PRACTICE REPORT: Eleven as one the focus

PULLMAN -- Accountability. The WSU coaches are demanding it and Wednesday's practice was a good example as the Cougar defense could be seen running sprints after practice. Meanwhile, the wide receivers put in some extra time working on catching the ball, something that didn't always go smoothly in the session. Plus, there's more audio from Paul Wulff and linebackers coach Travis Niekamp.

Paul Wulff has talked about the need for all 11 players to play as one and to do so all the time, something that didn't happen in the Cal game. Wednesday, after the defense had a few lapses during the practice session, Travis Niekamp was direct about why the stop corps did some extra running.

"Just holding them accountable...not just the linebacker position, but the whole defense," said Niekamp. "We've got to try and play 11 as one, and the minute you don't do that, you play 10 as one, you get in trouble. You get short a hat, and you give up 86-yard touchdown runs -- which is not acceptable."

Some of the younger Cougar linebackers got a chance to run with the first team defense on Wednesday, though Niekamp confirmed there were no serious injuries that prompted the move.

IT WAS AN off day for the Cougar receiving corps in practice on Wednesday. Brandon Gibson looked un-Gibson like, failing to make the type of leaping grabs he always seems to make. In one instance, Kevin Lopina threaded a high pass over two defenders and Gibson went up to get it, yet the ball slipped through his fingertips -- and landed in the hands of scout team cornerback Daniel Simmons.

Paul Wulff said after practice he's glad to have his starting receivers back but there is still work to do to get up to snuff, especially for Jeshua Anderson and Daniel Blackledge, who have missed very large chunks of practice time indeed.

"They all got to continue to work...I mean, they missed all of training camp. And they missed all those practices. Even though they're back, their timing, their performance, it just isn't going to be at their peak performance. And so, yeah, 'we're back', but we still have a lot of work to do. We've got to catch the ball consistently, we've got to run the right routes consistently and we're not there yet...We need to press as fast as we go to get us there," said Wulff.

Blackledge also saw a bullet from Lopina glance off his hands and fall incomplete. He did make a highlight reel grab in the back of the end zone, but it went for naught as he was unable to get either of his feet down in bounds.

Lopina again saw the vast majority of work with the first team offense, as he did on Tuesday. A few of Lopina's passes were off target, but his release was quick and he continued to show the savvy Todd Sturdy talked about Tuesday -- he made plays with his feet and his arm.

Gary Rogers struggled with turning the ball over Wednesday. He threw one pass late, and that allowed scout team DB Kevin Frank a chance to break on the ball and make the interception. Rogers also threw an ill advised pass into a sea of crimson scout team jerseys, and the ball was picked by linebacker Joshua Garret. A missed exchange with second team center Chris Prummer also resulted in a "sack" by the scout team defensive line. Rogers spent extra time after practice with Sturdy, working out the kinks.

THE NO. 1 OFFENSE, for a second straight day, again squared off against the first team defense in some live scrimmaging. Lopina led the O to a couple quick first downs but the drive stalled after the defense forced a fourth down.

The kickers had a good day, converting all five of their attempts, with Nico Grasu and Wade Penner each hitting on a pair of field goals, and kickoff specialist Patrick Rooney making good on another for good measure.

Eight Cougar players are from the states of Texas and Louisiana, including the three starting senior Cougar linebackers -- Greg Trent, Cory Evans (LA) and Kendrick Dunn. A fourth, Jason Stripling, played starting minutes in the opener before injuring a toe. Hallston Higgins, Chris Ivory, Alfonso Jackson and Chima Nwachukwu all hail from the Lone Star state. Family and friends will be watching and all of them seem to have something to prove.

"It seems like it (they are focused), they sure all seem to want to be on the bus. They all got healthy and they're all ready to go...It's one of those things as a coach you hope it's not a distraction, if anything it's a motivator, that's what it should be," said Wulff.

REALIZING THE OFFENSE's potential has thus far proved elusive in the early going but Wulff remained optimistic.

"Hopefully we get to that point -- That's the goal, is to get there as fast as we possibly can," said Wulff. "Yeah, we're two games in, but we've also got 11 games. We've got a whole season in front of us, so there's so much more for us to accomplish this season. We still are expecting excellent things, and that can't change.

"We should be a good team to watch as we continue to mature, hopefully, and develop."

CF.C subscribers can listen to Wulff's and Niekamp's full comments here:

  • The first team defense forced more turnovers Wednesday, something the Cougars could certainly use more of on Saturday. Wednesday's thefts including interceptions by Myron Beck and Kendrick Dunn, and a fumble that was recovered by Tyree Toomer.

  • Toby Turpin was back in practice and played with the scout team at the defensive tackle position. He should be able to provide some much needed depth on the defensive line, though he did play with a wrap on his hand after missing time with a thumb injury.

  • At this writing, it seems unlikely Hurricane Ike would force a cancellation of the game in Waco though anything is possible with Mother Nature. "We're just going to go as planned. I think they feel like it's going to be ok," said Wulff.

  • Cougar coaches may have found their kickoff returners after experimenting with several different combinations, Kevin Norrell and Ivory again lined up as the returners, though it's hard to read anything into who the Cougars have with the ones on any given day since the staff continues to mix and match, while taking a look at many different players, combinations and situations.

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