Spring Practice Report: Day Nine

Entering spring practices there were the usual question marks at certain positions, leading to the search for whom would answer those question marks. Such was certainly not the case along the Cougar defensive front, as the team returns its three starters and the two-deep virtually intact. Nevertheless, there remains some interesting bylines surrounding the defensive line during the spring.

Jan Jorgensen, Brett Denney, Russell Tialavea, Matt Putnam, Rick Wolfley, etc. Do these names sound familiar? They most certainly should to even the most casual fan, as each has played a role along the defensive front over the past few years. Indeed, the Cougar defensive front hasn't undergone much change at all, which is hardly a bad thing.

"We're in good shape this spring," noted defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi. "We have just about everyone back, and the guys who have needed to make strides are making them while the starters are improving. Defensive line should be a strong position for us this fall."

"It feels like we've played together forever," added defensive end Jan Jorgensen. "We all know each other very well and it's a good thing. We're comfortable with each other and we know how each other plays. It's an advantage."

Jorgensen himself has started in each of his first three seasons and will again assume the starting position this season, while Russell Tialavea has manned the nose tackle spot in each of the two seasons he's been healthy. Brett Denney started last year while rotating in consistently during each of his seasons before last.

"Guys know their spots and they know their roles," said Kaufusi. "What I'm looking for is to rotate five guys in consistently to keep them fresh. The guys that need to step up and take bigger roles are doing that well so far this spring and hopefully it continues.

Good Weight

Among those being looked at to take a bigger role is Matt Putnam. To prove capable of playing a bigger role and becoming more of an every-down type of defensive end, Putnam simply had to get bigger and stay bigger.

"Matt did a great job pass-rushing for us last year," noted Kaufusi about Putnam. "This year we're hoping that he can keep his weight up to give him more strength in defending the run. So far he's done great. He's been able to do that and we hope to use him a bit more if he continues with it."

For Putnam the issue wasn't so much getting bigger, but losing a lot of the fat he had after last season while maintaining his weight during workouts, practice and games.

"I cut down on a lot of my fat," explained Putnam. "I really have just added about 10 pounds from the end of last year, but I'm keeping that weight and I'm not getting fat. I'm not lifting much harder than I had in the past, I'm just eating better and that's what is helping most."

Putnam is eating more calories these days and capping off every day with the same "treat" before he goes to bed.

"I take a double shot of protein shakes with ice cream in them before I go to bed every night," said Putnam. "Doing that helps me maintain my weight and it's worked out great so far."

Putnam reported to camp weighing in at 268 pounds and has been able to maintain that weight through the first two weeks of spring practice, which is the key for him. While playing at that weight, Putnam has certainly seen his ability to take on blocks increase while maintaining that same burst and mobility off the line that made him such an affective pass-rusher last year.

"Yeah, Matt Reynolds doesn't just blow me off the line every time anymore," noted Putnam. "I'm definitely able to take him on better along with taking on the other guys better. I do feel slower though, but everyone is telling me that I'm just as fast. I guess it may be mental."

Playing at a new weight takes some time to adjust to, and Putnam feels that he just completed his best day of practice on Monday and hopes that it continues.

"I know that the strides I've made with maintaining my higher weight had to happen, but it's hard adjusting to it initially," said Putnam. "It's not an easy thing, but I'm finally settling in and I'm going to get better and better and [it's going to be] easier for me from here on out I hope. I don't want to be a guy who coaches continue to shuttle in and out there. I want to be in for every snap, so that's the goal."

Tialavea Trimmer

The nose tackle position is a critical one for any 3-4 system, and many hope that Russell Tialavea can regain his pre-ACL injury form, allowing him to demand double-teams. With Tialavea demanding double-teams on every down or even most downs, it will go a long way towards freeing up the rest of the defensive front and the linebackers to make plays.

"Russell is doing really well this spring," noted Kaufusi. "He's done away with a lot of his fat while making his body tighter and stronger. He's more active than he has been, he's quicker off the ball and he's just stronger. I like what I've seen from him so far."

Backing Tialavea

Backing up Tialavea will again be a mix of Rick Wolfley and Tevita Hola. The battle for both of these players is again keeping down their weight while staying in good shape. Both players are doing just that this spring according to Kaufusi.

"They're progressing and doing what we ask," said Kaufusi regarding his backup nose tackles. "Tevita and Rick are doing what they need to do and they'll continue to battle and push each other and we'll see how they work out. They're both doing well."

Practice Notes

-Bryce Quigly is a recruit that made his way to practice along with his parents. Quigly is a 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound tight end/defensive end prospect from Granite Hills High School in California. Other recruits at practice included Timpview's Bryson McKenzie and Trevor Brown. Anthony Heimuli, who is set to join the team this August, was also in attendance.

-Offensive highlights Monday included J.J. DiLuigi making a long run of just more than 20 yards. Wide receiver O'Neill Chambers aided the run tremendously by locking up cornerback Ryan Love on the corner, which allowed DiLuigi to gain another 10 yards on the play.

Luke Ashworth scored the lone touchdown of the day by hauling in a Max Hall pass from 10 yards out. On the defense Landon Jaussi recorded a would-be interception while defending Tyler Kozlowski, although he was flagged for pass interference as he made a play on the ball. Coleby Clawson recorded a sack.

-Jan Jorgensen had his jersey stolen and wore Matt Bauman's #35 Monday after donning #85 all through last week.

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