DEFENSIVELY, THE COUGARS, from this vantage point on the sidelines, are steadily getting better and showing more cohesion each practice. Tuesday was another example of that, with the stop corps making big plays all over the field.
CB Daniel Simmons started the day off hot for the 1's when he read the eyes of QB Jeff Tuel, jumped in front of RB Chantz Staden and made the interception. Simmons also had a diving pass deflection off Tuel later in practice, swiping the ball from the hand of WR Daniel Blackledge.
Indeed, Simmons has been making plays all over the field as of late.
"He's a great player," senior safety Chima Nwachukwu said of Simmons. "He's explosive, he's always there and if he's not making a play, he's always there to make a tackle. He's going to be a very good player for us. Unfortunately we lost him last year (broken leg on Oct. 10 of last year), but we look to see some great things out of him this year."
NWACHUKWU HIMSELF HAD a good practice ON Tuesday, flying all over the field and breaking up a few of Tuel's attempts as well.
Nwachukwu also showcased a little more physicality, a little more contact, than we have grown accustomed to from the safety. He even got into a small scuffle with WR Jared Karstetter. On that play, Nwachukwu caught up to Karstetter after he hauled in a pass from Tuel, and then both battled back and forth on the field and then off the field through the sidelines.
"You know I read an article about where the teams that touch more, they're a lot better and they win more games," Nwachukwu said. "I've been trying to have a lot of fun out here with the teammates and try to get that spirit up for practice."
THE D-LINE WAS again, productive on Tuesday afternoon, and plugged up the line against the running game. In the middle of it all, DT Brandon Rankin, who continues to impress. On one occasion, Rankin pounced on a botched snap -- and then took it to the house for a defensive score.
Tuesday also saw the addition of DT Bernard Wolfgramm to the 1's. Wolfgramm has spent most of the spring session running with the 2's, but he shined on Tuesday with the starters -- he constantly was fighting off clocks and smacking his body into the Cougar RB's throughout the practice.
"He's flying around," Wulff said. "You know when he was here in fall camp his freshman year he was very active and good but then he hurt his back in the middle of that year. To be quite frank, he's playing right now as good as he ever has since post-back surgery a year and a half ago. A part of that is he's down weight wise, rather than be at 300, he's 285."
THE OFFENSIVE LINE on Tuesday again saw a series of different bodies rotating in and out, as o-line coach Steve Morton continues to tinker. Clearly to this point, the d-line has won the majority of battles through the first seven days of spring, but that's not altogether unexpected or necessarily a bad thing – as long as the o-line makes some strides between now and Day 15, and then on into fall camp.
"There's no question we're moving guys all over the place," Wulff said. "We've got some guys who are out because they go to class or they've got this or that. It does hurt the continuity in the offensive line but there really is a bright side to it. The bright side is they're getting a lot of live reps and it's just going to help them get better individually.
"Once we get our nucleus here in fall camp on a consistent basis, the chemistry should grow."
Running with the o-line 1's on Tuesday, for the most part, was LT Wade Jacobson, LG Micah Hannam, C Andrew Roxas, RG Sebastian Valenzuela, and RT David Gonzales.
Usual starting RG B.J. Guerra left practice early for class, opening up the door for Valenzuela. At RG, Timothy Hodgdon also saw some reps running with the first team -- just another example of the constant movement and adjustment that has occurred with the offensive line here in the first part of spring.
WHILE THE DEFENSE shined brightest on Day 7, the offense did have some big moments. The highlight of practice was the 40-45 yard bomb QB Marshall Lobbestael aired out to WR Jeffrey Solomon for a TD. Lobbestael rolled out of the pocket, and deftly found Solomon who had beat CB Nolan Washington deep downfield.
WR Gino Simone also impressed with a series of tough catches, including a 20-yarder where he dove and hauled in the completion. With notables such as WR's Kevin Norrell and Johnny Forzani no longer with the team, has that caused the offense to go into a funk this first half of spring?
"I don't necessarily think so," Simone said. "I think right now in the spring it's just given us a chance to just get tighter as a unit. And when those new guys get here in the summer, we're going to welcome them in. I think it's been a good thing for us to get in more reps. Obviously we miss those guys but we've got to move on, that's the name of the game and that's what we've been doing."
TO CLOSE OUT practice, Wulff had, shall we say, a different set of hands players get in some work on punts. Wulff had his defense pick four offensive linemen to catch punts, and then had the offense pick four defensive lineman to do likewise.
The match-up -- Offensive linemen Sebastian Valenzuela, Timothy Hodgin, Michael Pfeiff, and William Prescott vs. Defensive Linemen Justin Clayton, Zack Brevick, Brandon Rankin, and Anthony Laurenzi. The result?
The offensive line dominated, cleanly fielding 6-of-8 pigskins, while the defense caught only 3-of-8.
"I should have had them do up-downs but I was nice to them today," Wulff said of the defense with a smile.