Spring Ball Day 10: D-line looking solid

PULLMAN—The overall state of the Cougar defense may yet hold some questions but one area looking like a strength is the defensive line. In the trenches against the Cougs looks especially tough with key players returning, new talent emerging and an injured playmaker well on the road to recovery. Coach Mike Walker and inside man Ropati Pitoitua both talked D following a charged practice Thursday.

Junior Fevaea'i Ahmu, sitting out the spring session because of off-season foot surgery, is recovering extremely well, Walker said. Indeed, the Cougars' assistant coach was downright optimistic Thursday, saying he's not ready to concede a redshirt season, something that has appeared a real possibility with Ahmu's foot an ongoing issue since injuring it at the end of the '06 fall camp.

"We're not even going to think about that," Walker said, when asked about the possibility of Ahmu redshirting. "We want to wait and see him run in the summertime, and see how he comes along. We're just being extra careful right now; we want to make sure (his foot) heals all the way."

Walker said the plan is for Ahmu to run in water for the first time next week, saying "we're going to get him going on that, and once we get him and Johnson back, we're going to be rolling." Pitoitua, who has put together a solid spring already and looks as close to playing shape as anybody on the field, said the focus of the squad at this point is to simply have fun and get better. "We're feeling good, everybody's having fun out there," said Pitoitua. "We're just trying to get everything down-the plays and stuff. All the guys are improving too."

Pitoitua said the disappointing ending to last season provides more than a little motivation for the squad. "It's been on my mind ever since the season was done," he said. "And that's something we have to look forward too, something the guys have got to get better for."

Walker echoed the sentiment of Pitoitua, saying the focus at this point is to get as many reps as possible for as many players as possible.

"Feeling good, trying to get reps for Aaron Johnson, but he has been injured with his sore back, and we're trying to get him in there, but in the mean time, Toby Turpin, (Matt) Eichelberger, (Bryan) Tarkington, and Ropati are all getting reps, (they're) the guys that need reps, the guys that need the work, they're getting the chance now, and that's good."

Walker was asked if any particular players have stood out to him so far this spring. "Turpin does right now," Walker said of the redshirt freshman. "He's doing everything we ask him to do, he needs to get a little bit heavier, in order to take on some of those bigger guys, but technique wise, he's pretty sound in what he does. He's going to be a good player in the future."

Turpin is listed at 259 pounds spread out over his considerable frame, standing a full 6-foot-5.

MEANWHILE, ON THE field on Thursday, several players continued to improve on already impressive spring campaigns.

The team spent a significant portion of practice running 11-on-11 drills, giving players on both sides of the ball an opportunity to shine.

Leading the charge for the offense was again wide receiver Brandon Gibson, who turned in several big catches, including one grab from quarterback Alex Brink in which the junior one-handed a 50-yard bomb and beat out a covering Marcus Dawes to the end zone.

Also looking sharp for the offense was tight end Jed Collins, who had several receptions in the drill. One of the completions was also one-handed by the senior, while yet another went to paydirt.

Running backs Marcus Richmond and Dwight Tardy had big days, with Tardy turning in possibly the nicest run, breaking several tackles before the whistle blew the play dead.

Defensive ends Mike Graise and Lance Broadus both looked sharp, with Graise throwing up a hand and breaking up a Cole Morgan rope at the line, while Broadus turned in several "sacks" in the drills.

Laying some wood for the defense was cornerback Ryan Kensok. The 5-8, 164-pounder knocked helmets with 6-5, 259 pound TE Ben Woodard early in the drill, knocking the junior out of bounds. The play drew raucous praise from the D lined up on the sidelines.

Kensok then had the tables turned on him, however, as he went-head-to-head with the 6-1, 200-pound Richmond. The resulting collision saw Kensok ending up being the player knocked out of bounds, while Richmond kept going full-steam.

Also laying some hard knocks for the D was sophomore safety Xavier Hicks, who absolutely smothered WR Keith Rosenberg just past the line on a short pass from Brink. Both players, and the ball, ended up on the turf.

RB coach Steve Broussard returned to practice Thursday. The first year running backs coach had been in California tending to his ill mother.

TE Devin Frischknecht (knee), WR Charles Dillon (concussion) and RB Skylar Jessen did not participate fully in practice. Dillon and Jessen did not suit up, but Frischknecht donned a jersey and helmet and participated in a limited role.

WR Michael Willis, meanwhile, recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, did participate in some position-specific drills with the WR unit. Willis did not pad up, however, and is not expected to this spring.

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