 84-yarder against Cal. Long snapper Enyeart, whose youtube video made him an ESPN highlight star, was arguably the most reliable long snapper in all the Pac-10. And Grasu will always be remembered for his two FGs -- one to force overtime, the other to win the game -- against Washington in the 2008 Apple Cup.
Looking to fill the role at punter is Dan Wagner. The redshirt senior-to-be put considerable work in during 2010 and has been more consistent this spring. Wagner's boots don't have the hang time of Forrest's, but he has been blasting punts in the 45-50 yard range.
Also getting reps in at punter is Alex Gauper. A redshirt junior, Gauper has the ability to boot the ball fairly deep but his consistency needs work, and Wagner remains the leading candidate to replace Forrest as the Cougs approach the midpoint of spring ball.
AT KICKER, sophomore Andrew Furney looks to be the main man for the job. Furney took over the starting field goal duties from Grasu last season and after a rough debut, drilled a 50-yarder against Cal in Week 10.
Furney has a big leg and had shown plenty of consistency the first two weeks of spring ball – until Saturday. Gauper is also in the mix at K, as is newly arrived walk-on Zach Sampson.
Sampson just took the field last week – he doesn’t even show on the official Cougars roster yet. But the transfer from Santa Rosa JC by way of Poulsbo’s North Kitsap High has shown a pretty good leg thus far. At Santa Rosa last season, Sampson averaged 58.3 yards on 40 kickoffs in 2010. Official CCCAA stats show he attempted only one field goal, going 1-of-1 from the 40-49 range, while connecting on 33 PAT.
During last Saturday's scrimmage however, Ungerer was not pleased. All three of his kickers struggled mightily in putting the ball through the posts. Indeed, tries from the 35-40 yard range commonly sailed either wide left or wide right.
"It wasn't a great day for us," Ungerer said. "Hopefully we'll get better each day we're working on it. Today was not a good day, so we'll look at the tape, make some corrections and next week we'll be better."
Among the long snapping candidates, walk-on Zach Koepp out of Milford, IA.
He came to WSU from South Dakota State, where he spent one season as a redshirting freshman. He played just one year of high school football but was considered one of top long snappers in the nation. DE Travis Long, out this spring rehabbing a shoulder, has long snapping experience as does o-lineman Alex Reitnouer.
AMONG THE POSITIVES in the early going this spring for the special teams – punt returns.
Among those getting reps, WRs Blair Bomber and Henry Eaddy, and RBs Rickey Galvin and Leon Brooks.
Eaddy came to WSU with the reputation on a speed demon and he’s shown just that on punt returns. And all of the players receiving return reps have demonstrated a fair amount of speed, more than the Cougs have had top to bottom in recent years. It has Ungerer excited.
"Overall, I think our team speed is better and our understanding of what we're trying to do conceptually is better," Ungerer said. "We're still trying to find the pieces of the puzzle.
"We're trying to work through some different personnel. We're trying to evaluate a lot of different guys. We're evaluating returners on punts and kick-off return. These first couple of practices we've really worked hard on our punt protection and our punt return stuff."
Ungerer, who also serves as the RBs coach said he’s been impressed with the Cougs’ ground game in the early going this spring. He said he was pleased with how the group performed in Saturday's scrimmage, and he’s evaluating the different aspects each back can bring to the table. "We got a good solid group," Ungerer said. "We're trying to give everybody a fair opportunity to show what they can do. We're trying to get better each day, and hopefully Logwone (Mitz) being a senior can give us some leadership also."
CF.C ran into RB James Montgomery on campus this weekend. In a move that has been expected, Monty told Cougfan.com he will not try and seek a medical waiver that would allow him to return for a sixth season. Montgomery suffered a near tragic leg injury against SMU in 2009 and his leg was almost amputated. Remarkably, he came back and played this past season at Wazzu, leading the Cougs in rushing in 2010. Montgomery said he will graduate from WSU this May.