Wulff, Cougs step up practice intensity

PULLMAN – Washington State head coach Paul Wulff did something Wednesday he hasn't done all season. He gave his troops a fiery pre-practice speech, telling his Cougs they need to supercharge their intensity. His words were like fuel on a fire. Wednesday's practice was full of high-octane energy.

The good news, though, was that quarterback Jeff Tuel was back running with the 1s. And the bad news is that kicker Nico Grasu appears to be far from solving his accuracy woes.

But Wulff was the man at center stage on this day.

"You know what, we got some good young minds and some good young players on this team," Wulff said. "They've got energy, they want to do well, and we're not going to let negative things slow us down, we have to keep growing and handle adversity. It's part of the process when the program is young and growing and you're building something special which we are and it's starts with great attitude."

Tuel looked to have no ill effects from the back and hip blows that sent him to the sidelines Saturday in Eugene. Against the scout team, he fired some nifty long bombs. The first was a gorgeous 40-yarder that Johnny Forzani couldn't find the handle on. The speedster's visible chagrin didn't last long as he hauled in a similar aerial a few players later.

Left guard Brian Danaher, back from a concussion, continues to see more work load in practice and took some reps with the 1s. The offensive line as a whole made big strides on Wednesday, giving Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael some time to stay in the pocket. Offensive line coach Harold Etheridge looked pleased with his unit's performance, and was consistently cheering on the hosses.

The defensive line wasn't without it's moments, however. Freshman end Travis Long had another great day of practice and fellow lineman Dan Spitz also showed some electricity on defense and special teams. He posted one sack of Tuel on the day and then blocked three – yes, 3 – field goal attempts by Grasu.

Grasu's woes continue to be a concern for Wulff and his work at the end of Wednesday's practice was nothing less than startling. He went a total of 3-for-15 from around 40 yards, with four kicks being blocked – Spitz' three and one by tackle Anthony Laurenzi.

"It bothers everybody and Nico," said Wulff. "He's struggling right now. He's just got to get out of it, and he can. He's proven to all of us he can kick well. He's just got to break out of it; it's a mental thing not a physical thing."

Asked if he Grasu would be the No. 1 kicker this Saturday vs. Arizona State, Wulff said, "He's all we've got." Back-up kicker Patrick Rooney has not been able to practice because of a hip flexor, leaving freshman walk-on Blake Dunn as the only kicker left on the roster to come in relief of Grasu.

BACK ON DEFENSE, the secondary had some good success against the No. 1 offense. They deflected three Tuel passes and Brandon Jones nearly picked off Tuel twice, making great plays on balls thrown to Gino Simone and Jeffrey Solomon.

Safety Kyle McCartney also had himself a great afternoon by providing the hit of the day when he leveled WR Easton Johnson to break up a 15 yard connection between him and Lobbestael. McCartney also provided the sole turnover on the day when Lobbestael was running out of the pocket and tried to thread the needle to Solomon, when McCartney jumped in front got the pick.

"I thought practice went extremely well," said Co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears. Sears and fellow Co-defensive Coordinator Chris Ball were among the leaders from an intensity standpoint, consistently providing praise and in-your-face motivation to get their players fired up. "I think that's just part of the job, if we want our kids to play with a little more energy, and a little more intensity it's got to come from the coaches," said Sears.

NOTABLE NOTES:

* Scouts from the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots were on hand for practice.

* Freshman Carl Winston, his redshirt newly burned, saw notable time on kick returns alongside Simone, Jones, and Solomon. The true freshman has a great burst of speed, and performed well.

* Kickoff Saturday is set for 2 pm. There is no TV coverage.

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