"The offense was doing well, but the last two practices ... we really stalemated here," coach Paul Wulff said. "It's either information overload or we're not mentally handling what we're trying to get across, because their production was real poor."
Wulff was quick to credit the defense for "some steady improvement," and he acknowledged that a spate of injuries to key receivers is "going to mess with your chemistry" on offense.
Still, Wulff has expressed concern about WSU's pass protection, despite four starters returning on the offensive line. On Monday, defensive ends Andy Mattingly and Kevin Kooyman and blitzing linebackers gave the O-line fits.
"That outfit has to get a lot better for this football team to have success on offense," said Wulff, a standout center during his playing days at WSU in the 1980s.
Quarterbacks Gary Rogers and Kevin Lopina were ineffective against heavy pressure, and the dropped balls didn't help. Cornerback Alfonso Jackson picked off Rogers once or twice (depending on whether you take the word of the offense or defense on one pass) early in the practice.
Lopina also had his share of problems. He hurried one pass directly into the hands of cornerback Tali Talakai, but walk-on Talakai dropped the ball. Talakai did hold his own in some good battles with freshman receiver Jared Karstetter, but Karstetter overcame tight coverage by Talakia to make a fine, twisting catch of a late touchdown pass thrown by Lopina.
Karstetter also did a superb job of keeping his tippy-toes barely inbounds while hauling in another Lopina pass.
Karstetter and another true freshman wideout, Kevin Norrell, continue to see time with the No. 1 offense and earn praise from Wulff. On Monday, Wulff also had kind words for three other newcomers: freshmen linebackers Louis Bland and Mike Ledgerwood and JC transfer Chantz Staden. The versatile Staden, who played various positions in junior college (including nickel back on defense in crucial situations), has been used primarily as a running back by the Cougs so far but also looks comfortable playing receiver.
Asked what pleased him most about the first week of practice, Wulff said, "They're learning how to practice. They don't all understand it, but they're really trying to learn how to practice in terms of the intensity level we want."
NO MATTER HOW WELL OR poorly the Cougars practice, some questions won't be answered until the lights come on and the bullets start flying for real in front of 50,000-plus witnesses in Seattle on August 30. For example:
* Can Rogers excel? Rogers has the size and arm of an NFL quarterback, but he's barely played since 2003 at Kamiak High School.
* Can anyone make a big stop? Nine starters return from last year's inexperienced, porous defense, but no one has established themselves as a dominant player.
* Can anyone kick the ball? The two sophomores bidding for the kicking
job – Wade Penner and Nico Grasu -- have never, ever attempted a field goal at the four-year college level.
* Can the Cougars avoid burnout? The new coaching staff brings volumes of energy and intensity to the party, but can players deal with it day in and day out for months on end.
* Can the Cougars go-bowling? WSU must win seven of its 13 games to go to a bowl game, but there's little wiggle room, with four of Sports Illustrated's top 20 teams on the schedule.
The WSU coaching staff may lack an all-world screamer like former offensive line coach George Yarno -- a big teddy bear with his linemen off the field -- but plenty of loud-and-clear criticism and praise is shouted by various coaches at practice. Wulff tends to be on the quiet side.
"You can coach hard in a positive manner," tight ends coach Rich Rasmussen said. "You can get on a kid, but you've got to be able to give 'em a hug and tell 'em they did a great job when they did something well."
"We're not going to slow down," Wulff said. "We need to work hard. They (players) need it. They need it badly."
Sports writers can't decide what's more impressive: Running back Dwight Tardy's seamless recovery from major knee surgery, or the fact that he scored a hat trick by producing three of the best quotes from the first week of camp.
On his knee operation: "It's just a major setback to a major comeback for me."
On speculation that he hurt his knee late last season when celebrating with fans at the back of the end zone after a 51-yard TD run against UCLA: "I get that question all the time. I swear I did it 15 yards before I scored."
On the impact of the new coaching staff: "I think our team has a totally different outlook on the game of football, period. There were a lot of guys going through the motions (in the past), getting things done when they can on their own time. Now we do the small things. That's what Coach Wulff has been stressing -- the small things. We get to class, do our homework, show up at meetings on time. That just builds characters. Everyone's been buying into it."
NOTABLE: Wide receiver Jeshua Anderson underwent successful surgery for a hernia Monday morning. According to the WSU medical staff, the surgery went as planned and at this point Anderson's recovery time is expected to be between six and eight weeks. That means he'll three to five games.
Wulff says OL needs to get 'a lot better'
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