Focused Cougs put Day 5 smile on Wulff's face

PULLMAN -- Paul Wulff hadn't sounded this enthused since the nailbiting win over SMU back in September. In fact, he sounded more enthused. On Thursday, Day 5 of WSU's spring football season, the Cougars left their head coach beaming. Two players who played a major role in that outcome were defensive tackle Brandon Rankin and quarterback Jeff Tuel.

After a day off Wednesday, the Cougs hit the practice field in a helmets-and-shoulder pads affair. The lack of padding didn't dampen the intensity. Wulff was thrilled with the team's start-to-finish focus.

"It was a great sign," Wulff said. "Probably one of our best practices in terms of starting fast, there were no peaks and valleys. It was a great experience for us because we hadn't practiced like that before. The consistency throughout was good. Now you got to keep doing that every practice and we have to form a habit of that so that's our next step and our next challenge."

Rankin was given the day off by Wulff on Tuesday to recover from soreness, but Rankin came back with a vengeance. The JC transfer consistently broke through the offensive line to hound Tuel. If sacks had been allowed, Rankins likely would have concluded the day with five of them.

"You can see he's progressed already since the first day," Wulff said of Rankin. "He's someone that hadn't had pads on in over a year and a half and he's nowhere near where he's going to end up because he's missed so much football. But you can already see he's making steady progress from practice to practice. He's such a good hard worker that he's only going to get better and better."

Rankin, a North Carolina native, was a JC All-American at Butte College in California in 2008. He didn't play this past season, but worked toward wrapping up his AA degree.

Rankin was unassuming in his assessment of his work Thursday. "I just got rested up, I got banged up but I came out here ready to go," Rankin said. "All I have to do is just get back into the feel of it. It's been a while, over a whole year since I hit so just got to get back into that mindset."

Despite Rankin's efforts, Tuel had another fine day. He completed a high number of passes and, impressively, continues his streak of not turning the ball over this spring.

Tuel told CF.C after practice that one-third of the way through spring practices, he is excited about the strides the entire team is making.

"I'm happy offensively and defensively, honestly," Tuel said. "Today for instance, the offense did some great things and so did the defense. That's how it should be, kind of a battle back and forth and I think that's what it's been like so far. Obviously I'd like to see the offense improve and keep on improving but I'm pleased so far."

The Cougs had a number of players missing Thursday. CB Terrance Hayward, DT Toby Turpin and DT Bernard Wolfgramm were off hitting the books. Middle linebacker Mike Ledgerwood was also absent Thursday. He's been suffering from a series of headaches. His absences opened the door for Hallston Higgins to get reps with the 1s. Higgins filled in nicely and had a couple of pass deflections against the second-unit offense.

With Hayward out, redshirt freshman corner Anthony Carpenter saw increased time with the first-team defense, and was involved in two major plays, one not-so-good and one very good.

On the first, Tuel hit receiver Jared Karstetter on a 20-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone when he beat Carpenter and safety Tyree Toomer. It was the only TD on the day by the offense.

Carpenter was able to redeem himself on the very next play when he lit up fullback Jared Byers for the hit of the day. Byers caught a 10-yard pass from Tuel near the sideline, and as he turned his body getting ready to head up field, Carpenter lowered his shoulder straight into Byers' chest and knocked the Pullman High product straight on his backside. Carpenter was swarmed by teammates after the big hit.

CB Daniel Simmons also had a fine play on Thursday when he broke up a potential TD connection from Tuel to WR Jeffrey Solomon. Simmons appeared to be beat on a deep route, but his closing speed allowed him to catch up, and swat the ball away at the last second, leading to high praise from his teammates and defensive coaches.

"Everybody was flying to the ball today," Rankin said. "Defense as a whole we had a pretty good day today."

DEFENSIVE END Travis Long, coming off an impressive rookie season last year, continues to progress. The sophomore from Spokane is a force coming off the edge.

"He's a smart player so he figures things out quick," Wulff said. "I think he's obviously used that experience last year and he's taken the gains he's made physically the last four months and with the combination hes taken a step. He's still got a lot of work in front of him. Sky's the limit for his potential ...

"I always felt when we recruited Travis he was one of the best defensive ends on the West Coast, period. That was our evaluation, and I trust our evaluations on our players. I think that's definitely a strong suit of our staff and we're going to continue to find players who we think are great players regardless of who else recruits them."

The Cougars are off Friday and then back in action Saturday.

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