DAY 3: Speed, athleticism apparent; C change?

PULLMAN -- Anyone who saw the past two Washington State football teams in action really doesn't need to come to Pullman to appreciate the difference in team speed this year. All they have to do is watch the past two years' games -- on fast forward. On other fronts, Marquess Wilson has tongues wagging, Rickey Galvin and Leon Brooks flip the switch -- and is a change in the offing at center?

The speed and athleticism of new receivers like freshmen Marquess Wilson and Kristoff Williams and junior college transfer Isiah Barton has everyone from head coach Paul Wulff to quarterback Jeff Tuel smacking their lips in anticipation of what the newcomers will bring to the offense this fall.

"It makes a huge difference," Tuel said after the team's third fall practice wound up Tuesday afternoon. "These freshmen we've got, half of them, you throw it in an area, it comes out of your hand, you're like, ‘Oh, it might be a little high. Oh-oh!' Then one of them swallows it up, especially this guy behind me."

"This guy" would be Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 173-pound jumping bean disguised as a football player. Twenty-four hours after the fact, everyone was still buzzing about a leaping grab Wilson made over the middle in traffic Monday.

"It was pretty impressive," Tuel said. "Marshall (Lobbestael) was rolling out to the right and threw it late and across the middle, which probably wasn't the best idea. But when you've got a kid like Marquess …

"There wasn't anyone in the area of his hands (when he caught the ball) -- he was head and shoulders above everyone else. It was just an amazing catch."

WILSON, A LEAN Californian with an easy smile, acknowledged that the catch "was pretty nice."

"At first, I thought I probably wasn't going to go up for it. But it's just instinct to go up for the ball, because I'm used to it. I played basketball, so when I see a ball, I go up and get it."

Wilson said he's enjoyed working with well-respected receivers coach Mike Levenseller.

"It's been good," he said, "because I'm learning a lot more than what I learned in high school. Like releasing and how to keep my running ‘inside my body.' That's helped me a lot with my cuts and my speed."

Marquess (pronounced Marr-KEEZ), Williams and Barton, lining up with the No. 2 offense, all made dazzling catches Tuesday.

They're the center pieces of a speedy, athletic group of receivers picked up by a team that had just four scholarship receivers in action in spring ball.

"Obviously, it's a big upgrade from where we've been," Wulff said. "These guys have got a lot of football in front of them. I really think the sky's the limit for that group. They've got a lot of work to do, but the raw talent is here."

THE OFFENSE AND DEFENSE took turns sharing the spotlight in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. Players added shoulder pads to go with their helmets for the first time Tuesday. They'll do the same Wednesday, then full contact begins Thursday.

The first 7-on-7 drill started in ugly fashion when Tuel and Zack Williams, a natural guard who played center with the No. 1's all day, had a sloppy exchange that resulted in a fumble recovered by senior linebacker Hallston Higgins.

The defense kept applying pressure regularly. Reserve end Jordan Pu'u-Robinson "sacked" Tuel (no full contact was permitted), and veteran safety Chima Nwachukwu doggedly pursued freshman receiver Bobby Ratliff to break up a pass after Tuel scrambled at length to escape defenders.

Two of the most exciting plays of the day were turned in by tiny freshmen running backs Leon Brooks and Rickey Galvin.

The 5-foot-7, 170-pound Brooks, a walk-on who redshirted last year, hauled in a short pass in the right flat from fellow walk-on David Gilbertson and utilized his incredible quickness to elude several would-be tacklers as he made his way down field.

Tackling Brooks looks to be somewhat akin to catching a fly in a blender.

Later, Galvin -- all 5-8 and 162 pounds of him -- simply got lost behind his blockers on a draw play, then emerged like magic well down the field after using and abusing Nwachukwu and others with his dazzling blend of quickness and speed.

WILLIAMS, LISTED AS the starting left guard, started at center in place of Andrew Roxas. Wulff said Roxas has "got to get in better shape," and Williams could be the "No. 1 center or No. 1 guard, whatever."

Williams played center at Glendale JC before coming to WSU. He was at one time considered an heir apparent to Kenny Alfred before Roxas arrived on the scene a year later.

TRAINER BILL DRAKE said the Cougars want to be careful with Roxas after he sat out last year due to viral hepatitis. Two other projected starters, outside linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis (sore back) and wide receiver Jared Karstetter (summer hernia surgery), are also being limited early in camp.

Wade Jacobson, recruited as a tackle, played left guard with the 1's on Tuesday. Another junior college transfer, David Gonzales, held down the left tackle spot. Three-year starter Micah Hannam lined up at right tackle, and B.J. Guerra was the right guard.

TWO INTERESTING NEW drills introduced by the coaching staff this fall involve a target net for quarterbacks and a "rabbit" pursuit for the defense.

Quarterbacks throw from various spots at three net baskets attached to a larger net that is mounted on wheels and can be moved about the field. The height of the baskets can be altered.

"I really like it," Tuel said, "because we can move around anywhere on the field, so we can work on different throws and routes and timing."

The "rabbit" drill sends a speedy player around end, with defensive players chasing him at an angle. Freshman twins Jacob and Lucas Sealby, a pair of walk-on linebackers from Wenatchee, displayed excellent speed as "rabbits." Both players weigh less than 200 pounds, at 187 and 190, respectively, but their speed makes it obvious why they were recruited by the Cougars.

The 6-3, 211-pound Tuel is one of numerous returning players who have gained weight and strength without losing any speed or quickness. Tuel's escapability was impressive last year, and nothing has changed this fall.

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