Cougars finding brief calm on the Palouse?

PULLMAN -- It was so quiet at Washington State's practice Thursday morning, you could hear a fumble drop. WSU's hard-driving coaching staff, concerned about mounting injuries, backed off the troops for the first time in fall camp. The result was a shorter, less intense and quieter workout than usual. Still, Devin Frischknecht, Tyrone Justin and Kevin Frank all made a little noise of their own.

Not surprisingly, the concentration level of some players seemed to wane. How so? Numerous balls were dropped during passing drills. Marcus Richmond met with lukewarm resistance on a 10-yard touchdown run. The second-string offensive line gave up two straight sacks before picking up a procedure penalty on the next play.

On the positive side, Justin, Frank and Hallston Higgins broke up would-be touchdown passes in the end zone.

The defense stuffed Logwone Mitz on fourth-and-2 near the goal line. Sticky-fingered tight end Frischknecht continues to show why he could figure prominently in WSU's passing game.

Defensive tackle A'i Ahmu, who picked up a stinger Wednesday, is expected to return shortly. Bernard Wolfgramm filled in for Ahmu. Higgins started in place of outside linebacker Cory Evans, who went down Tuesday with a thumb injury. Red-hot receiver Michael Willis, who has been dealing with aching legs, was held out of some drills.

HOW QUIET WAS was practice Thursday? So quiet that WSU's assistant coaches weren't talking smack.

There was even a rumor making the rounds that not once did Chris Ball throw his visor to the ground in anger.

Paul Wulff often maintains a stoic presence, but most of his assistants love to yell at players as a motivational tool. The coaches might be yelling compliments, or they might be yelling something decidedly less than complimentary, but it certainly livens up practices.

Some of the best coachspeak heard in fall camp: "Lollygag, lollygag. All you do is lollygag." That's a signature line for Jody Sears, the co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach.

"No one cares if you're tired." Harsh but true.

"Why are you walking?" Players are expected to sprint, limp or at least jog EVERYWHERE.

"There's some violence involved." Just in case some of us forget when watching from the safety of our living room couch.

"You're not hurt." Well, it certainly didn't hurt the coach.

ASKED HOW HE likes playing in a three-point stance for the first time in his life, Andy Mattingly smiles and says, "My fingers hurt."

Mattingly, a pass-rushing phenom as an outside linebacker last year, is now experiencing life in the trenches. He laughs out loud when recalling how he was recruited as a 215-pound safety out of Mead High School in Spokane.

"I ask the coaches, 'What's next? Offensive line?'" Mattingly joked.

The 6-foot-4, 241-pound Mattingly was shifted to the defensive line in part because WSU's pass rush was virtually nonexistent last year, save for blitzing linebackers. Mattingly says he's "slowly starting to figure it out" after first making the move in spring practice, but it's not easy.

"The most difficult thing for me has been coming out of the three-point stance and trying to gets my reads -- reading the offensive linemen and what they're trying to do to me off the ball," Mattingly said.

"At linebacker, you've got 5 yards. Now you only get a yard."

Like so many players, Mattingly said he's been impressed with the new coaching staff.

"I love these coaches," Mattingly said. "They push you to be a better player on the field and off. They're just a great bunch of guys."

IT REMAINS TO be seen if junior cornerback Devin Giles can win back his starting job. The oh-so-lean Florida native has played on the No. 2 defense most of the time thus far this fall after starting all 12 games last season.

Giles doesn't need playing time to appreciate just being a student at Washington State. Giles was held out of spring ball after falling way behind academically. He earned 18 credits during the spring and summer semesters to regain his academic eligibility.

"That shows a lot of character," center Kenny Alfred said.

"I don't want to fail my family back home by dropping out of school just because of grades," Giles said. "I've got a lot of people looking up to me back home."

A FAMILIAR SCENE at the end of Cougar practices is a wave of wives and children greeting the coaches. Many "big-time" college football teams discourage or don't allow such meetings at practice.

Ball, who followed Mike Price from Washington State to Alabama after the 2003 Rose Bowl, said the family friendly environment of Pullman and WSU figured prominently in his decision to return to the Cougar coaching staff this season.

Ball and many other Cougar coaches over the years have noted how much they enjoy the fact that Pullman is small enough that they can occasionally sneak home for a bite to eat or make it to their kids' sporting events or school affairs.

Former WSU assistant coach Kelly Skipper said his wife and children never saw his office when he coached at UCLA because the trip from home to work routinely took 90 minutes or more. Tales like that make it easier to understand why many coaches savor the opportunity to coach at WSU despite less pay than most other schools in the Pac-10.

FSN will air its 2008 Cougar football preview this Friday the 15th at 9:30 pm PT.

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