You couldn't have asked for more perfect weather to open Washington State football practice. The temperature in the mid to high 70s. Enough clouds to filter the sun. A slight breeze. And the football? Well, for a bunch of guys in helmets, T-shirts and shorts, the Cougars spent their 2-and-a-half hour workout going at it pretty hard. How hard? Read on for more.
• Hard enough that one player who shall remain nameless spent much of the last half hour up against the fence, bent over and ... well, you know. But he was the only one, which is a testament to the summer conditioning program. And the crispness of practice is a testament to the hours the Cougars put in over the past eight weeks or so working on team drills without coaches. Though this is a young group, the execution was pretty sharp, sharp enough that coach Paul Wulff mentioned it after practice. "So many of these guys are going into their second year," he said, "they have a feel for what to expect." One of those guys is starting quarterback Jeff Tuel. He heads into camp knowing this is his team. "I should come into camp with a little more confidence," Tuel said, "and take ownership of the offense a little more." Given the keys, Tuel drove the group fast today, despite missing one of his favorite receivers (Jared Karstetter was limited today as he recovers from offseason hernia surgery). For more on Tuel's day, see our story at the bottom of this post. ...
• Tuel wasn't the only story, of course. The offensive line – the first group seems to be somewhat set with Wade Jacobson at left tackle, Zack Williams left guard, Andrew Roxas at center (though Chris Prummer got a lot of snaps), B.J. Guerra right guard and either Micah Hannam or David Gonzales at right tackle – had its moments but also had its troubles. Part of that is the defensive line, especially the starting four of Travis Long, Bernard Wolfgramm, Brandon Rankin and Kevin Kooyman, came out attacking, getting off the ball quicker than in the past. (A big part of that is Rankin, who seems to move laterally faster than anyone else moves forward.) But the offensive line needs to play at its optimum level for the offense to compete. We'll keep an eye on that. ... Staying with the offense, the new crew of young receivers all have a couple of things in common. They all can run, all are of pretty good size and all have good hands. Other than Isiah Barton, the JC speedster who is in the slot, and Blair Bomber, I didn't see any of the newcomers drop a ball they should have caught. "The twos are, as coach (Todd) Sturdy said, oozing with talent," Tuel said. "They may not run the right route all the time but you throw it to them, they are going to make a play on it. That's good to see." ... The best catch of the day went to tight end Skylar Stormo, who twisted his body enough to haul in a Tuel throw down the middle. ... With no pads, it was hard to see much from the running back spot, though diminutive freshman Rickey Galvin (5-8, 162-pounds) did burst through one small hole with quickness that caught the attention of those watching. ... Quarterback Marshall Lobbestael was moving better than last year, and part of that might be he's not wearing a knee brace. ... Running back Chantz Staden was also out of the brace and moving well. And James Montgomery was cutting and moving with the same panache as last season. ... The Cougars are looking for a third quarterback and it looks as if David Gilbertson – wearing No. 4 this season – might get the first look. He was called on before Dan Wagner and seemed to take more snaps. ...
• Over on the defense, the search for a middle linebacker included Mike Ledgerwood, who also played some on the outside, Hallston Higgins and C.J. Mizell. Darren Markle seemed to be lining up more outside as Alex Hoffman-Ellis took it easy as he's had a balky back for a while. This will be a position to watch. ... Tyree Toomer is getting first crack at teaming up with Chima Nwachukwu at safety, with LeAndre Daniels and Casey Locker coming in next. There is a lot of depth there. ... We cover the corners in more depth in the story. ... Up front, Justin Clayton, who was listed at 266 last year, checked in at 272, though his arms seemed to have gained at least six pounds apiece. He teamed with Anthony Laurenzi at tackle with the second group, though he finished practice with some ice on a banged up knee. ... The family of Kalafitoni Pole was in attendance for his first college practice. The 6-1, 291-pound Kalafitoni isn't the biggest in the family, dwarfed in some regards by his "little" brother. ... Eric Oertel, the Cougars' lone recruit from Wisconsin, was running with the linebackers and saw some time. With Andre Barrington's academic problems and the running back depth, Oertel is on the defensive side of the ball. ... Dan Spitz, suspended for the first nine games, participated in practice, running scout team plays for the most part. ... Ledgerwood had the only interception in the 7-on-7 passing drill, tipping a Lobbestael pass to himself and gathering it in to run untouched to the end zone. ... Safety Jay Matthews was not cleared to practice, nursing a surgically repaired shoulder. ... Tracy Clark, who had some classes to clear up, got that done and was in uniform. ... The status of JC defensive tackle Al Lapuaho is still up in the air and Wulff will wait until it is determined to talk any more about him. ... Recruit David Davis of Palos Verdes, Calif., made the trip up to Pullman and took in practice. Davis, who committed in June, is the grandson of Packer great and Hall of Famer Willie Davis.
• Before we go, I want to touch a little more on the renovations around the practice facility. The new FieldTurf is exceptionally soft and forgiving, which the players I talked with appreciated. With the west side grass removed, the hill shaved down and the turf covering a greater area, the offense moved to that side of the facility this year. There is more room in the endzones (safer) there and a new area was lined off for the o-lineman, giving them a place to work their sleds away from everyone else. The defense is now on the east side closest to Martin Stadium. ... It was kind of a shock to the veterans, many of whom started to run to the wrong side before practice before slamming on the brakes and heading back. ... On the south side will be equipment sheds, allowing the staff to keep everything on the field instead of in the library parking lot. ... "Our practice facility now is first rate," Wulff said. "We've done a good job of laying out and taking advantage of every square inch of this facility. It's first class. Hopefully it will help us with some of the practice injuries we've had. The turf we were on was extremely hard and we had some injuries, we feel, because of it." ... Rogers Field is not the only area under construction. The facing of Bohler Gym is being redone, making sure the masonry touches on the front are anchored down better. Getting in and out of the building is a little tough with scaffolding adorning most walls.
• Here is the unedited version of our story that will appear in tomorrow's S-R ...
PULLMAN – Steve Morton has a history with Washington State University.
WSU's new offensive line coach played here. He was a graduate assistant here. The first dozen of his 36 coaching seasons were spent here.
But he doesn't care about the past. And, neither it seems, do the rest of the Cougars.
"Last year's team, that '09 team, expired on the last snap of the ball and the new one was born that same time," Morton said following those newborns' first 2010 practice, a 2-and-a-half hour, helmet-and-T-shirt workout in bright sun, a slight breeze and in front of a smattering of fans.
"Today is today. This is a new team," Morton said.
A new team practicing on new turf. The worn-out Rogers Field turf was replaced over the summer at the cost of approximately $900,000, expanding the practice area with a new FieldTurf surface similar to that on Martin Stadium.
But it was the play on the turf, as WSU tries to rebound from a 1-11 2009, that caught coach Paul Wulff's attention and dominated the post-practice conversation.
"We executed pretty well for the most part, not many mental errors, things like that," said quarterback Jeff Tuel, who came into the season No. 1 on the depth chart.
The 6-foot-3, 214-pound sophomore showed why he earned the starting nod, rarely missing a receiver in team drills, putting together one stretch of five right-on-stride throws in a late non-contact scrimmage.
"Jeff, he's got some whiskers on his face this year," Wulff said of Tuel, who started five games last season as a true freshman. "He's definitely way ahead of where he was a year ago. (There was a) price of playing him last year as a first-year freshman. But we also knew the advantage of that was this year he would be better for it."
"I got maybe one or two reps the first day last year," Tuel said of the difference between the first day last year and this one. "That's just crazy how it can flip like that in a year."
The defense he was facing also featured a new look, adding an ingredient that was in limited supply last year: speed.
"We've got a lot of guys out there who can definitely run," Tuel said. "I noticed it at the corner position a lot."
Those corners, starters Aire Justin and Daniel Simmons and a handful of reserves including Nolan Washington, Anthony Carpenter, Terrance Hayward and freshmen Tracy Clark and Damante Horton, seemed to close on receivers quicker than any time last year.
"We've got guys coming back with experience and that helps," said senior safety Chima Nwachukwu, a four-year starter. "And then we've got a lot of depth."
Another of the defensive youngsters, 6-3, 225-pound linebacker C.J. Mizell from Florida, at the very least should add to that depth. The freshman showed off his athleticism in the middle, though Nwachukwu knows he's still reeling a bit.
"He's just going to be thrown into the fire, that's how it goes," Nwachukwu said. "He's talented and he's going to help us in some way this season. He's just going to have to prepare for that mentally. Physically, I think he's pretty much there."
It's that mental part Morton is working on with an offensive line that struggled last season. That's ancient history, according to Morton.
"You can't think of the successes or the failures," he said. "You can't believe last year, one way or the other."
But you can put it behind you.
"Were obviously a little more in sync than we've ever been," Wulff said. "They worked hard over the summer, it was obvious, not just in strength and conditioning but just doing football activities.
"That really showed up, just because they were able to come out here and execute at a much higher clip."
• That's all for this now. We'll be back in the morning with more (I'm sure I forgot something) ...