Returning starters make presence known

PULLMAN -- Offensive line coach Harold Etheridge finally had some good fortune come his way. Not one, not two but three starters on the Cougar offensive line returned to the fold yesterday and all three could conceivably see the field this Saturday against California. Meanwhile, there were more returns, an intensity crank a scout team standout.

LT Steven Ayers (ankle), LG Zack Williams (ankle) and RG B.J. Guerra (knee) all practiced on Tuesday and all got varying amounts of snaps with the first team, with Williams getting the most.

All had moments where it looked like they hadn't missed a step and in protecting quarterbacks Jeff Tuel, and Marshall Lobbestael but whether all three are ready to go in time for Cal remains to be seen.

"It was fun to get out there play with guys, get used to the tempo again. It was a good first day," said Ayers.

When Guerra, Williams, and Ayers were back on the line, the difference in protection for the quarterbacks was substantial. Center Kenny Alfred (laceration) was also going full speed.

In previous weeks with a makeshift offensive line, the d-line has held the upper hand in the pass rush but on Tuesday, both Tuel and Lobbestael, with a lot more consistency, were able to stay in the pocket and wait for their receivers to get open.

"We got a little bit of our old rhythm back," said Ayers. "Coaches want us to run a little more of a fast tempo, and with some of the veteran guys out there today we were able to get that done."

MEANWHILE ON DEFENSE, DT Bernard Wolfgramm (hip) and MLB Alex Hoffman-Ellis (staph Infection) both returned on Tuesday.

Wolfgramm, injured against Oregon over two weeks ago, was going full speed on Tuesday and got some reps working with the 1's. Hoffman-Ellis, who had a wrap just under his elbow, also saw some action with the 1's and looked as if that arm wasn't bothering him.

"It's always great to have those guys who are slated to start back in there, it puts us all on the same page, but those guys who were filling in for them were doing well anyway," said Chima Nwachukwu.

IN THE SECONDARY, Terrence Hayward had a couple of nice pass deflections of Tuel.

CB Aire Justin (quad) -- who has missed the last several weeks -- also returned to practice.

INTENSITY WAS certainly high for the team today with some scuffles breaking out, something not seen since the end of fall camp.

Early on in practice during 11-on-11's, the freshly returned Williams and DE Travis Long got into a pushing and shoving match that was broken up quickly. A little later on, DT Anthony Laurenzi and OL Andrew Roxas went at it before being separated by teammates.

Both incidents were not huge deals, but illustrate a) plenty of fire still burns in this Cougar team and b) the coaches are stepping up the intensity to open the second half of the season.

DURING THE 11-on-11 drills to end practice, the offensive line and defensive line were in a see-saw battle, but the defense was able to overcome with some big plays to close out the afternoon session.

Highlights were turned in by Xavier Hicks, who had a nice tackle and an interception off of Tuel. That pick was the exception, though, with Tuel continuing to show good progression running the first team with sharper throws, better decisions and not trying to force the ball.

  • For the first time this season, the team spent about 10 minutes running what is by some called the nutcracker drill, with linebackers and defensive lineman going full contact against the offense trying to tackle running backs.

  • Lobbestael had a good day throwing several tight spirals into small holes, with WR Jared Karstetter and Daniel Blackledge each making some nice gainers. Lobbestael was wearing a black wrap around his knee today which looked to provide him with more mobility.

  • LT Tyson Pencer and LG Brian Danaher did not practice on Tuesday. Pencer is still recovering from an ankle injury against ASU, and Danaher is yet to be cleared after suffering two concussions this season.

  • LB Myron Beck, as Paul Wulff had indicated he would , some saw action at safety. Early last Week Wulff said that Beck would see some reps there while customary starter Chima Nwachukwu could see some action at CB due to injuries at the position.

  • RB James Montgomery was at practice on Tuesday in a right boot. Although Montgomery is out for the season and did not practice, it didn't stop the RB from getting in a workout and working up a sweat with the rest of the injured Cougs.

  • On the scout team, freshman Nolan Washington looked great on Tuesday in drills against the first team. Washington had two pass deflections, one in coverage on WR Jared Karstetter with a pass from Lobbestael, and one on Jeffrey Solomon with the two going high in the air and Washington winning the battle.

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