Ike & Cougars get defensive; Graise dismissed

PULLMAN--It was 648 pounds of beef going at it. In the Cougs' sumo drill, DT Matt Eichelberger squared off against OT Vaughn Lesuma. The offensive tackle, recently returned from a shoulder injury, put up a good fight. But after an 8-second battle royale, Eich got lower and drove him to the ground. The D erupted into cheers. The O turned to their up-downs. Meanwhile, Mike Graise has been dismissed.

Before moving on to the practice report, DE Mike Graise has been dismissed from the team. Graise apparently missed practice sessions during the bye week. "He isn't here any longer," said Matt Eichelberger.

The Seattle Times reported back in the summer Graise had been charged twice since January 2007 with driving under the influence, pleading guilty to negligent driving each time.

Graise was primarily seen in rotation over the course of his Cougar career, he had three starts total including the Oregon State game this season when starter Kevin Kooyman was injured. The likely starters at defensive end for Stanford in the Cougs' base 4-3 looked to be Kooyman and Matt Mullennix, with Andy Mattingly and Bryce Buslach backing them up.

ON THE FIELD, the Cougar defense came up with big play after play on Wednesday -- until the offense imposed their own will when it really counted.

"It definitely felt good," said Eichelberger about the first defensive victory of the afternoon. "Vaughn's one of the bigger guys (6-5, 329) on the team. He got honorable mention third team, so it really felt good."

The defense has been preparing this week for Stanford's punishing running game which features bruising Toby Gerhart, who has 12 runs of over 15-yards this season. And Eichelberger knows what is needed to prepare for Saturday.

"I see him chucking guys on film, so I think one of our biggest things this week is flying to the ball -- after the first guy hits him, we need another guy hitting him. So that's a big thing this week. As always, we need to hit hard and stay low up front," said Eichelberger.

THE DEFENSIVE COACHES had wanted to use linebacker Corey Mackay to give the defense the a physical presence in the scout team backfield, but a knee injury and impending arthroscopic surgery this week for Mackay meant the coaches had to look elsewhere.

And the coaches weren't kidding about wanting to give the players a physical challenge.

"We had Zack Williams playing running back out there," said Ball. "Had some big-bodied guys playing running back. We're preparing for him, he's a good player."

Williams, redshirting this year, checks in at 6-4 and 293 pounds, while Gerhart is listed at 6-1, 232.

But it was about more than just trying to tackle a big body, defensive players said after practice that Williams is one of the most athletic players on the team.

IN PRACTICE DRILLS AT Washington State for the Cougar defensive line, coach Malik Roberson uses a good amount of rotation and they're often apart from the rest of the defense focused in on their own.

"We're just rotating the defensive line, just trying to get everybody reps," said Ball. "...We've been rotating them that way all year, just to keep them fresh -- they're always banging, so we want to keep them fresh. That's just the way coach Roberson rotates them."

As part of the defensive tackle rotation, Toby Turpin plays in relief of Eichelberger, and Adam Hineline rotates in with starter Fevaea'i Ahmu. A'i Ahmu.

The defensive line isn't the only position that features a heavy rotation. At safety, Chima Nwachukwu rotates in liberally with Alfonso Jackson.

"(Nwachukwu) rotates every series with Jackson -- last couple weeks, he's been rotating with Alfonso every series. He's doing fine...he's got to take more charge back there and run the show, and be more involved and more consistent with his checks," said Ball.

OVERALL, BALL WAS upbeat about his defense on a day when they won the majority of the battles.

"They did really well, we did a good job with run fits and we're starting to get a little bit healthy. We've had a really good week of practice," said Ball.

He added that the coaches haven't asked the team to step up—they've demanded it. And the competitive level of the practices has risen.

"We're just demanding it. Demanding them to be more physical. Pushing them a little harder, stepping it up."

ON THE DAY, frosh linebacker Louis Bland made several big plays in the backfield.

The increased intensity is probably partly the result of a friendly competition between the defense and offense, a drill called third and six.

The offense takes the field in a third and six yards to go situation, it's a best out of five series and the loser runs sprints. The defense, who won the drill the day before, took a 2-0 lead on Wednesday and looked poised to make it two in a row.

But the offense surrendered three straight plays of over six yards -- including were a long scramble from Kevin Lopina after all his receivers were covered, and then an all out effort from Brandon Gibson. And it was time for the defense to take the field for two extra sets of gassers. Coach Ball hopes making things more competitive in practice between the ones as the Cougs have done this week with more guys getting healthier, will yield more positive results on Saturday on D. Eichelberger agreed.

"It's definitely a good competition to have the offense doing as good as they are doing," said Eichelberger.

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