SPRING BALL DAY 4: Cougar Defense roars

PULLMAN--The Cougs' fourth spring session mirrored the late afternoon weather conditions. Things started nicely and then went from bad to worse for the O and Cougar aerial attack. It wasn't all bad though. The first team crimson D had a field day and spent so much time in the backfield, their mail should be delivered there. One returning Cougar had a big day -- but another was injured.

Indeed, the first team defense, matched up against an inexperienced second team offensive line, and with some snow and wind thrown in, was no contest.

J.T. Levenseller or Kevin Lopina could make it to their second read.

"I think we've got 8-9 guys who are healthy on the d-line and right now," said Paul Wulff. "Over a couple of days, they've done some good things.

"With the offensive line we've got a lot of young guys, a couple first year freshmen that just started in January that are participating with the twos and there's a lot of learning going on out there...We've got that little thing going on right now so there's a little imbalance at times."

The injury bug has also hit Andy Mattingly. The outside linebacker injured a pectoral muscle on Wednesday and may be done for the spring.

The lightly falling snow got heavier as practice wore on. And the Cougar offense in turn struggled to find much of any consistency as the weather, and ball security, became an ever increasing factor. A few of the Cougar wideouts couldn't hang on to some very catchable passes.

Wulff said he believes work in these types of conditions is important, but that there's also enough adverse weather later in the year to give the players enough experience playing in the elements.

"It really kinda flattened practice out," said Wulff of the weather. "We just gotta to be smart to make sure we're still getting functional work done. And if we feel like the conditions aren't going to allow us to get functional work done, we may need to cancel practice or move practice inside."

THE COUGARS ALSO got a bit of an injury scare at the quarterback position on Wednesday. Quarterbacks are off limits as far as contact goes but Levenseller was shaken up on one of the plays. He returned to practice limping with an ice pack on his knee, but he was able to walk and move around.

Lopina proceeded to take the rest of the snaps during the scrimmage portion of practice, and he was forced to scramble on almost every play with the second team defense making a charge. Cougar running backs coughed up three fumbles during the session, and two of them were recovered by the defense. Then Lopina forced a bad pass directly into the waiting arms of linebacker Kevin Baffney.

The play of the day was turned in by defensive lineman Jesse Feagin, who has shifted inside to defensive tackle due to the lack of depth at the position. Feagin came up with a big interception return for a touchdown on a screen play.

"I saw the screen developing, blocked out and once I saw the play I just went for the play," said Feagin.

Defensive end Cory Mackay applied pressure to Lopina on the play.

Feagin's shift inside, while now necessarily something permanent, is a step to build depth at the position. He's beefed up to 266 pounds this spring, a gain of 16 from last fall, after spending a redshirt season to concentrate on academics.

"At my JC I played (there) a little bit, I went down in when we did third and long situations...It's kinda different learning the run part of it, I feel a little restricted to doing things as far as rushing in...Right now, there are a couple of D-tackles banged up getting surgeries prior to spring ball. What I'm doing is just learning the inside and outside if someone goes down during the season," said Feagin.

Bernard Wolfgramm, coming off shoulder surgery, is among those the WSU coaches and medical staff are being cautious with this spring.

EARLY ON, the offense looked good in skeleton drills. Marshall Lobbestael took snaps alongside Lopina and Levenseller and looked the sharpest of the three quarterbacks.

The Cougar offense started out with a bang, with wide receiver Jared Karstetter taking a deep ball to the house. As the skelly wore on, however, the defense tightened up and the offense stalled with incomplete passes becoming the norm.

Among those making plays on defense Wednesday were cornerbacks Tyrone Justin and Daniel Simmons, fresh back from being suspended for an unsepcified violation of team rules.

Justin, who has added eight pounds to his frame this spring, was in on several pass breakups on the day. Kevin Frank and Deon Ford also returned off suspension. Corner Romeo Pellum remains suspended and has yet to make his spring debut.

Along the defensive line, Toby Turpin, Mackay and walk on Casey Hamlett all got to the quarterback at some point during the scrimmage. They also forced the running backs to cough up the slippery ball on a couple of occasions.

The best run of the practice came courtesy of Logwone Mitz, who ripped off a long one behind a couple of nice blocks by left guard Zack Williams and center Andrew Roxas against the second team defense.

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