The morning practice wasn't too intense as Washington State took the field on a cool, cloudy day – it actually sprinkled for a bit – in shorts, T-shirts and helmets. There were a few team drills, but no hitting. When it was over, coach Paul Wulff told the Cougars to enjoy their afternoon and start the school year off right. We have more, so read on.
• Washington State is a semester school, meaning it starts early and gets out early in the spring. Wulff's former stop, Eastern Washington, is a quarter school, meaning classes don't begin until late September. The different schedules offer different problems for a football coaching staff, according to Wulff. When school starts, no matter what the schedule, "it's a distraction from the routine (the players) have been in," Wulff said. "They've got class, they've got more people on campus, they've got friends that aren't on the team. There is just a lot more stimulus that's going on for them. So their mind isn't on football and what they've got to do all the time. They've got to be mature in how they handle that and separate the two. They're both very important but they need to make sure they're productive when we come back and practice." At quarter schools, the first three or four games are unaffected by class time, which would seem to be a big advantage. It is, Wulff said, but then there is a downside. "There's good and bad with that," Wulff said. "I know for a quarter school you get three or four games in and it's nothing but football, so that's good. You don't have the distractions. But the challenging part of that is you do have a game, when school starts you have a game that next Saturday. So many times it was tough, tough to play well in that game. Here we don't have that. We get a whole week of practice when school's in session, then we get a prep week so I don't believe we are as affected on that Saturday." ... We tried to count the number of true freshmen who will probably play this year and were surprised to come up with nearly double digits. The players we've seen as major contributors on offense, defense or special teams are: Cornerback Damante Horton (if everyone is healthy he could redshirt, but right now he's getting more time), linebacker C.J. Mizell (will play some), safety Deone Bucannon (is probably the fourth or fifth safety, but could see a lot of special teams time), defensive back Tyrone Duckett (only seen him on special teams as of yet, so is may just redshirt), kicker Andrew Furney (he's battling for the job), tackle John Fullington (he will play), receivers Kristoff Williams (unless the toe injury costs him more time than expected), Bobby Ratliff (may still redshirt) and Marquess Wilson (no chance of sitting, he plays) and defensive tackle Toni Pole (hurt now, but will play and contribute). If all of them see action, that's 10 of the 19 who signed. Even if two or three of these redshirt, that still at least seven guys who came in ready to compete at this level. It's a strong class. ... One of them, Ratliff, who we mention in our story below, had the play of the day Sunday, getting behind Horton to gather in David Gilbertson's long ball in a seven-on-seven passing drill.
• Here is the unedited version of our receivers preview that will appear in tomorrow's S-R ...
PULLMAN – For a guy who has been on Washington State University's football coaching staff the past 19 years, Mike Levenseller had thought he had seen it all.
But what he's witnessed the past five months is new to even him.
"It's amazing, isn't it," he said Sunday. "All of a sudden I've got options. There's depth."
Just last April the Cougars were paper-clip thin at the receiver spot, with only four scholarship players – Daniel Blackledge, Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone and Jeffery Solomon – available for spring practice.
"Levy changed some things up on us," said Simone of the spring workouts, "and, as a group, we didn't necessarily perform as well as we wanted to. But the changes he put on us have helped us, we've grown from them, and that's been seen throughout fall camp."
But the biggest change since practice opened two weeks ago was the influx – and influence – of a group of young receivers.
"The younger kids, the freshmen, are coming along nicely," said Levenseller, never one to give false praise. "Even the kids that I'll probably redshirt are doing a nice job."
The headliner thus far in camp has been Marquess Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 173-pound freshman from Tulare, Calif., who made his teammates take notice last Saturday with a five-catch, 110-yard performance in a scrimmage against the starting defense.
"It's exciting just because I know what he's going through," said Simone, who started 11 games last year as freshman, catching 36 balls for 330 yards. "He's just coming out looking to make plays, just like I was last year. He's going to play a big part for us this season."
"College football is way different from high school football," Wilson admitted. "It's a quick transition from not-as-quick corners to guys up here, they're a lot quicker and a lot stronger.
"I just have to get used to that."
He sees to be. What Levenseller sees in Wilson, and all the freshmen really, is a maturity not usual in the class.
"Marquess, he's playing way beyond his years right now," Levenseller said.
So was 6-2, 201-pound Kristoff Williams before he was sidelined recently with turf toe, which gave 6-1, 185-pound Bobby Ratliff a chance to shine. The three freshmen, along with another newcomer, 6-1, 190-pound junior college transfer Isiah Barton, gives Levenseller a core group that he sees as being at least seven deep.
"Generally, you use a group of about five," he said. "This is easily the deepest we've ever been. And it goes from being the leanest ever, just that quick."
The depth not only breeds competition, it allows someone like Karstetter, who led the team with 38 catches for 540 yards last season, to take his time returning from off-season surgery. And it allows the offense to keep attacking tiring defenders with fresh legs.
"We're able to keep our tempo up," said Simone, who is nursing a sore hamstring. "There is no excuse anymore for having lack-of-effort plays because we're going to get the rest we need."
• Here is a short sidebar on the tight ends ...
There were numerous games down the stretch last season in which the Washington State University Cougars excised the tight ends from the game plan.
The group, decimated by injuries, just wasn't getting the job done.
That shouldn't happen this season.
"We're coming along," said sophomore Skylar Stormo, who was battling another sophomore, Andrei Lintz, for the starting job until Lintz sprained an ankle recently. "We took big steps in the spring. Now, in fall camp, the competition is getting better and we have more continuity."
WSU's tight ends have to be hybrids. Not only do the line up at the usual spot, on the line outside one of the tackles, most also have to be able play in space as an H-back.
In that role, they start behind the line and usually go in motion, either to block on running plays or sneak out into the flat to catch a pass.
It's not an easy transition.
"It's a big difference," said Stormo, who caught three passes last season. "You have totally different footwork, you have different keys, a lot more responsibilities. It's pretty tough."
The Cougars suffered a tough break last week when 6-foot-5, 237-pound freshman Aaron Dunn suffered a wrist injury. He'll have surgery soon and be out for the season.
"He was quick on the ball, knowing his stuff," Stormo said. "He picked up stuff quicker than I did as a freshman. I was surprised. It's a tough blow."
But with seniors Aaron Gehring and Zach Tatman, practicing but in limbo until the NCAA rules on a sixth-year request, as backups on the line and sophomore Jared Byers and senior Marcus Richmond able to handle the H-back spot, Stormo thinks the Cougars are OK.
"We're finding our roles, what we do best," he said. "We want to be on the field as much as anyone else, just get on the field and get playing time."
(Height, weight, year and 2009 starts in parentheses)
X: Daniel Blackledge (6-foot, 181, Sr., 4); Marquess Wilson (6-3, 173, Fr., dnp)
F: Gino Simone* (6-foot, 187, So., 11); Jeffrey Solomon (6-foot, 200, RS Sr., 7)
Z: Jared Karstetter (6-4, 208, Jr., 12); Kristoff Williams* (6-2, 201, Fr., dnp)
Tight end: Skylar Stormo (6-5, 250, RS So., 1); Andrei Lintz* (6-5, 247, RS So., 0)
* Currently injured
• That's it for today. We'll be back tomorrow with our links, but remember there is no practice. Until then ...