SPRING BALL DAY 10: Corner market

PULLMAN--Kevin Lopina took the snap and turned to hand the ball into the waiting arms of Dwight Tardy, who had just ripped off a 20-yard run the previous play. The defense bit on the fake, and Lopina rolled out sans pursuit. Looking downfield, he saw tight end Zach Tatman rolling with him and threw a bullet. Tatman hung on and tapped down his toes before being pushed out of bounds. Touchdown.

The Cougars took the field for the 10th day of spring and the players showed up ready to practice. Offensively, Washington State has placed a lot of emphasis on establishing the run this spring, and an early chunk of practice time was devoted to a pure running scrimmage.

Naturally, it gets tougher to make a play when the defense knows that the offense is going to run, but the Cougar running backs wouldn't be stopped on several occasions Tuesday. Both James Montgomery and Dwight Tardy took off for large gains and Marcus Richmond added another later on the day as well.

From this chair, both Montgomery and Tardy have elevated their play to date, not only by their physicality and talent, but especially by their consistency.

On the first play of the scrimmage portion of practice, raw speedster Johnny Forzani lined up across from rising redshirt freshman Daniel Simmons. Simmons has seen the field a bunch this spring at a position that has seen suspensions, injuries, academics and attrition take its toll.

Simmons has for much of the spring played the corner this spring with a physical cover style and on on this play, it was no different.

He forced Forzani off his route, then jumped Lopina's pass -- it also looked like there was some miscommunication between Lopina and Forzani. After making the leaping interception, Simmons took off -- showing some great speed in getting behind a wave of defensive blockers to take it in for six.

Simmons has seen a lot of balls thrown his way this spring, and has had his share of opportunities to make a play, but until Tuesday's practice hadn't been able to hang on. The defensive coaches, especially cornerbacks coach Jody Sears, have seen some tangible growth in the redshirt freshman.

"He got better today, we've been taking baby steps with Daniel," said Sears. "Daniel's been coming along, and today was probably his best practice of spring, so that was good to see...he's doing good."

One of the other surprises of practice was seen Chima Nwachukwu taking reps at cornerback.

Nwachukwu was a lauded player at the position a couple of seasons ago, a true freshman campaign where he started all 12 games at corner, and still looked comfortable there on Tuesday.

On the first play of the skelly portion of practice, Jared Karstetter, however, beat some textbook coverage by Nwachukwu for a leaping over the shoulder grab in the back of the end zone. After that, Chima locked down the left corner spot. He positioned himself perfectly for an interception on one play but was unable to hang on so it went in the ledger as a break-up rather than interception.

"Looked like he'd been doing it for a hundred years," said Sears. "...That play in the end zone (Karstetter's grab), that was a great play on both parts, that going to happen...He's a lot stronger, he's a lot more physical now."

But the coaches said Nwachukwu, in all likelihood, isn't back at corner for good.

The Cougars on Tuesday were down to just three corners on the roster who were not injured, ill, concentrating on academics or suspended but the coaches made it clear Nwachukwu's move to corner was mostly a chance to build depth and give Tyree Toomer more safety reps after spending the past few practices at corner.

Besides Simmons, walk-on Shane Thomas and Cal transfer Brandon Jones were the two corners listed on the roster who were taking reps. Tyrone Justin has missed practice sessions while Devin Giles has sat out this spring to concentrate on classwork.

Jones shed the yellow non-contact jersey a while back and played with a large cast on his hand, and should be back to normal in a few short weeks heading into the offseason . In his first practice without the cast on Tuesday, it was pretty clear he was getting comfortable with full contact.

"Today, he did a nice job," said Wulff of Jones. "One, he's healed pretty quick, and it good to have him out here. I guess the negative to it is it allows him to hold a bit more."

NOTABLE NOTES:
Middle linebacker Alex Hoffman Ellis came to practice with a wrapped knee and calf and a noticeable limp. Wulff said the injury happened in Saturday's scrimmage and that he may have some issues with the cartilage in his knee. He is day to day.

Toby Turpin also came to practice in a boot with a high ankle sprain, also a result of last weeks scrimmage and will miss the rest of the spring session.

Fellow defensive linemen Kevin Kooyman (back) and Josh Luapo (elbow) were back on the field on Monday in full contact situations.

Romeo Pellum, already suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules, was cited this weekend for driving with a suspended license according to a report in The Spokesman Review.


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