Special teams come into focus .. sort of

PULLMAN – With Paul Wulff lifting his foot off the pedal Thursday, making both Cougar practices shorter and less demanding than the standard his staff has established as the norm, all eyes turned to special teams. And the battle between placekickers Wade Penner and Nico Grasu left Wulff with a clear conclusion.

"We're clearly not even close to naming a starting kicker," Wulff said. "It could truly change after one or two or three games."

Special teams dominated much of the afternoon practice. Penner and Grasu, competing to replace Romeen Abdolmohamadi on field goals and PATs, experienced mixed results when dueling at the end of practice.

Penner nailed his first six kicks, then missed his other three. Grasu connected on just two of 10 attempts. Both sophomores went 0-for-2 on 50-yarders at the end, when screaming teammates lined up near them to add an element of pressure for two players who have never kicked a field goal at the four-year college level.

As for the lower-key approach to the day's practices, Wulff was succinct: "Lucky guys," he deadpanned. "We'll change that tomorrow."

Everyone seems to agree the Cougars have been pushed harder physically and mentally than at any time in recent memory.

Combined with the steamy temperatures Thursday and the lengthy injury list, Wulff sensed it was time to give his players a break.

"I've done it long enough to know there's X amount of practices in the camp," Wulff said. "There's certain phases where they're going to need it (lighter practices)."

The Cougars practiced for 1 hour, 15 minutes in the afternoon without pads. For the first time this fall, practice moved from the Rogers Field practice field to Martin Stadium, where the official 92-degree temperature in Pullman was even higher due to the artificial turf and the bowl-like seating.
STARTING QUARTERBACK Gary Rogers, who held for field goals and extra points the past two years, and third-string QB Marshall Lobbestael were the holders at practice. Most coaches prefer not have to have their starting quarterback double as holder. Wulff said he expects No. 1 punter Reid Forrest -- who has yet to practice while recovering from a summer ankle operation -- to hold once he's healthy.

"Reid is really good," Wulff said.

Earlier in the practice, junior college transfers Grasu and Patrick Rooney launched booming kickoffs and punts, respectively. Kickoff returners included Brandon Gibson, Romeo Pellum, Chantz Staden and Kevin Norrell.

Gibson, who considered passing up his senior year to turn pro, stresses that wins are more important to him than records. So-o-o-o … why not pursue both?

GIBSON, WHO LED THE Pac-10 and set a school record with 1,180 receiving yards last season, might have a shot this season – with 13 games on the schedule -- at breaking the conference record for receiving yards.

He also could move past CouGreats Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus in the WSU record books.

"I don't know anything about the record books," Gibson said. "I don't really check 'em. I just go out and play. "If I'm fortunate to break some of the old records … that'd be cool with me."

The Pac-10 record for receiving yards in a season is 1,532, set by Oregon State's Mike Haas in 2005.

Gibson needs only 622 yards to break Hill's school record of 2,704 career receiving yards. Gibson is 70 shy of Bumpus' school record of 195 career receptions.

Last year, Gibson caught 67 balls. That's tied for third in school history with current receivers coach Mike Levenseller. Nakoa McElrath set the record of 72 in 2001.

INJURY REPORT: Michael Willis and Anthony Houston joined the long list of receivers sidelined by leg injuries.

If you believe Sports Illustrated, the Cougars will be serious underdogs in their season opener Aug. 30 versus Oklahoma State in Seattle. SI's pre-season national rankings have the Cowboys 43rd and the Cougars 84th.

The Cowboys return 17 starters off a 7-6 squad. The Big 12 media poll pegs Oklahoma State for a fourth-place finish in the six-team South Division. Washington State is 2-0 against OSU, but the schools have not met since 1951-52.

Remarkably, Oklahoma State's rushing and passing yardage totals were identical (3,161) in 2007. Quarterback Zac Robinson, a two-way threat, and All-Big 12 tight end Brandon Pettigrew lead the Cowboys. OSU coach Mike Gundy, a former Cowboys quarterback, is best known for his infamous rant ("I'm a man! I'm 40!") at a newspaper columnist who questioned the character of one of his players last year. Gundy has guided the Cowboys to bowl wins the past two years.

Other OSU alums of note include former NFL running backs Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas, ex-major league baseball players Robin Ventura and Pete Incaviglia, country music star Garth Brooks and legendary oil man Boone Pickens. Oklahoma State's football stadium is named for Pickens, who gave the athletic department $70 million in 2003 and a record $165 million in 2005.

Cougfan Top Stories