Tuel, Nwachukwu ease back into practice

PULLMAN -- The Washington State Cougars held a football practice Monday, and the darndest thing happened. Two of WSU's best players -- get this -- actually got healthier and were able to rejoin their teammates on the practice field. And there was a ton of other news and notes coming out of Pullman today..

The Cougars, who lead the nation in casts, tape, crutches and braces, received some good news for a change when quarterback Jeff Tuel (knee) and safety Chima Nwachukwu (ankle) returned to practice. Both looked sharp, but they're still listed as questionable.

The same goes for a long line of other Cougars, including cornerback Brandon Jones (back), defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm (back), defensive tackle-end Dan Spitz (concussion), defensive end Jesse Feagin (hand), offensive tackle Tyson Pencer (ankle), safety Jay Matthews (shoulder) and wide receiver Johnny Forzani (concussion).

AND PAUL WULFF ALSO added another name to the questionable list Monday when he revealed that starting offensive guard B.J. Guerra suffered a concussion in Saturday's game with Oregon State. Guerra watched practice in sweat pants along with most of the other "questionables."

Wulff said Guerra suffered "a slight concussion" less serious than the one suffered by Forzani on a kickoff return late in the Oregon State game and that Guerra appears to have a better chance than Forzani to play Saturday at Washington (3:30 p.m., FSN-NW).

Pencer did some work today and Matthews practiced in a yellow no-contact jersey for the second straight week.

ONE COUGAR WHO definitely won't play Saturday is outside linebacker Jason Stripling. The senior starter was suspended for the OSU game after being arrested following an altercation the previous weekend, and the suspension has been extended through Saturday.

JONES, WHO HAS dealt with back problems off and on this season, left the Oregon State game early when his back acted up again.

Wulff had said Sunday it appeared Jones would be sidelined for the Apple Cup, but co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball said Monday that has made progress and "might be able to come back."

AS FOR TUEL, Wulff said he "looked good. That was very encouraging to watch him move around."

Apple Cup Week Extras
Wulff said Kevin Norrell will be allowed to rejoin the Cougars in January "if he stays on track" the remainder of the semester. Norrell, a projected starter at wide receiver, was suspended for at least the entire fall semester after he was arrested in early September on a variety of alleged offenses, including DUI, that has since been amended to the lesser charge of first degree negligent driving.

The Huskies are having trouble selling out the Apple Cup. As of Monday afternoon, approximately 6,000 tickets were available at 72,500-seat Husky Stadium. The WSU Ticket Office reported that nearly 800 of the Cougars' allotted 4,800 tickets were returned to Washington.

UW tight end Kavario Middleton told Seattle's Q13 television that the Huskies "plan on scoring at least 50" points Saturday. That's more than double Washington's average of 24.1, but the Cougars give up an average of 39.3 points and 516.6 yards per game. Those marks rank 118th and 120th, respectively, out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-A).

The Cougars usually hold a short practice Sunday. However, with no classes this week due to Thanksgiving break, Sunday replaced Monday as the team's day off, and Monday became the day for a shorter practice.

The weather forecast for Saturday in Seattle calls for a high of 47 with cloudy skies and a 10 percent chance of rain.

Asked if Tuel might start if he can play Saturday, Wulff said, "Probably not. At this point, Kevin Lopina is going to be the starter."

Lopina, who made his college debut as a redshirt junior last season, was one of the stars in last year's late rally in the Apple Cup, a 16-13 Cougar victory in double overtime. However, Lopina has thrown 13 interceptions and two touchdown passes in his career.

Tuel, a true freshman, threw six touchdown passes and five interceptions in six games (five starts) before missing the past two games after going down with a subluxed kneecap Nov. 7 at Arizona.

"I felt good," Tuel said after practice Monday. "I was surprised. We'll see if it continues to get better."

TODAY, TUEL'S mighty right arm showed no signs of rust. He zipped a pass to Daniel Blackledge during an early passing drill, and Blackledge made a spectacular leaping catch on the sideline.

"My arm feels good," Tuel said with a giant smile. "It feels refreshed."

LOPINA, TUEL and Marshall Lobbestael all took snaps with the No. 1 offense Monday during a 75-minute practice in WSU's indoor practice facility (snow was on the ground outside). Players wore shorts and helmets in the non-contact practice.

Senior Reed Lesuma, who played well at left guard Saturday in his first WSU start, replaced Guerra at right guard at practice. Zack Williams occupied his usual spot at left guard.

Nwachukwu, sidelined since being hauled down on a long return of a blocked extra-point attempt Oct. 31 against Notre Dame, played with the No. 1 defense.

"He's sore," Wulff said, "but we're hoping he can help us in the game."

After moving walk-on junior Easton Johnson from wide receiver back to his old safety position last Thursday -- and having Johnson make 10 tackles in a stellar performance against Oregon State -- the Cougars had senior wideout Colin Huemmer playing safety Monday. Also a walk on, Huemmer played safety as well as receiver at Redmond High.

DESPITE THE RETURNS of Tuel and Nwachukwu, WSU remains severely shorthanded and obviously, the Cougars are looking anywhere and everywhere for able bodies. The Cougars dressed only 13 scholarship players on defense Saturday -- including Feagin, who didn't play with his broken hand in a cast -- and there was very little substituting. OSU ran 76 plays to the Cougars' 56.

"You've just got to hand it to the players," Ball said. "They mentally prepared themselves for a bunch of snaps. The coaches did a great job of preparing them for it...They (the players) didn't flinch at all. There wasn't anyone trying to get out of there. There wasn't anybody with their hands on their knees."

Asked if he expects defensive players to take on a similar workload Saturday, Ball said, "I think so. They sort of fed off it, being able to take all the snaps...I was really impressed just with the way they prepared themselves for it. That's hard to do, especially on the defensive line. They're banging every snap.

"I was really impressed with the way they handled it. That's a tribute to them and coach Roberson (defensive line coach Malik Roberson) for getting them ready."

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