PULLMAN -- The early afternoon warmth gave way to a bone-chilling wind and even a few snowflakes Thursday, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of head coach Paul Wulff as he prepares to conclude Washington State's spring football season on Saturday. “We feel good about the progress we've all made,” he said. “I was very encouraged as a team what we did.”
Wulff said that while injuries foiled the hopes of a number of players this spring, those that were on the field made notable stides.
“The other thing is, the units were playing better together from an assignment standpoint,” Wulff said.
He also said the culture change from one coaching staff to another has really started to take root. And that means “we're spending more time applying the things you need to do to get better as a football player (rather) than trying to adjust and learn attitudes like we did a year ago ... they're (the players) getting a much better grasp of our expectations and they're creating their own expectations right now and holding each other accountable. Therefore, we're all more productive.”
THE COUGAR OFFENSE offered up some fireworks in Thursday's practice, with Dwight Tardy turning in some nice runs, including the longest gain of the day’s full scrimmage. He took the ball to the outside for a nifty 19-yard pick up, aided by nice blocks from the left side of the offensive line manned by Steven Ayers and Zack Williams.
The most bizarre play of the practice was worthy of the highlight reel. During skelly drills, receiver Daniel Blackledge fell down at the end of his pass route. But he didn’t give up, ostensibly because he knew that if all had gone as planned behind him, quarterback Marshall Lobbestael would have already fired a pass in Blackledge’s direction. Defensive back Tyrone Justin thought he had an easy interception, but Blackledge bounced off the turf like he was on a trampoline and went up to snatch the ball away from Justin for a nice gain.
The second-team offense, taking advantage of all the injuries at linebacker, looked solid going against the first-team defense. Running back. Marcus Richmond had some nice gains around end and up the middle, while tight end Zach Tatman grabbed a pass for paydirt when he got behind coverage and hauled in aDan Wagner's strike. The offense broke out in cheers when he scored, because the first-team defense has been tough to score on through most of the spring.
The special teams also had its best outing of spring, with kickers Nico Grasu and Patrick Rooney perfect on the afternoon. It was the first practice where no field goals were missed, and Wulff praised the unit for being more cohesive after getting more time working together.
WHEN WULFF WAS ASKED to single out some players who made the greatest strides over the last month of workouts, he hesitated for moment, saying it’s tough to name just a few. But he did offer up several. Among them: Cornerback Brandon Jones, running back James Montgomery, safety Chima Nwachukwu, receivers Kevin Norrell, Jared Karstetter and, in the last week, Jeffrey Solomon. He also said Tatman “has been a nice surprise” and senior tight end Tony Thompson “has done some good things.”
He added, “All the running backs have showed some signs of improvement, so there’s been some signs. I think that Casey Hamlett has been a pleasant surprise on the defensive line.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy talked about quarterbacks Lobbestael and Kevin Lopina . “They've gotten better. I'm pleased, they're getting better and better and better, and that's all I can ask of them. But they've got a long ways to go. The good thing about it is they're both great people who are going to do everything it takes to get better...There'll be great competition there, obviously we're not really going to name a starter right now, and they know that. It's just going to be an ongoing battle and we'll see how it shakes out in the end.”
Lobbestael was limited this spring by his knee rehab, but he took increasingly more reps as the spring progressed. He is expected to be fully healthy when August practice begin.
• Wulff mentioned of that the incoming class of recruits, he would expect that four to six could play in immediately, but added that it was just an educated guess until he sees them in pads in Pullman.
• On the injury front, Wulff said he expects everyone to be ready to go for fall camp except possibly defensive back Jay Matthews (shoulder). And even he has chance to be ready.
• Walk on fullback and special teams player Remy Martin returned to practice Thursday from a knee strain and caught the ball well out of the backfield.
• The Cougars' final spring scrimmage will be held at 10 a.m. this Saturday in Martin Stadium.