DAY 3: Cougs sharp, but DT's spring is over

PULLMAN – There were a few bodies missing Thursday as the Cougs wrapped up the first week of spring, but the bigger story was about a starting defensive tackle who will undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the spring. Meanwhile, the LB corps welcomed back a familiar face, who got in plenty of turns with the 1s.

Among those missing the practice included LB Sekope Kaufusi (academics), CB Aire Justin (personal matter), and C.J. Mizell (illness). However the big news coming out of Pullman Thursday was that absent DT Brandon Rankin will be lost for the remainder of the spring.

"He had an academic thing and he's going to have surgery on his shoulder tomorrow morning," Wulff said. "It's just going to clean some stuff up. It's not a major thing but it's something we needed to get done."

It looks to be something that had been bothering him since last season. During Monday's opening practice while running with the 1's, Rankin tried to make a "tackle" on a Cougar RB in the non full contact session and was shaken up on the play. Rankin immediately went to the sideline and was on one knee grimacing, appearing to have aggravated the shoulder. And so the Cougs and Rankin will go the better-safe-than-sorry route and look to get it taken care of now.

"At this point of practices it's time to get it done and get on top of it before it's too late," Wulff said.

High winds and heavy showers convinced Paul Wulff and his staff to move practice indoors for a shoulder pads and helmets session. It didn't stop the Cougars from having what Wulff called a productive session and a good way to end the opening week.

"We had a good practice considering we were inside," Wulff said. "The good thing is it seems like we get a lot of work in and everybody got away healthy so that's good."

Meanwhile, a big return for the Cougar defense was that of LB Louis Bland who returned following his suspension. Wulff said after practice that more information was gathered after Bland was arrested and charged with second degree assault February 26th.

"We got a decent number of the facts and I feel comfortable enough that he can come back and practice," Wulff said. "That's really where it's all at. He's just practicing and at this point we're going to move forward and go from there."

With Kaufusi, and Mizell out of Thursday's practice, it was perfect timing for Bland who was able to see extensive action running with the first team D. Bland was lined up at the SAM, along MLB Darren Markle, and WIL Alex Hoffman-Ellis. Bland, who red-shirted last season, has not practiced since the fall of 2009.

You wouldn't have been able to tell that, however, with the redshirt junior to be flying all over the field. Bland made good reads on Thursday and although he was not available to the media, looked excited to be back on the field with his teammates.

As for the action on the field, the day belonged to the Cougar signal callers who had a very efficient day throwing the football.

During 11-on-11 drills matching the first team offenses and defenses, QB Jeff Tuel led the charge by going 4-of-5 in his attempts. Tuel's sole incompletion came on a dropped pass over the middle by WR Blair Bomber.

Meanwhile, QB Marshall Lobbestael and Conner Halliday also turned in nice performances. Lobbestael ran the second team offense during the 11-on-11's and started things off with a bang when he fired a perfect deep ball to TE Andrei Lintz for a 30 yard completion. Later Lobbestael had back-to-back nice completions to the sideline, first to newly arrived WR Henry Eaddy, followed by another 10 yard strike to WR Kristoff Williams.

Halliday was quite impressive in his stint with the 2's. He went 3-of-3, highlighted by a frozen 30 yard-rope delivered to Bomber that had 60 yard TD written all over it had Wulff not called the play dead.

All-in all, Wulff said he has been pleased with his QB group through the first three practices, though more will be known once the Cougs get into more scrimmaging and full contact play after spring break.

"You know all of them are just more comfortable in what they're doing," Wulff said. "Once we get in live scrimmage situations we're going to get a better feel for how things are going, how quickly they operate, and how efficient they are."

On the defensive side of the ball, Damante Horton stood out, the quick corner making some big plays. On one attempted pass to WR Marquess Wilson, Horton read the play, broke off his receiver and immediately "stopped" Wilson behind the line of scrimmage. Horton added a pass deflection of Lobbestael a few plays later.

With CB Daniel Simmons not being able to practice because of a shoulder injury sustained last season, Horton is taking advantage of his chances with the 1's.

"He's grown a lot," fellow CB Nolan Washington said. "He was a freshman last year and I think this year he's starting to play faster. He's reacting, been watching a lot of film and it's good to see him out here getting these reps and getting better."

As for the defense as whole, Washington said he's impressed with how the unit has connected in just three practices. Washington is entering his second spring, and said the D is well ahead of last year at this time.

"This was by far the best springs (so far) I've ever been a part of," Washington said. "Today for example we had no pads but guys were out there competing and guys are still fighting. Once the pads go on, it should be very fun to watch and I'm looking forward to it."

  • Kaufusi missed practice to concentrate on the books, which Wulff said could happen throughout the remaining 12 practices. "It's academics as well, we just have to get caught up," Wulff said. "He's definitely one of those guys where this could happen through the spring."

  • RB Carl Winston had a nice day, with a couple of big runs for around 15 yards. Winston also showed some great hands catching the ball out of the backfield and bursting upfield.

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