DAY 14: Great spring, but injury bug bites DT

PULLMAN—All great things must come to an end and for spring football in Pullman, that came Thursday. With only the spring scrimmage in Spokane remaining on Saturday, Paul Wulff is already calling it a great spring for the Cougars. But the defensive line got quite a scare towards the end of practice with a d-tackle going down, and not getting up for some time.

Even though it was a no-contact day, the injury count for the Cougars suddenly began sky-rocketing through the roof. After the first hour or so, it almost felt like Cougs on offense and defense were going down after every whistle.

The biggest blow came when DT Kalafitoni Pole and DE Skylar Stormo appeared to collide with one another during a large pile up. Neither got up immediately. Stormo eventually made his way to the back of the end zone and had his ankle wrapped with ice for the remainder of practice but Pole wasn't so lucky.

The redshirt freshman expected to play an integral role in 2011 was on the turf for at least three minutes before being helped off the field by a teammate and team trainers. Pole was favoring his left knee and was in visible pain as he hobbled off the turf before being taken off on a cart. Wulff said the early prognosis was a sprained MCL, but further tests and evaluation will tell for sure.

"He's being assessed right now and it looks like he got hit in the knee," Wulff said. "There might be a knee-cap issue but that's just a preliminary look. Until we get a better evaluation it's going to be hard to tell, but I think he'll be ok."

With Pole and Stormo out, freshman Xavier Cooper came in at tackle with the 1s, while Justin Mann moved in at DE.

NEW D-LINE COACH Todd Howard is used to players missing on his line and although there have been absences to overcome up front all spring, he's been happy with the effort of his unit.

"I would say a 7 and I'm an optimistic person," Howard said when asked to rate on a 1-10 scale. "We're missing Travis (Long), Jordan (Pu'u-Robinson), as well as Brandon Rankin who are going to factor in come fall. But the guys we had really worked awfully hard and they're picking up my techniques and terminology pretty good."

One defensive lineman who really shined on Thursday was DT Anthony Laurenzi.

Laurenzi has been coming on as of late and when matched up Thursday in a battle during 11-on-11s with LG John Fullington, Laurenzi had the upper hand on several reps, and was consistently in the backfield stopping Coug running backs at the line. When matched up against the 2's, Laurenzi was equally relentless, and added a two-hand touch sack of QB Marshall Lobbestael on one play.

"Today was his best practice as a matter of fact," Howard said. "I think he has all the tools to be as good as he wants to be. He's explosive, he's strong and he's good with his hands. We're trying to work with his footwork and that's something he'll have to continue with over the summer.

"I feel like if he can correct his footwork and get stronger, he should be as good as anyone in the Pac-12."

Another player on D who stood out was LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis. The senior flew into the backfield and stopped Coug RBs at the line on multiple plays, and also nearly added an interception when he perfectly read a pass attempt from Tuel to WR Marquess Wilson.

Hoffman-Ellis is entering his fifth season at WSU, and said the changes that showcased this spring with the Cougar football program are mind-boggling.

"Oh my god, light years ahead," Hoffman-Ellis said. "I can't describe it. (The) leadership on both sides of the ball has just been profoundly improved. No disrespect to prior seniors, they're great people, but they didn't do a good of a job of taking the younger guys under their wing and showing them the ropes. I feel like with the upperclassmen now, I feel like we're doing a better job of guiding them instead of keeping them isolated."

WULFF WAS PLEASED with the way his team came out on the final day of spring practice in Pullman and was asked to reflect with 14 of 15 sessions in the books.

"I think by the end of it we've come a long way in these 14 practices," Wulff said. "A lot of players have gotten better and gotten quality reps. We're a much better football team today then we were when we started."

"I'm very pleased with what's gone on, both offensively and defensively," QB Jeff Tuel added. "If you've seen our scrimmages the offense would have their day and the defense would have their day. That's how it's going to go and that's how it should be. A lot of guys out here making plays and it's night and day for us out here in my opinion."

Tuel said the differences this spring extend to more than just leadership.

"I'd say more focused for sure but I think that goes with the quality of players we have out here now," Tuel said. "That's recruiting -- with the coaches and guys want to get better, they're hungry. We come out here with a better attitude and we push for that."

ON THE OFFENSIVE side of the ball, the aerial attack kept on improving as the day went on, making up for a ground game that had trouble getting into a groove.

WR Marquess Wilson hauled in several passes from Tuel for big gains. Unfortunately for Wilson, his day was cut short early after he suffered an apparent ankle injury. The injury didn't appear serious, however, and Wilson was able to walk on it.

With Wilson out, receivers Isiah Myers and Kristoff Williams saw their time with the 1s increase and both took advantage.

Myers had plenty of nice grabs, and had extra motivation with his family traveling from Florida this weekend to watch him play.

As for Williams, the redshirt freshman has been sizzling over the last few practices and he remained hot on Thursday.

Late during practice, Williams had two 15-yard TD grabs from Tuel with the second one being the play of the day. Tuel fired up a fade to the corner of the end-zone and Williams was matched up 1-on-1 with CB Tracy Clark. Both players jumped high into the air but Williams was able to out-physical the defensive back and secured the catch as both players fell hard to the turf. Williams was swarmed by the entire offense after the play, something that was seen a few times over the last week.

"With these guys you never know who's going to go out there and make the next big play," Tuel said. "I've said it all spring, I think we have one of the best receiving corps in the conference."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • The Cougars continued to work on special teams Thursday and mixed in plenty of gunners during punt drills. Of those who were flying down the field included WR Isiah Myers, CB Damante Horton, CB Tracy Clark, S Deone Bucannon, S Casey Locker among others.

  • MLB Mike Ledgerwood had another solid day of practice. He saw the majority of time running with the 1s while C.J. Mizell spent virtually his entire day working with the second team.

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