Spring ball Day 2: Wulff likes the energy

PULLMAN – Paul Wulff, who tends to be more matter-of-fact than effusive, was close to warm and fuzzy Wednesday after putting his 2011 Cougs through their second day of spring workouts. "Even through the rain and all, I love how you guys continued to work hard and I liked a lot of things I saw today, especially with the energy," Wulff said in the team huddle at the end of the helmets-only session.

The energy was, indeed, palpable. For the second straight day, in fact, there were tempers flaring between offensive and defensive linemen. Twice during the day's final scrimmage, a play ended with an exchange of words and fists between defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi and offensive guard Wade Jacobson.

There were also fireworks of a more conventional nature.

Senior receiver Isiah Barton turned in the two offensive plays of the day. The first was a toe-dragging, diving catch for a 40-yard gain. The second was an end-around, fly-sweep that beat the defense for a 20-yard gain.

Defensive highlights included linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis's pick six off Marshall Lobbestael, and cornerback Damante Horton's three pass deflections while defending Marquess Wilson.

As a whole, the No. 1 defense turned in a strong performance against the offensive number ones, forcing quarterback Jeff Tuel to look for more options or tucking and running. Some of the defensive packages Tuel stared down were a little different then what he's seen before.

"We were able to add in a few new things today which was nice and liked how that turned out," said defensive coordinator Chris Ball.

That's just a piece of what's being done to get the Cougars out of the national cellar in a number of defensive statistical categories.

"We need to be better tacklers and we need to stop the run, those are some things we're really going to focus on this spring," he said. "So far, (I) love the energy that we've came out with and love what I'm seeing."

The defense spent a good portion of team drills focusing on stopping the run against the offensive scout team. Much of the run-stopping will be expected out of a solid returning linebacker corps led by Hoffman-Ellis and C.J. Mizell.

"With their size and athletic ability, I think we can get a lot done. They're big, they're all over 230, they can run and they're real physical," said Ball.

On the offensive side, Tuel took the majority of snaps with the ones and completed all his passes in 11 on 11 drills to Wilson, senior Jared Karstetter and junior Gino Simone.

"Jeff is starting out this spring with 12 games under his belt (from last year) and we expect him to make that next step now," said offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy. " He's starting out at a whole different spot than a year ago -- and with his growth and maturity as a player at a high level, we expect him to make that next step."

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • The Cougars will practice Thursday, in full pads, starting at 3:45. They will not return to the field until after spring break, on March 22.

  • Thursday will be the annual NFL Pro Day in Pullman, with scouts from a number of teams putting Myron Beck, Zach Enyeart, Zack Williams and other outgoing Cougars through a variety of drills and tests. Those proceedings begin at noon.

  • Former WSU standout receiver Brandon Gibson, now a starter with the St. Louis Rams, was on hand for Wednesday's practice.

  • Chris Ball said the absence this spring of d-linemen Travis Long (shoulder) and Jordan Pu'u-Robinson (knee) "gives an opportunity for other guys to step up like Ian Knight, a transfer from Butler Junior College, and Kalafitoni Pole (Toni). "Both are playing really well and I expect them to be highly involved in the fall," said Ball.

  • Second-year freshman quarterback Connor Halliday looks to give Lobbestael a run for No. 2 job behind Tuel. He threw tight spirals with good velocity and had better accuracy, in tighter windows, than Lobbestael on Wednesday.
  • Punter Dan Wagner averaged about 50 yards per boot.

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