Cougs open practice: Mood high, Gibson sharp

GARY ROGERS LEADS THE COUGS IN WARMUPS

PULLMAN – Optimism is always alive and well on the first day of practice. Listen closely to the words of WSU players and coaches, however, and it seems apparent that a new coaching staff has injected new life into a program that has hit hard times on and off the field in recent years.

"I think they are more intense, more strict," junior running back Dwight Tardy said after a spirited morning workout Tuesday among top returning players. "They expect more from us.

"It seems like they expect us to be more like men. Like, ‘Grow up already.' I think last year, they (the old coaching staff) just kind of let us slide with a lot of stuff."

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Senior wide receiver Brandon Gibson said there is "definitely" a difference in the two coaching staffs.

"I'm not saying last year (the coaches) weren't upbeat, but these guys, they're anxious," Gibson said. "They're anxious to get everything going. They want to prove that we're ready and that they're worthy."

"I like it (the new coaching staff) better," junior cornerback Devin Giles said. "They teach us a lot of things. It's very intense; no walking around, no nothing."

Paul Wulff, in his first year as head coach at his alma mater, has repeatedly expressed how important character and discipline are to his program.

"It's more important (than football) that we establish good people and help build these guys' morals and character and help build their self esteem," Wulff said.

He added, "I think a lot of guys have grown up and realize consequences and understand what they have and what they could potentially lose … they've got to realize they are ‘employees' of the State of Washington."


WULFF WITH THE O-LINE

ON THE FIELD TUESDAY MORNING, Wulff said he was "very pleased" with what he saw at the first official practice since spring. The Cougs will hold split squad practices the first two days -- the younger players have their first practice on Tuesday afternoon.

"They picked up a lot, obviously, over the summer," Wulff said of the veterans' morning session. Coaches aren't allowed to be present at the players' voluntary summer workouts, so the work his troops put in over the last two months obviously set a nice tone for the day.

"We want to do our best and show the coaches we've been working hard all summer," Gibson said. "I think we did a great job and didn't disappoint. Our offense is going to be exciting."

Wulff and offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy are introducing the hurry-up, no-huddle offense that they used with great success at Eastern Washington last year.

"We're so much further ahead (offensively) than we ever were in the spring, to be quite honest," Wulff said. "That's a great indication to us the players worked extremely hard at it over the summer."

DON'T PUT TOO MUCH STOCK in one no-contact practice with players wearing only helmets for equipment, but All-America candidate Gibson looked like he was in midseason form. One catch was recorded with a twisting, one-handed effort, and he later blew past cornerback Romeo Pellum to haul in a perfectly thrown long ball from Gary Rogers.

Backup quarterback Kevin Lopina later hit Keith Rosenberg with a perfectly thrown deep pass. Projected starting receiver Daniel Blackledge made some good catches and dropped a couple balls, including one that deflected into the waiting hands of safety Eric Block.


PAUL WULFF

The practice ran 2 hours -- 30 minutes longer than scheduled. Wide receiver Jeshua Anderson, who had considered reporting a few days late after a long track season, was among the players working out in 80ish temperatures under clear blue skies and a bright sun that took its toll on some players.

INJURY REPORT: No. 1 punter Reid Forrest, now on scholarship, showed up with a protective boot on his left foot. Forrest said he originally believed he suffered a minor sprain of his ankle during punting drills prior to the July 4 break, but eventually a crack was discovered, and he underwent surgery to have a pin inserted.

"I'll be back for the first game," Forrest said.

Wulff said he hopes Forrest can start practicing next week along with two players recovering from surgery -- cornerback Markus Dawes (shoulder) and offensive tackle Joe Eppele (knee).

Also sidelined Tuesday was offensive tackle Steven Ayers, who has been battling an undiagnosed illness that has affected his balance and energy. Tardy said his surgically repaired knee is still a bit sore, but he estimated his speed at "97 percent." Tardy was held out of some late drills as a precaution, and Wulff said the team will continue to ease Tardy back into action.

NOTABLE NOTES:
• College Football Hall of Famer Rueben Mayes recently left his administrative post in the WSU business school to take a similar position at a Eugene hospital. Mayes set an NCAA record, since broken, when he ran for 357 yards against Oregon in 1984.
• The Cougars open the season Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State at Seattle's Qwest Field. Ticket sales are running well ahead of last season's Qwest game against San Diego State, which drew 46,000, but at this point half the stadium is still unsold.

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