EARLY SESSION: Cougar offense roars back

PULLMAN -- Maybe it was just another practice, maybe it wasn't. Time will tell. Cougar hoss Vaughn Lesuma likes to think it meant a great deal, because Lesuma maintains that the manner in which Washington State's offense, and offensive line, rebounded Tuesday morning from a poor performance 24 hours earlier speaks volumes about the new spirit of the Cougars.

"Yesterday was really rough," said Vaughn Lesuma, WSU's senior offensive left tackle after the first of two scheduled sessions on the day. "We regrouped as a team. We stuck together when it counted.

"It's so easy for things to fall apart when things aren't going right. We know as a team -- as a new team -- a good way to judge a man is through the rough times."

Lesuma said the increased demands of the new coaching staff are desperately needed after a 5-7 season in which discipline was lacking on and off the field.

"They're certainly moving the train forward regardless," Lesuma said. "It's our obligation to jump and or off. They're not going to wait for anybody.

"As rough and hard as it is, deep down inside, we all know it's a good thing for this program."

Lesuma added, "Come Saturdays during the season, when we see all these fans and friends and family out there screaming and just so happy the team is winning and doing good; all this extra running and hard stuff that we're doing now will be paid for in full."

LESUMA AND HIS partners on the starting offensive line gave quarterback Gary Rogers far more time to operate Tuesday morning.

Rogers responded by zipping passes all over the field, and receivers like Brandon Gibson, Michael Willis and Benny Ward came through one day after the field was littered with dropped balls.

Lesuma said some of the drops result from the sheer velocity of Rogers' passes. Rogers has a stronger arm than his immediate predecessor, all-time WSU passing leader Alex Brink.

"Gary Rogers has a little more hot sauce," Lesuma said with a smile. "They (receivers) have to quickly adjust to that. We're lucky we have great receivers."

Lesuma fared much better working against right defensive end Andy Mattingly than on Monday, though Mattingly did score a touchdown after picking off a short, errant throw from Rogers with the offense starting deep in its own territory.

Rogers responded by connecting with Willis and Ward for touchdowns.

The second-team offensive line also made progress from Monday. Road graders Zack Williams and B.J. Guerra opened up some huge holes on the left side. When big, fast and strong Logwone Mitz has time to build up some steam coming out of the backfield . well, it's not a pleasant sight for defenders to see the redshirt freshman running back headed their way.

MEANWHILE, TRUE FRESHMAN Louis Bland continued to impress, turning in fine plays against the run and the pass. WSU, mixing and matching thus far in fall camp and taking looks at different players in the starting lineup at some spots, had three sophomores in the starting secondary on Tuesday -- cornerback Romeo Pellum and safeties Chima Nwachukwu and Easton Johnson, and redshirt freshman Tyrone Justin. True freshman Tyree Toomer also saw time in the defensive backfield.

"We're really happy the defense is 'bringing it' every practice," Lesuma said. "You can't ask for anything more."

Some players who have missed time with bumps and bruises are getting back into the fold. Running back Chris Ivory, the top backup behind two-time leading rusher Dwight Tardy, saw limited action on Tuesday morning.

Willis is working his way back up to full speed after getting dinged a few practices back. Matt Mullennix, bidding to retain his starting job at defensive end, is nursing an injury that has kept him out of most drills of late.

A second Tuesday practice was scheduled for the afternoon.

AFTER WARMING UP at the start of practice, three pairs of offensive and defensive players squared off in "sumo" matches that drew roars of delight from teammates who formed a circle around the combatants.

But it wasn't mostly about fun, not according to Paul Wulff.

If you're keeping score at home, the final score was 1-1-1. Offensive tackle Dan Rowlands got the best of defensive tackle Toby Turpin; Lesuma lost to defensive tackle A'i Ahmu; and Mitz battled to a draw with linebacker Marshal Pirtz.

Wulff utilized the wrestling routine at Eastern Washington and introduced it to the Cougars during spring practice.

"It's competition," Wulff explained. "It's not just a drill to drill. We're trying to see who's willing to compete and fight and scrap."

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