PULLMAN -- Jeff Tuel put together one of the quietest great seasons in Washington State football history last year. That's what happens when your team goes 2-10 and finishes in last place. But judging from early returns at fall practice, Tuel and the Cougars are destined to change that this season.

Despite a much-improved effort by the WSU defense from the previous day, Tuel continued his outstanding play Wednesday afternoon.

"He's playing phenomenal," senior wide receiver Jared Karstetter said. "He's making great decisions back there; when to throw it, when to run it."

Sophomore Marquess Wilson echoed Karstetter's comments. Literally.

"Jeff's playing phenomenal right now," Wilson said. "He knows what he's going to do by the time they snap the ball."

Tuel just missed WSU's single-season top 10 last year with 2,780 passing yards and 18 touchdown passes. He also ran the ball for 204 yards and a touchdown despite losing 255 yards on the ground, most of which came on 48 sacks that easily could have been more if not for his nimble feet and gutsy running style.

"He's one of the top guys (quarterbacks) in the league, no question," Karstetter said.

KARSTETTER AND WILSON, the Cougars' two leading receivers last year, have also enjoyed strong camps. On Wednesday, senior Isiah Barton led the receivers by making a number of key catches, including a touchdown grab on a Tuel pass and a brilliant diving catch of a Connor Halliday pass.

Barton got stuffed on a reverse by a swarm of defenders led by outside linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis. Middle linebacker C.J. Mizell, end Travis Long, tackle Brandon Rankin and safeties Tyree Toomer and Deone Bucannon were among other defenders who came up big in the final practice before full pads and full hitting make their fall debut Thursday.

Senior running back Logwone Mitz ran the ball well, and diminutive freshmen Rickey Galvin and Marcus Mason continue to demonstrate the type of quickness and speed that WSU has lacked in the backfield in recent years.

Mason made a big gain on a run up the middle. Galvin beat defenders to the right corner and bolted upfield in a manner rarely seen at WSU –- at least by a Cougar running back –- the past few years.

Of course, any good offense starts up front. Center Zack Williams was the only senior starter on the O-line in 2010, and Tuel said the line "without a doubt" has improved during the second year of tutelage by well-respected offensive line coach Steve Morton.

At the end of another 2 1/2-hour practice under a hot Palouse sun, Wulff joined players in some slip-and-slide fun on a plastic sheet on the sidelines. (See photo and video link below.)

ONE WEEK AGO, Chandler Jenkins was sitting at his Renton home, planning to attend Bellevue College before continuing his football career next year.

Thanks to some speedy work by WSU personnel and his stepfather, Neal Kameron, Jenkins got the word last Tuesday that he had been admitted to school.

Three days later, he was on campus.

Three days after that, he was in uniform after missing Sunday's opening practice while paperwork was completed.

Jenkins signed a letter of intent with Air Force this year, but he lasted barely a week at summer school before he realized a military school was not for him.

"There's 10 people in the classroom, white walls, no school spirit," Jenkins said. "It's like work almost.

"I didn't want to miss out on what I'm about to experience here and have a college life."

Jenkins' arrival at WSU was so scrambled, the Cougars had him listed as a running back out of little Liberty High School in Spangle, Wash.

He actually is a wide receiver from Liberty in Renton, and he said the relatively high rate of walk-ons like himself who eventually earn scholarships at WSU was a key factor in him choosing the Cougars over Washington.

Former WSU kicker Drew Dunning and offensive linemen Chris Prummer also walked on for Liberty before earning scholarships.

  • Rankin, who has spent most of the first four practices with the second-string defense after starting most of last season, started at left tackle so redshirt freshman Toni Pole could rest a hamstring. The injury does not appear to be serious.

  • The Cougars received a scare near the end of practice when backup quarterback Marshall Lobbestael's left knee took a hit as he was passing. Lobbestael underwent surgery on the knee in 2008.

    The popular senior hobbled off the field and laid down on his back, but he eventually jogged briefly. He then put on a plastic knee brace, but he did not see any further action. Coach Paul Wulff said the injury does not appear to be significant.

  • Blocking drills matched running backs against linebackers and offensive linemen against defensive linemen.

    The running backs blocked inconsistently, but the 5-foot-8, 171-pound Galvin more than held his own.

    Long beat offensive tackle Wade Jacobson on two straight rushes -- quite cleanly on the first one. Senior center Andrew Roxas struggled at times and was replaced on the No. 1 unit for a spell by junior-college transfer Taylor Meighen, who played aggressively and well.


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