SPRING BALL: Cougs warm up to early start

PULLMAN -- Up at the break of dawn had a minimal affect for the Cougars on Tuesday with plenty of highlights being offered on both sides of the ball. Cornerback Aire Justin hauled in the play of the day early, while receiver Marquess Wilson gave the offense some momentum late.

Paul Wulff moved Tuesday's practice session to 6:15 a.m. in order for the team to catch WSU's NIT semi-final game with Wichita State. And at first the players came out as if they were still in their pajamas, but things got electric later.

"This is the first time we've done this obviously in a while but it was pretty good," Wulff said. "We were a little sluggish early and that was expected waking up but I think as the practice moved along we woke up better and it was a productive day."

Aire Justin jumpstarted the session when he turned in the play of the morning with the first team offense and defense squaring off. Justin is listed at 5-11 and 163 pounds while Kristoff Williams is listed on the roster at 6-2 and 201 pounds. On this play, however, Justin was the tallest Coug on the field.

QB Jeff Tuel bought some time and thought he had an open man in Williams. Tuel threw the ball high in the air for his redshirt freshman but Justin went right up with it, and he and Williams plummeted to the turf. Justin somehow was able to steal the ball away from Williams and make the pick.

Justin is one of few veterans in the Cougar secondary, and figures to see extensive playing time for the remainder of the spring and in fall camp.

Later on during practice, S Deone Bucannon added another fine defensive play for the 1's mid-way through practice. Tuel looked to have a completion to WR Bennett Bontemps but Bucannon dove full extension to break the play up.

CB Damante Horton continued the defensive highlights with a couple of pass deflections on Tuel.

"We have to make sure they don't get big plays," said Horton.

As much as the defense shined early on, the offense was able to bounce back, specifically with the aerial attack. Tuel was able to get into more of a rhythm, and he and Marquess Wilson made some big plays for the 1's later on in practice.

The first came when Tuel received great protection from the offensive line.. He then fired a deep 35-yard bomb downfield to Wilson who brought the pigskin in with one hand, then secured the ball to his body as he tumbled to the ground.

On the next series featuring the 1s vs. 1s, Tuel and Wilson connected on a 30-yard gainer, this time with Wilson beating S Tyree Toomer in coverage. Two plays later on a third-and eight, Tuel hit Wilson for a 13 yard TD pass. The ball was thrown a little behind Wilson, but he made a nice adjustment and secured it as he fell to the ground.

"I think ultimately we just want to make sure they're playing each other tough and that plays are earned on offense and vice versa," Wulff said. "The more plays we can make the better. We don't want either side to just give somebody an easy play and that's what we're always working toward, making sure everything is earned."

"(Wilson) has the capability to make big plays and he needs to do that because he has that ability," Wulff said of the second year Coug. "I think he did some good things (Tuesday) and he is improving. The weight room is going to continue to be his biggest asset that will allow him to get better and better. That and his work ethic on the field's been really good."

THE PASSING GAME has been strong of late, primarily because the offensive line is providing some fine protection. On Tuesday this was in large part because of the return of LT David Gonzales (virus) and RG Wade Jacobsen (knee). Both players had been out since last week, but looked fresh Tuesday morning and did well in protection.

Gonzales was lined up against DE Ian Knight whose speed has been tough this spring for Cougar o-linemen to handle – but Gonzales had the upper hand on most plays on Tuesday.

"I think he did pretty good," Wulff said of Gonzales. "This was his first time back in pads so it's always good to have him out there. He's a very steady player for us, very consistent and that helps us."

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