On day 9 of Fall Camp, the Cougar offense served notice that they too are going to make some noise this year. Quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael got the message from Paul Sorensen and aren't ready to hand the reigns over to freshman Connor Halliday just yet. Meanwhile the incoming freshmen continue to back up the hype that 2010 represented one of the best recruiting hauls ever for the Cougs, while a few upperclassmen look to make good on all the promises of improvement in the short time they have left. As we near the start of the 2010 season things are starting to gel on both sides of the ball. My observations from Rogers Field on Tuesday, plus more after the jump.
First of all, Coug fans, let me apologize for my absence last week. Amieable and I were on an epic summer road trip with papa Longball to his old stomping grounds in South Central L.A. Yes, you read that correctly. My old man is a straight-up original gangsta, Hawthorn High (the Cougars!) class of 1925, or something. He claims that he never hung out with Snoop, Dre, Cube, and Easy, but he did actually know the Beach boys. Things were a little different in 1925, I guess.
Now that I'm back I was able to take in the Tuesday morning practice and get my first look at the 2010 Cougs. Hopefully you have read some of the outstanding practice reports from Mike Robinson over at Cougfan.com and the master, Vince Grippi. So far there have been glowing reviews of what many believe is one of the greatest recruiting hauls in Cougar history in 2010. Here's what I saw...
- One guy getting a lot of praise has been John Fullington. The big offensive lineman had jaws scraping the turf of Rogers Field from day one and it was easy to see why. The young man showed up ready to play and has been a quick study in coach Morton's schemes. He moves extremely well for his size, and while still quite a few pounds from the optimal weight to withstand the rigors of Pac-10 play, he is very likely to contribute this year.
- Another big fella that made an immediate impression on me was Kalifatoni Pole. The D-tackle is bigger than I expected him to be, but like Fullington, moves really well for his size. Right now we are starting to build some decent depth on the interior of the defensive line, but if attrition should strike, Pole looks ready to step in and contribute.
- Of course everyone is excited about super-recruit CJ Mizell. Seeing him for the first time I believe my exact words were "Hell yeah!". He is the type of athlete we don't get to see to often on the Palouse, at least not in a crimson jersey. As advertised Mizell has great size, speed and athleticism, and wouldn't look too out of place lining up as a D-end. He is still finding his way out on the field, but whether on defense, or special teams, expect him to contribute and have an impact this year.
- Another buzz-worthy freshmen is Ricky Galvin. The diminutive running back has showed off all the speed, quickness and strength people expected and then some. The young man is the type of explosive weapon we have glaringly lacked the last couple years. We are pretty deep at running back, but Galvin ought to make an immediate impact as a kick returner. Let's just hope he's returning more punts than kickoffs this year!
- The guys I mentioned above are all pleasant surprises at positions with already established depth. However, there is one position where we absolutely needed some freshmen to step up and make and impact... wide receiver. Fortunately, coach Wulff and company anticipated this need and did an outstanding job of recruiting talented receivers who are ready to play. There is a pretty fierce competition going on amongst the newcomers to see who will emerge and so far, the leader of the pack appears to be Marquess Wilson.
Wilson is a long, athletic receiver with great hands who has already turned in a number of highlight catches during camp. He appears to have all the tools to be a big time player, so lets just hope he stays healthy, works hard and continues to soak up all of coach Levy's wisdom like a sponge.
In addition to Wilson, JC transfer Isaiah Barton appears to have the speed to be the breakaway threat we lost when Johnny Forzani departed. Another freshman who appears to have the maturity and ability to play right away is Kristoff Williams, though he has been hampered by a toe injury thus far.
- There are still more newcomers who will be major contributors this year, including D-tackle Steven Hoffart, offensive guard Wade Jacobsen, offensive tackle David Gonzalez, and the much ballyhooed Brandon Rankin. All of these big fellas are part of a total overhaul of both lines that is the primary reason for much of the optimism on the Palouse these days.
- During the scrimmage portion of Tuesdays practice a number of veteran players stepped up to make their mark. I was very impressed with Tuel's command of the offense and he had it working both through the air, and with his feet. With his usual battery mates, Jared Karstetter and Gino Simone sitting out with minor dings, Tuel spread the ball around to Jeffrey Solomon, Marques Wilson and Daniel Blackledge. Blackledge especially struck me as a guy who looks ready to break out for a big season. The offensive line had its hands full with Brandon Rankin all morning, but still managed to find enough time for Tuel to get the ball to his receivers. When the pocket did break down, Tuel coolly tucked the ball away and sprinted up the sideline for a first down. As long as Tuel stays healthy, we are in really good hands.
- A number of dramatic moments occurred as the number one offense and defense met at the goal line. In one series, comeback player of the year candidate James Montgomery broke a couple tackles right up the middle, finally pulling his leg free from the last tackler and into the end zone. On another series, Chantz Staden took a hand off through what appeared to be a big hole right of the center only to be met and driven backwards by linebacker Mike Ledgerwood on a huge hit. It brought the entire defense roaring to their feet. But the offense got to do some barking of their own as shifty sophomore running back Carl Winston busted off a huge 40 yard scamper to pay dirt.
- The intrasquad competition that coach Wulff has talked about being so crucial to success at the Pac-10 level has finally arrived. It is apparent in the development of guys like Mike Ledgerwood and Alex Hoffman-Ellis who have turned into complete beasts at their linebacking positions. No doubt, both are being driven by having guys like Andre Barrington, Daren Markle and CJ Mizell breathing down their backs every practice. In the defensive secondary, guys like LeAndre Daniels and Daniel Simmons, who could start anywhere in the Pac-10, may not even start for the Cougs. Meanwhile upperclassmen like Chima Nwachkwu and Aire Justin have raised their games to completely new levels as they fight to keep their starting positions. Right now the only guys secure in their positions are the guys who are completely dominating. Knowing that nobody is filling a position by default, and that everyone has a capable backup waiting in the wings has given this team something close to a swagger.
I hope to go back to practice on Friday, so if there is anything you'd like me to report on, please let me know in the comments.
Only 17 days to kickoff. It's going to be the longest 17 days of my life.
That's all for now. Enjoy the last few days of summer and as always, GO COUGS!