PRACTICE: Special teams,Thursday Night Lights

PULLMAN -- The Cougs buttoned up their pads, laced up their cleats and ran through their last full practice session of the week before they take on the Cal Bears Saturday in Pullman. Special teams was the name of the game on Thursday as Wazzu worked hard to clean up all the rough edges before heading into battle. And as usual, the young guns took center stage during Thursday Night Lights.

"(In) kickoff coverage we're ranked tenth in the country which is a huge improvement," said special teams coach Eric Russell.

Midway through fall camp, Russell was quite vocal in his displeasure with the performance of his special teams unit. The long-snappers couldn't snap, the punters couldn't punt, the blockers couldn't block, and the kickers couldn't kick.

But that's changed.

"I've been pleased," Russell said. "We're not where we want to be yet, but I don't think (special) teams have been a liability on us."

Russell said he's very excited that this Cougars team, and specifically his special teams unit, seems to have turned the corner and are truly excited about the prospect of working hard for a common goal.

"They've started to buy in," Russell said. "They've competed and they're all starting to take pride in it. They've all started to realize how much their individual performance means to the team as a whole."

While special teams were a major concern headed into 2012, junior kicker Andrew Furney was as close a sure bet as possible. Yesterday, Furney was named to Phil Steele's midseason first team All-American list, something that comes as no surprise to Russell.

"I think it's well deserved," Russell said. "He's come in and hit some big kicks. It's good when guys like Furney get some exposure like that. If he wants to stay in that talk, he needs to just keep doing what he's doing."

Furney's counterpart, sophomore punter Mike Bowlin, has been inconsistent this season, but Russell believes there are greener pastures ahead.

"With Bowlin, it's fundamentals," Russell said. "He's still learning how to really punt the ball. Just mechanics and repetition will make it come naturally to him."

ON THE DEFENSIVE side of the ball, linebackers coach Jeff Choate said the Cougs have a tall task ahead of them given the sheer amount of playmakers Cal possesses in the backfield.

"Their skill positions in general are really, really talented," Choate said. "We're going to have to play really well. In terms of skill talent, this is probably the best we've seen outside of Oregon."

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL again brought forth some promising performances for the Cougs. Freshman quarterback Austin Apodaca threw a good ball for the majority of the session, although the playbook was never really opened up. The offense feasted on short passes most of the evening

On defense, three familiar names continued to stick out.

Freshman linebacker Kache Palacio didn't have any sacks, but the high-motor BUCK consistently got pressure in the backfield. He looks to have really adapted nicely to the BUCK position.

Freshmen cornerbacks Alex Jackson and Rahmel Dockery continued to make plays, but in different ways than usual.

Apodaca refrained from even throwing outside on numerous occasions -- because nobody was open.

Conversely, on one play, freshman wideout Dominique Williams beat Jackson on a long 40 yard touchdown, representing the only blemish on what was otherwise a stellar day for the young D.

Running with the 1's for the scrimmage:

OFFENSE
LT- Gunnar Eklund (Brevick got some time)
LG- John Fullington (Goetz got some time)
C- Elliott Bosch (Meighen got some time)
RG- Jake Rodgers (Goetz got some time)
RT- Wade Jacobson (Brevick got some time)
QB – Connor Halliday (Jeff Tuel got some time)
RB –Teondray Caldwell/Marcus Mason/Carl Winston/Leon Brooks
X-WR – Marquess Wilson (Dominique Williams got some snaps)
Y-WR – Brett Bartolone (Gino Simone got some time)
Z-WR – Isiah Myers
H-WR – Gino Simone and Gabe Marks split reps

DEFENSE
LT- Matthew Bock
NT- Xavier Cooper
RT- Ioane Gauta (Steven Hoffart got some snaps)
BUCK- Travis Long (Logan Mayes got some time)
SAM- Cyrus Coen
MIKE- Darryl Monroe
WILL- Justin Sagote
CB- Damante Horton
CB –Daniel Simmons
FS- Casey Locker
SS- Deone Bucannon

SPECIAL TEAMS
LS - Alex Den Bleyker
P - Mike Bowlin
KO - Bowlin
FG - Furney
KR - Marquess Wilson, Rahmel Dockery, and Brett Bartolone
PR - Brett Bartolone and Leon Brooks


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