SPRING DAY 12: Early start suits D just fine

PULLMAN – Chances are while you were just waking up Monday morning, the Cougars were already running sprints and getting after it on the gridiron. WSU's last week of spring drills began on Rogers Field at 6:30 a.m. on Monday, but it didn't lack for intensity. The defensive line continued to crash the party, the secondary got greedy and the combination of Tuel-to-Blackledge took flight.

As has been the case throughout spring ball, the defense continues to showcase a complete 180 from their plays of last year.

The defensive line on Monday was constantly putting pressure on QB's Jeff Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael. But with QBs off limits to contact, they still got their throws off. No matter. The crimson defensive backs had a flurry of pass deflections and near picks.

The defensive line on Monday was without end Travis Long and tackle Brandon Rankin (illness), but DT Anthony Laurenzi, DT Justin Clayton, and DE Casey Hamlett took advantage of their time, running with the 1's and going through the offensive line quickly and consistently.

"They've done a good job," Paul Wulff said of his defense. "They're working hard, the players are starting to be real comfortable in what they're doing. That's been really encouraging to watch them do that. It gets to the point to where you get enough practices they understand what the offense might be doing here and there but they're growing."

THE WSU SECONDARY had four pass deflections by one count this morning, nearly coming down with interceptions each time.

"It was real exciting," Aire Justin said. "We had to wake up at 6 a.m. and we call came out fired and ready to go. The tempo was good and that's why we were able to make plays."

Justin, who had one of the near picks, has stepped his game up this spring. He has been seeing virtually all the time running with the 1's opposite Daniel Simmons, with his chief competition expected to be Nolan Washington. Justin told CF.C after practice the talent jump is the biggest difference between this spring and the '09 season.

"I think we (defensive backs) have made a lot of improvement because we have a lot of talent ," Justin said. "We have everyone that's trying to compete to get a spot and that's what's bringing the talent out. Everybody wants to get that spot, so we're all fighting."

AT DEFENSIVE BACK, Justin, Simmons and safeties Chima Nwachukwu and LeAndre Daniels have all had good springs. Daniels had two of the four pass deflections on Monday and has impressed daily.

OVER ON OFFENSE, there were some bright spots on Monday, with WR Daniel Blackledge leading the way in the passing game.

With WR Gino Simone sitting out (likely the rest of spring) with an ankle injury, Blackledge was the go to guy for Tuel on Monday. And Blackledge showed great hands on the morning session -- a rare commodity for the WR unit this spring.

Among his grabs, a 40 yard haul during 7-on-7 skelly.

Tuel looked solid finding his open receivers on the day, but was forced to scramble often because he wasn't receiving much protection from his line.

RUNNING BACK Marcus Richmond returned to the field with his knee heavily taped up, but RB Chantz Staden continued to see most the time running with the 1's along with RB Logwone Mitz.

Staden had a couple of big gainers, including a 20 yard run up the middle, and a 25 yard screen play.

"I think I'm at a pretty good endurance level," Staden said. "I want as many reps as I can to get better."

THE COUGS HAVE only three practices remaining, and go back to full pads on Tuesday. What does Wulff want to see out of his guys in these last three sessions?

"We've got some guys coming back tomorrow and we've got to have a good full contact day tomorrow," Wulff said. "We've got to tackle and get back to playing football at full speed. We need to have a really good practice tomorrow and these last two, getting better at the end and finish strong. Today was a good step for this last week."

K Nico Grasu, who showed signs of consistency last week, went 0-for-2 in his field goal attemps from around 40 yards.

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