FULL PADS: Up & down day for offense, defense

PULLMAN -- Paul Wulff the idealist wants his football team to be flawless after five days of practice. Paul Wulff the realist forces himself to take a deep breath and take a more sensible approach. "There were moments of really good stuff and not," the Washington State coach said after the Cougars practiced in full pads for the first time Saturday morning.

"To be honest, that's practice No. 5. We're going to get a lot better," said Paul Wulff.

The offense, sizzling at the start of practice, fizzled down the stretch.

The defense, invisible at first, forced turnovers on the No. 1 offense's last two possessions before wide-open freshman receiver Kevin Norrell hauled in a 27-yard Kevin Lopina touchdown pass as the No. 2 units finished a scrimmage held at the end of practice.

THE GOOD NEWS? Starting quarterback Gary Rogers, a 6-foot-6 senior who will win few foot races, looked surprisingly adept on option plays -- an occasional addition to WSU's new hurry-up, no-huddle offense.

"We are very pleased at his development," Wulff said.

The bad news? Starting cornerback Alfonso Jackson and potential starting outside linebacker Jason Stripling joined the increasingly long line of Cougars sidelined with hamstring injuries.

"We have too many muscle issues we need to get ironed out," Wulff said.

The new coaching staff continues to juggle lineups. Safety Myron Beck and defensive tackle A'i Ahmu were back with the No. 1's. Redshirt freshman Tyrone Justin started for Jackson.

True freshman Tyree Toomer, a highly regarded defensive back who just turned 18 last week, is also getting some looks at linebacker.

No. 2 running back Chris Ivory remained out with a hamstring strain, but Marcus Richmond (despite a lost fumble) and James Montgomery (who must sit out this year after transferring from Cal) filled in admirably.

Oft-injured Markus Dawes, a senior who is projected to start at cornerback, participated in a few scrimmage plays despite remaining under strict orders to avoid all contact while he continues to recover from shoulder surgery.

The Cougars, who held all-out hitting to a minimum, go through their first two-a-day workouts tomorrow. Camp opened with two practices on both Tuesday and Wednesday, but those were split-squad workouts.

WULFF, A STRAIGHTFORWARD type who rarely says 10 words to the media if nine will do, turned into a veritable quote machine after practice.

On Rogers' arm strength:
"He's got as good an arm as you're going to find in the country. He's got plenty of arm. Accuracy always is the key, and accuracy on the run. All quarterbacks have to throw the ball when they're moving, and I would say right now that's one thing Gary has to work on."

On the strong fall performances of Rogers, 2007 Pac-10 receiving leader Brandon Gibson and starting running back Dwight Tardy:
"They're doing a good job right now. The nice thing about them is, they're all (somewhat) untapped; they're not finished. They still have two weeks of practice to go -- 2 ½ weeks -- and they can get a lot better."

On the fact that some players spent nearly 3 hours on the practice field Saturday (90 minutes was standard last year):
"We need to practice; there's a lot of ground to make up. These guys have never practiced this long."

On the mental toughness of today's college players:
"It isn't the same; they're not (as tough as older players). They don't have to go through the grind that older people and older players did. Heck, you used to have 20 spring practices and 20 (in) full pads. Now there's eight full pads, so it's a little different. That's the climate we're all in, so that's fine."

On returning to coach at Washington State two decades after he played for the Cougars:
"It does bring back some memories. All good. And painful."


MICHAEL WILLIS

JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER Michael Willis, the former safety who sat out last season due to academic eligibility, continues to make a strong bid to crack the starting lineup and/or see regular playing time for the first time since arriving at WSU in 2005.

"Patience is a virtue," the personable Willis said with a smile. "That's what my mom always says."

Willis was so eager to hear what his mom had to say, he had her move in with him this summer. Willis said he had only seen his mother twice in approximately 15 years since his parents separated (although they never divorced). Willis moved to Tacoma with his father and brother, and a sister stayed behind in Petersburg, Va., with Willis' mother.

"I missed her a lot," Willis said. "I mostly talked to her on the phone every now and then."

Willis said he's determined to earn his degree ("My mom is big on academics"), and he expressed thanks to former coach Bill Doba for permitting him to redshirt last year while working on his grades. Willis rewarded Doba by winning the Ozzie Dire Award as scout team player of the year.


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