Cougs' starting CBs: And then there were 3

PULLMAN -- Markus Dawes, recently back from surgery, made some picturesque leaping grabs during DB catching drills Sunday. He won't start against Oklahoma State this week, but his work served as a metaphor for the Cougs' entire corps of cornerbacks: They're rounding into shape. Co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears says three have made the biggest case for starting but many could be in line for PT.

"Right now, Romeo (Pellum) and Alfonso (Jackson), on paper, (would start), with Tyrone (Justin) there," said Sears following Sunday's warm, late-afternoon practice. "Those three have separated themselves." He was quick to add, "I'm not going to leave Markus and Devin (Giles) out."

Giles was a Cougar starter last season, but missed spring workouts because of academic woes and came into August camp lower on the depth chart.

Sears also mentioned that junior walk-on Tali Talakai of Seattle had a great camp and earned a critical spot on special teams and may even be in the coverage mix.

Jackson, a senior from Hearne, Texas, made some outstanding plays in interception drills Sunday. He was a Cougar starter last season at safety, but swapped positions with Chima Nwachukwu in spring workouts. Pellum, from Norwalk, Calf., is a sophomore who saw time on special teams last season. Justin is a second-year freshman from Van Nuys.

Justin, who had missed some recent practices with minor tweaks, looked to have fresh legs Sunday.

"He looked good today," Sears said, offering similar kudos to Pellum and Jackson. As for Dawes, who missed much of August workouts recovering from shoulder surgery, Sears was upbeat. "We're getting Markus back into things. He's not a full go yet, but he's starting to look pretty good. He's still a little gimpy, 'cause … he's still got some camp legs. So he's coming along."

ON OFFENSE, THE quarterback Gary Rogers, who fired three INTs in Friday's scrimmage but then came on strong to complete his final six passes, appeared to pick up Sunday where he left on Friday. He was poised and accurate. He also clearly is a leader. After one play, he very naturally walked over to freshman receiver Jared Karstetter, who may start against Oklahoma State, to correct something.

Karstetter, from Spokane's Ferris High, worked out with the first unit, alongside Brandon Gibson, Michael Willis and another true freshman, Kevin Norrell. Willis and Norell rotated in and out of the third starting spot. Norrell and Karstetter are running with the ones because of injuries to Jeshua Anderson and Daniel Blackledge.

Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy was quick to praise Rogers. "Gary's doing a really good job. Nothing's new right now -- things were new in the spring. They got a lot of reps under their belt. Gary's doing a nice job of running the offense and making good decisions."

The receivers looked solid in their drills as the offense moved down the field in a clock management exercise, and ran crisp routes. They also worked against the scout team defense, and with the exception one off-target pass that was picked off, all of Rogers' throws were crisp. The only other interception of the day was thrown by scout team QB Dan Wagner, who was picked off by linebacker Cory Evans.

Sturdy, when asked about adapting offensive strategy to make up for the rash of injuries at receiver, was matter-of-fact. "You always have to adapt to what you have from a talent standpoint ... As an offensive coach, you always gotta make sure you're trying to do things that you feel your personnel can run and execute."

• Kickoff on Saturday is set for 12:30 PT at Seattle's Qwest Field. Oddsmakers have Oklahoma State favored by 6 ½. The Cowboys, who were 7-6 a year ago, return their entire offensive line and quarterback from one of the most prolific offenses (486 yards per game) in the nation.

• The game will be televised nationally by FSN, with Brian Davis and Tony Boselli calling the action.

• Ironically, both WSU coach Paul Wulff and OSU coach Mike Gundy are 41-years-old and 1990 graduates of their respective schools.

• WSU co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball was on the Alabama staff that OSU faced in the 2006 Independence Bowl. And OSU's Director of Football Operations, Jimmy Gonzales, was on the Army staff with Cougar assistants Harold Etheridge, Travis Niekamp and Jody Sears.

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