FALL CAMP: Few spots locked up, says Wulff

PULLMAN -- Thursday's practice was a shoulder-pads- and-helmets-only affair but that didn't dampen the action. Louis Bland, surrendering nearly 100 pounds, flattened a hoss. Paul Wulff says competition is still wide open all around. There was some sobering work in the kicking department. And the first-team D hosted a variety of faces, including Jason Stripling, Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Aire Justin.

While with the 1's, Justin looked good in coverage and had some big deflections -- including a nice swat of a pass from quarterback Kevin Lopina intended for wideout Jared Karstetter.

"You know, (Justin's) made some improvement from a year ago. He's gotten a little bit stronger and he's a little bit more confident, so that's helping his performance," said Wulff.

With starting CB Brandon Jones projected out 1-3 weeks, the Cougs were moving players around in the secondary. There were instances Thursday where Justin, 13 pounds heavier than last year, would play cornerback with the 1's. That meant Chima Nwachukwu could return to safety and Tyree Toomer or Leandre Daniels would be on the sidelines.

WULFF SAID HE'LL continue to search for what starting unit he will use against Stanford. And that is not limited to the cornerback spot.

"It's still a battle, there are so few positions out here that you could say are locked up and I refuse just to lock in and say this guy's the starter," said Wulff. "Everybody's going to keep competing and that's the way it is."

Alex Hoffman-Ellis (foot) looked like he was back near 100 percent -- the middle 'backer played sharp while getting in some rep with the 1's.

"He's moving around, and I think we're doing a good job splicing him in and stimulating him mentally and a little bit physically. He's doing well," said Wulff.

FELLOW LINEBACKER Jason Stripling continued to get in on the action with the 1's Thursday. Stripling has seen considerable time there this training camp with all three of the linebackers listed as starters on the pre-fall camp depth chart missing various amounts of time.

Stripling played extremely well Thursday, even snagging a nifty interception off Lopina during a 7-on 7 skelly drill.

Mattingly said that with the emergence of the younger guns, including freshman Darren Markle, and with a healthy Myron Beck in the fold, the linebacker unit should be deep this season.

"There's a lot of depth at the linebacker corps and with guys getting banged up, it's great to have such solid backups and also to help push the number 1's with some competition," said Mattingly.

Beck had an interception of his own while running with the second team during 11-on-11's, which took up the last 20-25 minutes of practice.

DURING THE SCRIMMAGING portion of practice, the offense and defense were in a see-saw battle that began with safety LeAndre Daniels intercepting a Lopina pass intended for tight end Zach Tatman.

A few plays later, the hit of the day belonged to linebacker Louis Bland when he rushed the line, lowered his shoulder and leveled left tackle Steven Ayers. Bland weighs 221 pounds, Ayers is 311.

After that, the offense got into a bit of a groove. In short-yardage drills at the 10-yard line, Lopina avoided the pass rush, rolled out and was able to squeeze the ball in to Gino Simone in front of safety Xavier Hicks.

On the next series, Lobbestael connected with running back Remy Martin for a 2-yard touchdown to close the scrimmage portion.

To end practice, place kickers Nico Grasu, Patrick Rooney, and recent walk on Blake Dunn lined up for 35-yard kicks.

Things went badly. Grasu's first attempt barely got off the tuft and went flying into a lineman's backside. A few kicks later, Grasu had another attempt blocked by defensive end Travis Long. Rooney and Dunn came in, and they could not find the target or range.

Combined, the three place kickers started off 0-for-6 from 35 yards out. Wulff moved the ball to the right hash mark and the trio knocked in four straight, with Grasu hitting two, and Dunn and Rooney connecting on one each.

FALL CAMP IS winding down. After a scrimmage Friday, the Cougars will start getting ready for the Stanford Cardinal during weekend practices. The season kicks off Sept. 5.

"It was good, we got a little tired at the end but we did some good things early on, the young men came out and practiced well," said Wulff.

In the broader context, Wulff is excited with the Cougs' continued improvement.

"I think we covered as many situations as we wanted to cover. And we obviously still have some work to do but we've making steady progress, and I'm very pleased," he said.

  • During 7-on-7 skelly drill, Lobbestael hit Karstetter for a 30 yard touchdown over the outstretched hands of Nwachukwu.

  • During special team's drills, receivers Simone and Kevin Norrell were the return men.

  • Terrance Hayward had a nice diving interception when a Lopina pass intended for Esa Johnwell was tipped and floated in midair.

  • Beck intercepted Lobbestael on one of the very last plays of practice.

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