Cougs gear up with o-line push & sackmasters

PULLMAN -- The fire was there for the Cougars from the beginning with countless reminders of the season being only a few days away. Unfortunately, those reminders also included the injury bug. The offensive line had a good day in the run game, and Kevin Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael were on target. Meanwhile, Travis Long and Jason Stripling went and got themselves a little somethin'-somethin'.

Sports Information's Joe Nickell said that Tyree Toomer is having surgery on his torn pectoral muscle and will be out for the season. The safety had played well and was expected to be a contributor behind starters Chima Nwachukwu and Xavier Hicks.

Toomer's absence likely means a larger reserve role for LeAndre Daniels, who has also come in for praise from the coaches in the latter half of fall camp.

And with Daniels back and a few players out with the flu, including Aire Justin, who is listed as an either/or with starter Daniel Simmons at cornerback, Nwachukwu took a number of snaps at the right corner spot opposite Brandon Jones.

THE DAY BEGAN with warm-ups and everyone was into it -- the coaches saying; "Martin Stadium!" to the players, "Game Week!" coming back from players, along with an occasional, "It's a great day to be a Coug!" from senior RB Dwight Tardy.

Kevin Lopina saw most of the action running with the No. 1 offense on Tuesday, while redshirt sophomore Marshall Lobbestael spent most of his day directing the second team.

Paul Wulff has said he would alternate both of his quarterbacks throughout Saturday's matchup against Stanford but also said if someone gets a hot hand, he'll stay in.

Neither Lopina nor Lobbestael threw an interception in the practice.

WHILE THE OFFENSIVE line did a good job with the run game in the first practice of the game week, the pass protection towards the end of practice was not their best.

Freshman DE Travis Long "sacked" Lopina and during the same series, LB Jason Stripling got in through the middle untouched and forced Lopina to abruptly check down to RB Logwone Mitz, who couldn't haul the ball down in front of S Xavier Hicks.

The offensive line did do better in the run game, however, and the Cougs had a solid day overall executing their assignments.

"We had an above average Tuesday practice," said co-defensive Coordinator Jody Sears. "I liked the..execution of it. As a coach you want to consistently drive them and coach them to keep that intensity -- which I think might be the one thing that we've most improved on."

WITH MIDDLE 'BACKER Alex Hoffman-Ellis, strong-side LB Andy Mattingly and weak-side LB Jason Stripling slated to start on Saturday, freshman MLB Darren Markle and sophomore weakside LB Louis Bland continued to get a lot of reps in with the 1's.

And Sears said you never know how the starting unit can change from Tuesday to Saturday because of injury and other factors.

"Oh absolutely, there's always a chance for the guys to work their way in," said Sears. "It's what's best for the team and I think the kids understand that, there doesn't seem to be much selfishness along those lines."

WR Kevin Norrell, CB Aire Justin, and CB Terrance Hayward were among those off the practice field with the flu.

ON THE RETURN side, C Andrew Roxas was back with his teammates in a practice jersey. He looked much, much thinner than his usual 300-plus pound self.

Roxas, who has been ill over the summer, was diagnosed with a form of Viral Hepatitis while back home in California, said head trainer Bill Drake. The virus appears to be gone and he's on the mend, but he's lost over 30 pounds and will likely redshirt this season.

ROXAS FELLOW O-LINEMEN showed continued progress with the run game, something that did not go overlooked by the running backs.

"Our offense is doing well, our o-line is getting stronger, getting smarter. Guys are finally getting technique down and we know what we're supposed to be doing out there," said Tardy.

The offense focused a majority of the plays towards the end of practice's 11-on-11 in the run game. Tardy, James Montgomery, and Logwone Mitz all saw time running with the 1's. Tardy was named the starter this week, but all could get plenty of turns.

"It's great for me, the offense is going to have fresh legs in at all times," said Tardy. "You have to have guys competing out there and when you have guys competing it brings the best out of you and we have three great backs, so I think it's great for the offense."

That doesn't mean Tardy's goals have changed.

"I have to get over 1,000 yards. I've been trying to get it every year but I've had some setbacks and shortcomings but I feel like it's a good year for me. And I'm going to go out there every day and try my hardest." said Tardy.

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