Day 8: Wulff sees success on near horizon

PULLMAN — The Cougars have crossed the halfway point of spring drills and position battles continue to brew -- here's the latest. Plus, Thursday, the Cougars moved indoors to the IPF for a helmets-only session and afterwards, Paul Wulff offered up some keen insight on what he's seen so far, and also commented on some Cougars who have emerged throughout the first eight days of spring, and more.

Head football coaches are notorious for publicly underselling progress/improvement in spring drills – it could have been the best showing ever on any given day and the head coach and coaching staff might, maybe, step to the brink of cautious optimism.

That hasn't been the case at Washington State this spring.

"We've been really good," Paul Wulff said. "Legitimately speaking, we've had a lot of positive reps with the players and our practices are productive."

So the Cougars have consistently had significantly positive practices thus far this spring -- what will it lead to?

"Success," Wulff said. "It improves performance, the better you practice you just keep climbing that ladder and improve. I think for the first time, we're not in a hole anymore.

"We're ground level and now we're starting to grow as a team and that's just where we're at as a program. It's fun to be on the upward swing of growth now. We're by no means where we're going to be, and need to be, but we've surely made some progress." (emphasis added)

ALONG WITH Chima Nwachukwu and LeAndre Daniels, safety Tyree Toomer has seen a good amount of time running with the first team defense and he's made some of his own noise. Toomer had a big interception in the scrimmage last Saturday, and has been solid.

With Daniels and Toomer coming off season ending injuries last year (broken fibula, torn pectoral muscle, respectively), Wulff said the two have made great strides and have put themselves in a competitive position heading into the fall.

"Those two guys spend more time in the film room and do above what the coaches ask them then anybody right now on defense," Wulff said. "They spend a lot of time in there. It's very important to them and that's only going to pay off."

The two figure to be the frontrunners, along with Nwachukwu, this season at safety if the first half of the spring is any indication.

As for other position battles, the defensive line has seen plenty of players at the defensive tackle position with Brandon Rankin, Anthony Laurenzi, Bernard Wolfgramm, and Dan Spitz all seeing a high number of reps with the 1's.

Rankin and Wolfgramm have seen the most action with the 1's as of late, however Spitz and Laurenzi continue to see their share, and also have experience on their side. Ultimately, what the Cougs are looking for is quality rotation, and if they have four potential, legitimate Pac-10 starters on the inside, so much the better.

AT CORNERBACK, Daniel Simmons and Aire Justin have seen virtually all the reps with the 1's of late, and Justin has made the most of his recent turns with a big interception of Tuel on Thursday, to go along with his interception of Tuel he had during Saturday's scrimmage. Keep an eye out for Nolan Washington, though, over the remainder of spring ball.

MEANWHILE AT MIDDLE LINEBACKER, Mike Ledgerwood and Hallston Higgins continue to split the time running with the 1's.

Higgins, who will be a senior this season, has looked increasingly improved throughout the whole spring, and when healthy Ledgerwood has shown flashes of his great performance (14 tackles) in last year's Apple Cup.

WITH SPRING BALL, players are moving around and the competition at different positions is high, something Wulff said makes the players understand they must be in top form if they want to see the gridiron time on Saturdays in the fall.

"We're not as competitive at all the spots we need to be because of depth, but you can see units of the team are starting to build depth," Wulff said. "Therefore, to play, you better be at the top of your game.

"All great teams have competitiveness within, and they have it within their positions and you have position battles. We're starting to see that for the first time here. I don't know that every position has that yet, but we definitely have a number of positions that have a lot of competition."

After practice, Wulff commented on the players he has seen make the greatest strides throughout the first eight days.

DEFENSE -- "Kevin Kooyman, he's played well. Hallston Higgins has made a lot of personal improvement. He's made a lot of progress, done a nice job. Daniel Simmons has done well, Sekope Kaufusi has done some good things.

OFFENSE -- "Chantz Staden has played well. David Gonzalez and Wade Jacobson have done some good things. And when he's been out there, B.J. Guerra."

ON THE DEFENSIVE side of the ball, cornerback Justin's interception was the highlight of the day. The stop corps have forced a good amount of turnovers by the Cougar offense this spring, and safety LeAndre Daniels, who will be a redshirt sophomore this season, told CF.C the primary reason for the takeaways..

Speed.

"What I see mainly is speed," Daniels said of the difference from last season. "Our speed is just ridiculous right now compared to last year, and the last couple years since I've been here. I've seen a lot of improvement in us getting our hands to the ball, which is a great thing."

DANIELS HAS BEEN seeing most of the workload running with the 1's at safety this spring, alongside senior Chima Nwachukwu, and the combination has been impressive.

Daniels has created a buzz on the Palouse this March and April through his quickness and football smarts. And it hasn't gone unnoticed.

Assistant Director of Media Relations Joe Nickell told CF.C that he thinks a) Daniels has a chance to be special if he continues along the same upward path, and b) wouldn't be surprised if many people were buying his jersey in a couple of years.

THURSDAY, THE COUGS spent the majority of practices focusing on special teams and position drills.

QB's Jeff Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael continue to split time running the first team offense and both continue to look sharp for the most part in practices, including Thursday's padless session.

To close out the evening, Tuel showcased his arm in starting 4-of-4, and was dead accurate on each and every pass. Unfortunately for Tuel and the offense though, his fifth pass, intended for WR Jared Karstetter, was intercepted by Justin to end the day.

As for Lobbestael, the redshirt junior-to-be has continued to make strides with the offense coming off a forgettable '09 campaign. The good news is that his injured knee, which clearly affected him last year though he was loathe to mention it or use it as an excuse, is far behind him.

The Oak Harbor native has tossed some deep bombs and improved accuracy this spring.

"Those guys are both getting better," Wulff said of Tuel and Lobbestael. "Both of them by no means have reached their ceiling and we're trying to get them to compete and get better every day. They're both making improvements."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • The Cougars were without Staden (Knee), Carl Winston (Toe), and Marcus Richmond (Knee) on Thursday. RB's Logwone Mitz and Leon Brooks were the healthy Cougs who saw the action running with both the first and second team offense.

  • The weather in Pullman was wicked on Thursday, with winds in the 40-50 MPH range and hail falling like snow in a winter blizzard.

  • WSU will hold their second official scrimmage on Saturday. It's scheduled to get underway at 9:40 a.m. For those traveling over for Mom's weekend and plan on attending the scrimmage, the forecast for Pullman is for plenty of sunshine and a high of 56 degrees.


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