Practice doldrums: Coach, LB not pleased

PULLMAN – Hard-hitting Cougar linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis has taken down more than 160 enemy ball carriers over the last two seasons, but Tuesday after Washington State's lackluster spring practice the senior-to-be directed his fury at teammates.

"Excuse my language but considering how we've practiced so far, today was a s%$# practice," Hoffman-Ellis said of the two-hour long, full-contact affair. "If you're not taking a step forward you're taking a step back. I just felt like there was no energy even when dudes made plays and That definitely has to change Thursday."

He wasn't alone in his disgust. Cougar head coach Paul Wulff was so disappointed with the day's proceedings that he interrupted the final portion of workouts, teed up some fire and brimstone, and told his troops to get their rear-ends in gear. It was the first time this spring the head coach has been so moved as to stop practice.

It appeared to work. The intensity picked up, but it wasn't enough to overshadow a mostly sloppy afternoon of work.

"It just wasn't a good day emotionally," Wulff said. "How it's been the previous nine practices, today was a day that definitely wasn't one of our better practices. We were physical at parts early in the practice but it was one of those days where all of a sudden some guys are full speed and some guys are not 100 percent out there."

The day actually got off to a rousing start with a new punt coverage drill in which one player would run through another player, then meet square up with another and try and make an open-field tackle. Pulses were racing. The highlight was linebacker Sekope Kaufusi's near-decleating of safety Deone Bucannon. The sound of the hit probably traveled as far as Greek Row.

The intensity dropped from there. There were missed assignments on defense and inconsistent execution on offense.

For Hoffman-Ellis, the final straw came late in the day with the first string D lined up against the first-string O. Quarterback Jeff Tuel dropped into the pocket and had seemingly limitless time to throw before opting to take off. He had nothing but open field in front of him, scampering for a 30-yard TD. The only defender in the same zip code was corner Aire Justin who had sprinted full throttle from the other side of the field.

One topic that did brighten Hoffman-Ellis' outlook was the fact coaches aren't locked in to who's in the starting lineup and who's not.

The linebacking corps is testament to that.

"There's definitely no given positions out here," Hoffman-Ellis said. "Although that's universal in football I think that's especially true at our position considering we have as many as six guys that could start. No one can get comfortable with that number one spot."

There was considerable mixing and matching with the ‘backers on Tuesday. The starters for the majority of practice were Mike Ledgerwood in the middle, Hoffman-Ellis on the weakside and Sekope Kaufusi on the strongside. Kaufusi got dinged up during 11-on-11 drills and left practice early. With Kaufusi out, true freshman Darryl Monroe stepped in with the 1's and had some nice open-field tackles. C.J. Mizell, who has been spending most of his time running with the 2s over the last week, (about the time an angry Wulff sent him to the sideline for lighting a player up during a non-contact practice,) also got in some reps with the 1s in place of Ledgerwood and laid some nice hits as well.

New linebackers coach Chris Tormey has been all over the field this spring, constantly shouting out plays and adjustments to his unit, and offering up one-on-one advice

Hoffman-Ellis says that veteran presence has provided a boost. "He's been around for so long, he's been a head coach twice and he has 30-plus years of coaching experience. He takes you aside and he'll break things down to you so he really explains things extremely well."

AS FOR THE OFFENSE ON TUESDAY, the highlight was the work of the offensive line. They were steady as rain. The first unit was made up of LT David Gonzales, LG John Fullington, C Andrew Roxas, RG B.J. Guerra, and RT Wade Jacobsen for the majority of practice. For most of the session they were matched up against DEs Ian Knight and Xavier Cooper and DTs Anthony Laurenzi and Toni Pole. The hosses did a fine job in pass protection and excelled in run blocking.

The pass protection gave Tuel to find his receivers, including Isiah Barton, who hauled in a 35-yard TD pass midway through practice. Meanwhile in the ground game, Logwone Mitz was on fire, hitting with gusto the ample holes created by the guys up front.

The work of the OL was especially impressive because Jacobsen, at right tackle, and Fullington, at left guard, are new to those spots. The two swapped places last week.

"It seems to be looking pretty good right now and we'll continue to rep it as long as it's working," Wulff said. "There's a lot of guys still in the mix to compete for starting roles, that's still there."

One position where a battle royale seems to be underway is at tight end, where second-year freshman Aaron Dunn and fourth-year junior Andrei Lintz look to be in a dead heat for the starting job. They alternate time with the 1's and the 2's, and Wulff said both continue to make strides.

"Both of them are competing and both of them are climbing the ladder," Wulff said. "We need those two guys in particular to keep growing and right now they're doing a good job."

Dunn missed all of last season with a broken wrist and Lintz shared PT with Skylar Stormo, who recently was moved to defensive end. Lintz caught the one and only pass – for a TD, no less – hauled in by a Cougar tight end in 2010.

Both players looked sharp Tuesday in the full-contact punt coverage drill. Dunn had several plays where he would have a defender come full speed at him and try and bull him over, but the Mead High product would stop them in their tracks and lock up the defender preventing him from making a tackle. Lintz was equally impressive with his play and was extremely physical -- something Wulff noted as being very important for Lintz as he continues his development.

"He's showing signs of it," Wulff said. "That's been an Achilles heel a little bit for him. We need him to be very physical. He has a lot of raw ability and if he can play at a physical all the time he can be a really good player."

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • CB Damante Horton had a strong practice Tuesday with a couple of pass deflections and an interception of Tuel when the 1's were lined up against the 1's. Tuel tried to find WR Isiah Myers, but Horton jumped the route and came down with the turnover.

  • Aire Justin continues to get reps with the 1's at CB and hauled in an interception of his own against the 2's on offense. Justin was matched up with WR Bennett Bontemps, and Justin read the eyes of QB Conner Halliday and leaped up high for the ball and sealed the interception. "You know Aire's made a lot of plays," Wulff said. "He's got excellent ball skills and he's just being a veteran in his ability to create a lot of turnovers."

  • The Cougars have just five sessions left in their 15-day spring season. They will cap matters off on April 16 with the Crimson and Gray Game in Spokane. The game will conclude a week-long series of Cougar events in Spokane that will include the April 11 unveiling of the new football uniforms at the Davenport Hotel at 7 p.m.

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