DAY 3: Cougs go full pads, DL impresses Wulff

PULLMAN -- In the Cougars' first full padded practice of the spring, the players began to set the tone for what looks to be a more physical breed of football on the Palouse this season. The physical gains by many of the Cougar players seems to be paying dividends, something that became evident in the scrimmage portion of Monday's practice -- particularly on the defensive line.

Paul Wulff was pleased by the defensive line's performance in the trenches on Monday.

"There are some good things I think we can take off from practice today and take a big step forward next practice—I thought that starting on our defensive line there was some physical play. I was very encourage by that. I can tell we are a little stronger on our defensive front than we've been," said Wulff.

The players who got most of the reps Monday with the Cougar first team defensive line included Cory Mackay, Jesse Feagin, Adam Coerper and Toby Turpin, none of whom were opening week starters in the Cougars in 2008.

Mackay, who lined up as the left defensive end, got reps with both the first and second team and was closely watched and instructed by d-line coach Malik Roberson. Mackay, now 257 pounds, has made significant physical gains this offseason and it showed on Monday.

With the suspension of Cougar cornerbacks Tyrone Justin and Romeo Pellum, safety Tyree Toomer on Monday got a lot of reps covering the wide receivers at the right corner position. Co-defensive coordinator and CBs coach Jody Sears had high praise for the versatile young defensive back after practice.

"He looks good," said Sears. "This is his third practice playing corner, and I am extremely, extremely pleased with his progress. He is just a good old-fashioned football player. He's strong and he's got some good quickness, and he can run. I'm pleasantly surprised with him."

Toomer is getting his very first turns at corner in his playing career after manning a safety position his first season with the Cougars. He was an outside linebacker in high school.

"He was the logical one to move out there because one, he's smart; two, he's very physical and three, he can run. That's a pretty good combination to have out there on the edge," said Sears.

Sears also said the Cougs have begun to see the defensive leadership emerge.

"We started a little flat (today), but leaders got it cranked up pretty good in skelly, and we got good team segments. and I saw a good physical work out there...The guys that have emerged, (Andy) Mattingly, Chima (Nwachukwu), (Xavier) Hicks, (Louis) Bland, (Tyree) Toomer—those are some of the guys who have emerged from a leadership standpoint...Hopefully that inner circle will continue to grow," said Sears.

OFFENSIVELY, THE COUGAR wide receivers again struggled early in the session -- there were a larger number of drops than usual from what looked to be a lack of focus on the part of the receivers. While some of it can be blamed on the offseason rust, Kevin Lopina had a different explanation.

"We installed this new offensive (communication system). So we're just kinda learning how to do that. A lot of these guys are new and young, and they're learning the plays, so it's just some growing pains. I'm sure we'll be fine in a couple of days. I think they're more worried about what they're supposed to do than just catching the ball and having fun," said Lopina.

Another offensive emphasis this spring is on reducing costly turnovers and offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy is providing some extra motivation.

"Every time we turn the ball over, we've got to do a line of up-downs, 25 yards of up-downs," said Lopina. "So I fumbled a snap today with (Chris) Prummer, so I had to do up-downs. Any interceptions, fumbles, things like that, we've got to be accountable for that, so he's installed that."

THE OFFSEASON PHYSICAL gains of the Cougs have been well documented but Lopina provided additional insight on how it happened and the impact it is having.

"I was lifting with the linemen and the linebackers, and people's maxes went up so much, even my own. We're just pushing our limits, and we're lifting a lot more than we ever thought we could...You see it out here in the (drill) and you hear more pads hitting, and that's good to see," he said.

Marshall Lobbestael participated in the throwing portion of the practice, but was held out of the scrimmages, providing additional reps for Lopina and J.T. Levenseller. However, most of Lobbestael's passes in the throwing portion of the practice looked great, and Wulff could be seen watching both quarterbacks intently for that part of the practice session.

Chris Ivory, Kevin Kooyman and Myron Beck were all nursing injuries and were held out from practicing but could be seen jogging on the sidelines.

The group of players practicing in yellow no contact jerseys included cornerback Brandon Jones, and wide receivers Jeffrey Solomon, Kevin Norrell and Easton Johnson. Johnson has looked comfortable with the switch from safety to wide receiver, most likely because of his junior college experience as a wide receiver at Feather River College.

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