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Saturday finally over at WSU


COUGARS

With school starting on Monday, a morning scrimmage already in the books, and the afternoon filled with a National Lentil Festival parade appearance, Washington State’s afternoon practice wasn’t strenuous. In fact, it was more a mental drill than a physical one. The Cougars’ 90-minute workout was filled with technique and special teams work. For more, read on.

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• I had to know. Was his team’s appearance in the lentil festival parade downtown the highlight of Paul Wulff’s year thus far? Better than the trip to New York? The one to Alaska? “Yes,” Wulff said, chuckling. “No, it was good. It was a nice day really. We’re lucky it wasn’t 95 (degrees) out there. But it was a nice day. I like it. I know the kids like it, it’s a good change for the grind we’ve been going through.” The team walked in the parade, which started on Grand and finished on Main. … The grind will return Tuesday, Wulff said. Saturday’s second practice was similar in a lot of ways to Friday practices during the season, devoted to fine-tuning plays, schemes and special teams assignments. The players wore helmets, T-shirts and shorts. Sunday morning’s practice – it will start at 8:30 and be done by 10 – will be similar. The players will get the rest of Sunday off, have Monday free for the first day of classes, then return to Rogers Field on Tuesday at 4 p.m. … With less than two weeks left until the opener at Oklahoma State, I thought it would be a good time to take a stab at a two-deep, taking into account there are a few injured players who should be back in time to face the Cowboys. I list the starter first, then the No. 1 backup. One guy could be a backup at more than one spot.

The offense … Quarterback: Jeff Tuel, Marshall Lobbestael; Running back: James Montgomery, Chantz Staden, Carl Winston; Fullback: Jared Byers, Marcus Richmond; Tight end: Skylar Stormo, Andrei Lintz (injured); Left tackle: David Gonzales, Alex Reitnouer; Left guard: Wade Jacobson, Andrew Roxas; Center: Zack Williams, Chris Prummer, Roxas; Right guard: B.J. Guerra, Williams; Right tackle: Micah Hannam, John Fullington; Wide receiver: Jared Karstetter, Jeffrey Solomon, Kristoff Williams (injured); Wide receiver: Daniel Blackledge, Marquess Wilson; Slot receiver: Gino Simone (injured), Solomon, Isiah Barton; Kicker: Nico Grasu; Andrew Furney. … The defense … End: Kevin Kooyman, Casey Hamlett; Tackle: Brandon Rankin, Steven Hoffart, Dan Spitz; Tackle: Bernard Wolfgramm (injured), Toni Pole (injured), Justin Clayton, Anthony Laurenzi; End: Travis Long, Sekope Kaufusi; Sam backer: Myron Beck, Darren Markle; Middle backer: Mike Ledgerwood, Hallston Higgins, C.J. Mizell; Will backer: Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Mike Ledgerwood, Arthur Burns; Corner: Aire Justin (injured), Anthony Carpenter, Terrance Hayward; Strong safety: Chima Nwachukwu, Casey Locker, Deone Buchannon; Free safety: Tyree Toomer, LeAndre Daniels (injured); Corner: Daniel Simmons (injured), Nolan Washington, Damante Horton; Punter: Reid Forrest, Dan Wagner; Long snapper: Zach Enyeart, Travis Long; Kickoff return: Staden, Washington. … I’m not sure enough about punt return to hazard a guess. … Some of the second and third string guys are a little iffy right now, but I think these listings are close. I will say there are a lot fewer starters on the special teams right now, with guys like Winston, Ricky Galvin, Mizell, Richmond, Brooks, Burns, Kyle McCartney, Williams, Wilson and Zach Tatman getting time. … Also, I don’t know where Tyson Pencer fits in on the offensive line as he’s yet to get back to practice. He should be back in pads sometime next week. … One piece of injury news. Simone should be back doing some individual drills tomorrow. His hamstring is healing.

•••

• Here is the unedited version of our quarterbacks story that will appear in tomorrow’s S-R …

PULLMAN – The Washington State University offense, and by extension its quarterback, has one goal this season.

“End each possession with a kick,” is how offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy puts it.

The best kick, of course, would be an extra point. But a field goal, that’s good too. And even a punt isn’t bad.

It’s the other way of ending a possession, a turnover, that’s stale.

Thirty-one times during the 1-11 2009 season a possession ended in a turnover. Only two teams in the nation had more. It’s a major reason why the Cougars averaged just 12 points a game, second-fewest nationally.

And part of the reason why sophomore Jeff Tuel is the starting quarterback.

“His level of play has really been pretty consistent this camp,” Sturdy said of Tuel. “He’s taken care of the football tremendously. He’s taken a lot of pride in that, being smart with the football.

“That’s where he’s really grown a lot.”

As a freshman, which in football is tantamount to the year of the turnover, the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Tuel watched until the fourth game against USC. From there, he started five games before a knee injury finished his year, completed 58.7 percent of his passes, found the end zone six times, threw for 789 yards.

And he tossed just five interceptions in 121 attempts.

That’s still too many – he would like to double his 24.2 passes-per-pick ratio – but it’s on the road to where he wants to be.

“We don’t need to make it too crazy,” Tuel said of his goal for this year. “We just tell ourselves to throw it where they ain’t. Just take the candy. Know the defense, know the coverage, know the weak spots and just aim at those weak spots.”

Such Wee Willie Keeler-era thinking doesn’t mean Tuel and the WSU offense isn’t trying to make plays – his 99-yard touchdown connection with Johnny Forzani against Arizona State last year set a school record – it’s just Tuel doesn’t want to make throws that will get him on the opponent’s highlight DVD.

He’s assuming the glamour position at WSU, one populated in the recent past by Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf and Jason Gesser. All three have gone out of their way to talk with their heir-apparent, something Tuel appreciates.

“I feel like it’s a family deal,” said Tuel, who had another reunion with Gesser after the Cougars’ first fall scrimmage. “I feel like those guys have taken me under their wing more than anything.

“They coach me up, love me up help me, give me pointers about the little things I wouldn’t even think about or know about.”

It’s those little things, making the right read, the right call, the right drop and, most especially, the right decision, that is the emphasis for Tuel and backup Marshall Lobbestael.

“I’m trying to get better every day making decisions with the football,” said Lobbestael, the redshirt junior who started three games last year, “as far as throwing it away or making the smart throw if it’s cloudy.”

The 6-3, 210-pound Lobbestael isn’t talking about the weather. Cloudy means there are too many defenders around the target. And it could also be used to describe the quarterback competition at the beginning of last spring.

Tuel and Lobbestael battled throughout the month of practices, with the picture finally becoming clearer with the younger player’s performance in the spring game. No matter, coach Paul Wulff waited until the end of summer to name Tuel as his No. 1.

“Coming in as the starter this year,” Tuel said, “it’s a lot better feel. We all feel we want to do better, can do better, no matter how well we do, but I’m doing a decent job out there. I would like to do some things better yet, sharpen some things up, but overall, I like where we’re at right now.”

Lobbestael, working mainly with the second offense, has had a strong fall as well, completing 16 of 19 passes for 188 yards in two scrimmages. But the job is Tuel’s.

“It sounds corny, but whatever I’ve got to do to help the team win, I’m willing to do it,” Lobbestael says of his status, “So far it’s been fun, I love working with the twos … but we come out every day and compete. Jeff will tell you that, I’ll tell you that, but I have no problem at all with my role on the team right now.”

There is one more decision that needs to be made before the opener Sept. 4 at Oklahoma State. Who will go in as the No. 3 quarterback?

Redshirt freshman David Gilbertson, redshirt junior Dan Wagner and true freshman Connor Halliday are in the running.

“No, not yet,” Sturdy answered when asked if the decision is done. “Not where I could publicly say, ‘hey, this guy is our third.’ “

Public or not, there is no secret WSU wants to redshirt the 6-4, 175-pound Halliday so the contest basically pits Gilbertson and Wagner. When WSU scrimmaged Saturday, only Gilbertson, son of former Idaho, UW and Cal coach Keith, took nine snaps while Wagner, also a backup punter, didn’t participate.

•••••

• That’s it for tonight. We’ll be back tomorrow with our links. Until then …


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