DAY 11, PM session: Offense takes to the air

PULLMAN--For two frustrating years, Washington State offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy has watched his once-productive no-huddle offense reduced to a no-scoring offense. Sturdy, who operated a virtual scoring machine when he coached under Paul Wulff at Eastern Washington, has been limited at WSU by injuries and inexperience. But significant progress is being made this fall.

The Cougars are bigger, faster and better on both sides of the ball, and the offensive skill positions hold far more promise than the past two years.

"Consistency's on the rise, and that's real good for us," Sturdy said Thursday afternoon after the Cougars completed their second practice of the day.

Senior wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon, who followed Sturdy and Wulff from Eastern Washington, enjoyed a banner day. Solomon caught two short touchdown passes from Jeff Tuel in the morning, then grabbed a 5-yard TD ball thrown by Tuel in the afternoon.

"Jeffrey's had a great camp," Sturdy said.

Sturdy added that he's "really happy" with true freshmen like receivers Marquess Wilson and Kristoff Williams, running back Rickey Galvin and offensive tackle John Fullington.

Wideouts Jared Karstetter and Daniel Blackledge made outstanding catches on Tuel passes. Tight end Aaron Gehring picked up good yardage with a nice catch of a Marshall Lobbestael delivery. A glaring defensive breakdown permitted running back Carl Winston to race untouched down the left sideline for a 45-yard score on a swing pass from Lobbestael.

Safety Deone Bucannon, a true freshman, intercepted Lobbestael for the second time in the day.

Passing was emphasized in the afternoon, when players practiced in just helmets and shoulder pads on another scorching afternoon in the Palouse. Special teams also drew some focus.

An interested observer at practice was the newest Cougar, Joe Kaleta. A 6-foot-8, 314-pound offensive tackle, Kaleta is a walk-on freshman from Utica, N.Y., who is expected to begin practicing soon.

Defensive tackle Kalafitoni Pole, a promising freshman, sat out the afternoon practice after picking up a lower left leg contusion in the morning. Aire Justin, a potential starter at cornerback, was sidelined with a hamstring injury.

A good chunk of players continue to spend more time riding exercise bikes on the sidelines than practicing. Sturdy said coaches are not overly concerned with the season opener two weeks away.

"Normal two-a-day stuff," Sturdy said. "Bumps and bruises and groins, a few hamstrings here and there."

Alex Hoffman-Ellis led the Cougars with 85 tackles last season while playing football for just the third year in his life. Still, the speedy California knows he has plenty of room for improvement.

"I guess my speed made up for a lack of football IQ," Hoffman-Ellis said with a smile. "I mean, I can't say I was really satisfied, because a lot of those tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. The tackles behind the line of scrimmage need to go up."

Look for that to happen this season, since Hoffman-Ellis -- who started most of last season at middle linebacker before seeing some action outside late in the year -- now starts on the weak side.

"I definitely like the move," the redshirt junior said. "I love blitzing. I think playing out in space plays to my abilities a little better."

Hoffman-Ellis, who says he struggled with grades and discipline in high school, said he "knew absolutely nothing" about playing football when he first went out for the sport as a senior. He played one year of junior college ball before redshirting at WSU in 2008.

"I think I made one actual tackle -- one REAL tackle -- all football season in high school," Hoffman-Ellis said. "The rest were just arm tackles. I didn't get the concept of running into someone at full speed. I'd run up to someone, I'd just grab 'em and throw 'em down."

Coaches this year have eased Hoffman-Ellis into fall drills after he developed two bulging discs in his back when lifting weights in the summer.

  • The Cougars are giving free tickets to their Sept. 11 home opener with Montana State to everyone in attendance at Friday night's Arena Football League championship game at the Spokane Arena. New athletic director Bill Moos is putting a heavy emphasis on the Spokane market. Former Cougar defensive back Alex Teems is a key player on the Spokane Shock. Tampa Bay plays Spokane at 5 p.m. on the NFL Network.

  • WSU's football, volleyball, soccer and men's and women's basketball teams take part in the National Lentil Festival parade through downtown Pullman at 11 a.m. Saturday.

  • Cougar athletes sign autographs downtown from 5-9 p.m. Friday as part of the 22nd annual Lentil Festival. Football and baseball players sign from 8-9.

  • Fans also have an opportunity to meet the 2010 Washington State football team at Fan Appreciation Day in Martin Stadium from 2-3:30 p.m., Aug. 28. The team will be signing autographs and handing out free posters. There will also be inflatable games, and the first 300 fans in attendance will receive a free WSU Football t-shirt. Fans can enter Martin Stadium through Gate A, located next to the Ticket Office on Stadium Way.

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