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WSU shores up special teams


COUGARS

Practices on Wednesday can be a little up and down. The players have an idea of what's expected of them scheme-wise but it's still being repeated over and over. The repetition, which everyone knows is necessary to make it second-nature for Saturday, can nonetheless be mentally tiring. Thus there are the inevitable flat times in practice. They showed up some today. But what made Paul Wulff the happiest was how his guys didn't let them last. They battled through them and came out the other side. Read on for more.
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• After Saturday's game, it was obvious the defeat was built on a number of things, but none more important than the special-team breakdowns. So practice this week has emphasized shoring that up, with a little more attention paid, a few more tempers raised. But let's think back a year. Against Oklahoma State, the Cougars had the same problem. A couple blown assignments led to big Cowboy returns that helped them win. The next week against Cal and throughout the rest of the season? Well, the special teams played well. So has WSU shored that up this week? "We sure hope so," Wulff said Wednesday. "We're trying to get that better and better." Special teams success oftentimes are a product of depth. You’re your nonstarters are pretty good, so are your specialty groups. You can overcome that, of course, by playing starters, as the Cougars did last season. But then you risk injury. So WSU is trying to be successful without using too many No. 1 guys. "With our depth on special teams, we're still working through it," Wulff said.

• Depth is becoming a concern at some positions thanks to a few little nicks and bruises. Take defensive back. The Cougars hope Jay Matthews will be able to play this week (he had offseason surgery and no decision has been made) but cornerback Aire Justin did not practice due to a right leg injury he suffered Tuesday. How long he will be out is not known. ... Linebacker Louis Bland did not practice again, resting his ailing knee, and is questionable for Saturday. ... Backup safety Eric Block will not play, having yet to be cleared from his concussion and shoulder stinger. ... Defensive tackle Dan Spitz was out today due to the flu. ... Without a lot of backups out, the starters may have to play a little longer. "Those guys are going to have to step up and play well," Wulff said. "They are going to be challenged." ... Receiver Daniel Blackledge was back at practice today, easing the Kevin Norrell loss. Johnny Forzani was also going full speed as was Jeshua Anderson. "It's nice to have Jeshua back at a fuller tempo," Wulff said, "and Forzani at a fuller tempo. From that end, that's good."

• WSU usually ends practice with a 2-minute drill. The No. 1 offense did a good job moving down the field to set up a medium-range field goal attempt. Nico Grasu nailed it. The No. 2 offense didn't move the ball as well, barely scratching out a first down before calling Grasu for a 52-yard attempt. He tucked it well inside the right upright a third of the way up, causing Wulff to end practice on that high note. Grasu accepted the back slaps of his teammates.

• There were some questions about television coverage this Saturday. As far as I know, if you get SWX – KHQ-6's sports and weather channel – on your Eastern Washington cable or satellite system, you'll be able to watch. Also, KNDU in the Tri-Cities and KNDO in Yakima will have it. The West Side coverage is a little more spotty, so I would suggest you call to see if you're getting it.

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• That's it for tonight. One more day of practice in Pullman before WSU gets on the buses Friday and heads across the mountains. We'll be back in the morning with our usual post. Until then …




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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