Cougs get defensive on DAY 12; Injury update

PULLMAN -- The Cougar stop corps continued to build off Thursday afternoon's session, with Daniel Simmons, Xavier Hicks, Chima Nwachukwu and the defensive line leading the way in Friday's workout. First off, however, we have some injury news from Paul Wulff and the medical staff -- and it's trending toward the positive.

Running back James Montgomery's knee certainly isn't as bad as it could have been following a scare in Thursday's afternoon's practice.

Indeed, head trainer Bill Drake said he's very optimistic Monty -- as well as receivers Jeshua Anderson and Daniel Blackledge, and linebacker Andy Mattingly -- will be ready by the Cougars' Sept. 5 opener against Stanford.

Drake said that Montgomery suffered a sprained MCL. However, it's an isolated injury and Montgomery is expected to miss 1-2 weeks. He'll be listed as questionable for the season opener but it sounds like WSU expects him back in action well before then.

"Obviously we don't want a player to ever get hurt but were fortunate that it could have been more serious and it wasn't," said Wulff.

Anderson, Blackledge and Mattingly are also classified as questionable at this point, but Drake reiterated he expects all four will be able to suit up against Stanford.

Also, at the linebacker position, middle man Alex Hoffman-Ellis is having an MRI on his right foot today. In his place, freshman Darren Markle ran with the first unit. Another potential option there could be senior Jason Stripling, who has been manning the starting weakside spot for much of camp while Louis Bland (knee) continues to heal up.

Stripling added considerable bulk and muscle this offseason, checking in at 241 pounds at the start of fall camp.

OUT ON THE FIELD, the Cougar D continued to show improvement after a porous morning practice on Thursday.

The offense was held out of the end zone all practice in 11-man team drills and with continued pressure up front by the d-line, Marshall Lobbestael threw two interceptions against the first-team defense.

Lobbestael's first pick came where he was trying to hook up with Collin Huemmer. Cornerback Daniel Simmons deflected the ball away and safety Xavier Hicks made an absolutely beautiful diving catch to secure the purchase.

Hicks made another great play later on in the 11-on-11 drill when he dove full extension to break up a Lobbestael pass intended for tight end Aaron Gehring.

"Today we knew we had to come out with intensity and make plays and that's what we were able to accomplish," said Hicks.

On the very last play of practice, safety Chima Nwachukwu got in on the act when he intercepted a Lobbestael pass that was intended for Huemmer.

The whole defensive unit went off and jumped up and down in celebration as the offense looked on.

"Between Chima and I, we have to make sure we get everybody lined up and as a defense I think we've gotten a lot better at reading our keys and that's why a lot of our big plays happen," said Hicks.

TO BE SURE, THE Cougs' defensive line was on point today in putting pressure on the QBs.

Lopina and Lobbestael were constantly running out of the pocket and there were back-to-back plays where Lopina was forced to run straight out of bounds to avoid a sack. True freshman end Travis Long continued to see time with the 1's on Friday.

"I think as a whole defense, we've improved and I really like how the d-line is playing," said Hicks. "The d-line is playing excellent, they're getting penetration and sacks, and when we can get that it makes coverage easier because the quarterback has to rush his throw. So I'm really excited about their play."

Alongside Hicks' unbelievable interception, placekicker Nico Grasu, whose accuracy issues led to WSU bringing in walk-on kicker Blake Dunn, also highlighted the day.

Grasu drilled a beauty from 54-yards out that sailed straight and true through the uprights. Grasu got a good hold of the ball, hitting it so far up the net that it might have been good from 60 yards or more.

Redshirt sophomore receiver Nick Proen received some time with the 1's and hauled in a nice 10- yard pass from Lopina. While working with the 2's, Proen has showcased great hands and has been consistent with his play.

Saturday the Cougs will hold two practices, the first beginning at 8 a.m. (a change from the original schedule which had 9 a.m.) and the second starting at 3 p.m. Sunday's single practice is moving as well, to 3 p.m. (originally scheduled for 9 a.m.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Braulio Perez, brand new to CF.C, is a junior at Washington State. He is studying broadcast news at the Murrow College of Communication. He is a graduate of Inglemoor High in Kenmore, Wash.

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