DAY 8: Cougs rotating more, tempo better

PULLMAN-- The Cougars passed the midway point of spring ball on Thursday and although it was a no-contact session, fireworks lit up Rodgers Field to close out practice with a brouhaha that just seemed to go one and on. Meanwhile, WR Gino Simone showed flashes, the punt gunners were flying fast, and there was mixing and matching on the offensive line that could turn out to be a long term move.

As usual, the special teams was a focus during the beginning of practice and assistant Dave Ungerer had plenty of speedsters working at the gunner position during punts.

They included WR's Kristoff Williams, Isiah Myers, Bennett Bontemps, S Deone Bucannon, and CB Damante Horton among others.

ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE, the news of the day was that usual LG Wade Jacobson was moved to RT, while usual RT John Fullington was moved to LG.

"We're just experimenting some things and changing things around," Paul Wulff said. "It's getting John on the left side where it could be a value to us, and getting Wade out at tackle. He and B.J. (Guerra) give us two physical guys on one side and John and David (Gonzales) give us some athleticism on one side."

Both Jacobson and Fullington held their own in their new positions on Thursday. Fullington played some guard last year before moving to left tackle after starter David Gonzales went out with a broken arm. Jacobson came to WSU as a tackle before moving to guard.

"It feels a lot better," Jacobsen said of playing on the end of the line. "I had a sit down with coach (Wulff) and we had a quick little talk and you know I wasn't really comfortable at guard. With my long legs and my long body I wasn't really made for that position. Tackle is where I usually play, it feels so much more comfortable and I can get in the right stance and pass protection is doing good."

The offensive line as a whole did very well on Thursday in both pass protection and in the ground game – though again, the practice session was less than full-contact. Another test comes on Saturday with the Cougs' second scrimmage of the spring -- CF.C will keep an eye on it for you and, assuming Thursday's moves are again in evidence on Saturday, we'll let you know how the o-line performed when the action goes live.

EIGHT PRACTICES INTO the spring and from this vantage point, the Cougs continue to make strides and are ahead of last year. They still have work to do and they're not where they want to be just yet, but having watched virtually every spring and fall camp practice plus plenty of in-season practice sessions, there's been significant improvement from last year.

The offense had another bright day on Thursday and that brings up a concern – conventional wisdom is that the defense should still be ahead of the offense while the latter gets their timing down. But the defense also had plenty of moments on Thursday.

On defense, the secondary specifically had a productive evening, with Deone Bucannon hauling in an interception on QB Conner Halliday (while with the 2's), and S Tyree Toomer and CB Damante Horton also turning in pass deflections.

"There's no question we're continuing to improve," Wulff said. "What's nice is that we're relatively healthy and that's nice -- because it allows guys to be bigger and stronger. We're still getting productive practices in, the tempo is better and we can rotate guys in. Now finally we can practice at the tempo we need to so we can really grow."

"We're just an all around mature team," Gino Simone added. "With every practice we're getting better and we're becoming more successful and that's going to equate well on the field for us."

The junior wideout had his most productive practice of the spring, and he came out of the gates hot. Simone was a major focus of the aerial attack from the get go, with QB Jeff Tuel hitting Simone for a 30-yard gain during the first series of 11-on-11's.

"I've been working on a lot of my techniques," Simone said. "Not (having) the big Marquess (Wilson) type speed or Jared (Karstetter) type strength, I have to be more technically sound that anyone -- so I'm really working on that and being a reliable guy."

Simone continued doing just that, with the 1s matched against the 1s, when Tuel found the former Skyline product for a 15-yard TD. For Simone, who suffered through injury and concussion issues in 2010, will 2011 be his year?

"Hopefully that's the case," Simone said. "Hopefully it's the Cougs' year more than anything. We just need to be able to put the best 11 guys on the field on each side of the ball. Hopefully we'll get a lot of success and if I'm one of those guys then it will be awesome."

DURING THE CLOSING moments of practice was when the fire and intensity really hit full force.

With the second team offense matched up against the second team defense, an incomplete pass from Halliday to WR Isiah Myers saw Myers and CB Anthony Martinez get into a scuffle. It didn't end there.

MLB C.J. Mizell and LG Tyson Pencer then went at it, tumbling to the ground and not letting go. It went on for an extended time -- felt like at least 30 seconds -- and the pair not be immediately separated by teammates. In fact, more players got involved in the skirmish before the coaches were able to separate all the players.

Following the ruckus, the whole team cheered in unison. And then play continued. Pushing and shoving and "fights" are a common occurrence in practice and in the end, this one was like most, said Wulff.

"It's just scuffles, they break out and that's part of the game when you're competing," Wulff said. "As long as it starts up and ends on the field -- we never want it to carry off the field."

Jacobson, who referred to himself last season as one of the nastiest players you'll see in the Pac-10, had his own opinion on his mentality going into each practice.

"It comes down to offense vs. defense and if you see one of your guys getting thrown, you're not going to stand on the sidelines and talk about it," Jacobson said. "Nothing carries over in the locker room but out here, it's a war.

"I line up against guys on the defense and my goal is to kick their ass, on the field, I don't care if he's my friend or not. We can be friends in the locker room."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • WR Jared Karstetter was held out of practice for the second consecutive day after suffering an ankle injury during last Saturday's scrimmage.

  • The Cougs are scheduled to host their second scrimmage of the spring this Saturday at Martin Stadium. The Cougs will begin conditioning at 11:45 a.m. with the scrimmage expected to get underway at around 12:30 p.m. according to WSU SID Bill Stevens.

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